How do 2D Barcodes work?

Below is an easy guide that explains what 2D Barcodes are and how they work.  

What is a 2D Barcode?

A 2D Barcode, often seen as a QR Code or data matrix code on product labels, serves a dual purpose:

At the Point of Sale, scanning a 2D barcode functions like a traditional EAN or UPC barcode, displaying the product price and GTIN number. However, it offers additional capabilities at the Point of Sale, such as providing retailers with crucial data like expiry dates and recall status. 

When scanned with a smartphone, a 2D Barcode links to digital product information. This technology empowers consumers to effortlessly access a wealth of details about a product by merely scanning the barcode using their smartphone's camera. This digital information encompasses product specifications, user reviews, pricing, promotions, and more. It offers a convenient means for shoppers to make well-informed decisions and interact with products in a digital context during their shopping experience.

How are 2D Barcodes made, and what is a Digital Link?

2D Barcodes are designed to encode a specific type of web link known as a Digital Link. This link serves as a bridge connecting a physical product to its digital counterpart, providing access to digital product information. It's crucial to format this link correctly to ensure a seamless connection between the physical product and its digital representation. Subsequently, this Digital Link is embedded within a 2D Barcode, which can be in the form of a QR Code or a Data Matrix.

A Digital Link starts with a domain, followed by /01/, and then the product's GTIN number. You can either use our IBN Link domain ( or your own domain.

gs1 digital link example

Extra product information such as batch number or expiry date can be added to the end of the URI too (these are called attributes and qualifiers). 

gs1 digital link attributes qualifiers
Example Digital Link QR Code on a bottle

How do 2D Barcodes work?

Digital Links are transformed into 2D Barcodes (usually QR Codes), which are then printed on the product label.

When a 2D Barcode is scanned by a retailer at the point of sale, it functions just like a normal UPC or EAN barcode image, displaying the product GTIN number and price.

However, when the 2D Barcode is scanned by a smartphone camera or app, it connects the user to rich digital product information.

The true power of Digital Links lies in their flexibility. Consumers want to access specific product information that is directly relevant to them, such as product information in their own language, nutritional content details, or recipe ideas. This is where Resolvers come into play. Resolvers are a web server system that use Link Types to direct different scans of the QR Code to the appropriate endpoint.

gs1 digital link resolver

What Is a Resolver?

A Resolver is a web server that can be used by a website to unpack the information in a digital link and then redirect the user to the appropriate place, such as a "how to use your product" page or a "recipe ideas" page. A Resolver can also decode any encoded data attributes, such as batch numbers or expiry dates, and present this information to the user in plain language.

A Resolver can be utilized at either a website level or within a mobile app. For example, a nutrition app could provide nutritional information about the product, a sustainability app could offer details about packaging, an instructional app could provide a link to a quick start guide, or an all-in-one app could allow users to choose which information they want to access.

A Resolver operates by using specific GS1 Link Types that can be added to the end of a digital link. This link type can be embedded in the original Digital Link or added by a resolver on a website or within an app.

Watch our video guide to Digital Links