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Changes in the UPC Code?

Recently the Uniform Code Council (the organization that governs UPC bar codes) announced that starting in January 2005, they will require that all retailers and trading partners in the United States and Canada that presently scan 12-digit UPC bar code symbols be capable of scanning 8 digit EAN-8 and 13 digit EAN-13 bar code symbols as well. Furthermore, the UCC strongly recommends enhancing systems to accept bar code data of up to 14 digits in preparation for a new numbering system called GTIN (Global Trade Identification Numbers) that will eventually be used to identify products world wide.

There is a great deal of confusion about what this all means among companies that both print bar codes on their products as well as with companies that scan bar codes into retail point of sale or inventory systems. Many people mistakenly believe that UPC bar code numbers are going to be phased out altogether or replaced with a new type of bar code called a GTIN bar code.

A GTIN bar code is not a new type of bar code at all. GTIN numbers are simply 14 digit numbers that will be used to identify products. GTIN numbers are fully compatible with standard UPC-A, EAN-8 and EAN-13 bar code numbers therefore UPC and EAN bar codes will continue to be used well into the future.

All that is really going on is that the Uniform Code Council is recommending that anyone that currently has a system in place for reading 12 digit UPC bar codes should modify their bar code databases so that they can accept up to 14 digit numbers in bar codes used for identifying products. This will allow existing bar code scanning systems to be used to read any of the 4 primary types of bar code numbers used for product identification (UPC-A, EAN-8, EAN-13 and the newer GTIN numbers).

UPC bar codes will continue to be encoded using the UPC-A bar code symbology, EAN-8 numbers will continue to be encoded with the EAN-8 bar code symbology and EAN-13 numbers will continue to be encoded with the EAN-13 bar code symbology. The newer GTIN numbers will be encoded using either the Interleaved 2 of 5 or the EAN/UCC-128 bar code symbologies. The Interleaved 2 of 5 and EAN/UCC-128 bar code symbologies have been in existence for many years and almost all bar code scanners already have the ability to scan these types of bar code symbols therefore no changes will need to be made to existing bar code scanner hardware. All that has to change is the way that the numbers are stored in a database.

For example, suppose that you have a retail point of sale or inventory system that stores all bar code data in a database and the data field that stores the bar code data is restricted to hold only a 12 digit number (standard UPC-A numbers). To support the new standard, you would need to modify the database so that the bar code data field so that it will be able to accept either an 8 digit, 12 digit, 13 digit or 14 digit number. If your database already contains existing data that is shorter than 14 digits in length, they are recommending that you pad the existing data with leading zeros so that all numbers will end up being 14 digits in length.

All TAL Bar Code software products including our Bar Code ActiveX Control, our Bar Code DLLs and B-Coder Professional have always supported UPC-A, UPC-E, EAN-8, EAN-13, Interleaved 2 of 5, RSS14 and EAN/UCC-128 bar codes therefore you will be able to continue using the version of B-Coder Pro, our Bar Code ActiveX Control or our Bar Code DLLs that you have for a very long time - even with the changes that are supposed to occur in 2005.

For more information on the 2005 changes to the bar code world, please visit

Date: 08.24.04 Category: General News    Discussion Blog    
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