What's the meaning of QR code & how does a QR code work?

QR codes seem to be everywhere you look nowadays. You see these “square barcodes” on ads and museum exhibits, packages and Wi-Fi access points. Even if you had never noticed them before the coronavirus pandemic, they seem to be everywhere now, playing a key role in exposure tracing in many locations. They also let us access information like restaurant menus without having to touch the surface of any object but our own mobile device.
Corner of mobile device with screen displaying part of a QR code
It’s easy to read a QR code – or create your own!

However, QR codes have been around for more than 25 years. Find out more, including how to create a QR code.

QR codes: A brief history

Before the QR code, there was the zebra-striped barcode, which is familiar to all of us who have seen our purchases swiped and scanned at a supermarket checkout. The QR code was invented with a similar purpose in mind: A “two-dimensional” code for objects as they moved along the supply chain. It was developed by Japanese automotive supplier Denso in 1994 to speed up the process of scanning barcodes – “QR” stands for “quick response,” and refers to the fact that you could scan the code easily from any angle. Unlike a barcode, which can only be read top to bottom, the QR code can be read top to bottom and right to left, which also lets is store a lot more data – up to 7089 digits or 4296 characters. And redundancies in the way the data is structured mean that it can still be read by scanners even if up to 30 percent of its surface is damaged.
Because of these robust qualities, use of the QR code quickly spread to other industries. And once the rise of smartphones meant that everyone essentially has a scanner with them at all times, QR codes made the leap to advertising and marketing. They can not only contain additional product data, but also website URLs or company contact information. Nowadays they can be used to log in to online accounts, send and receive payment information, and much more. It is even possible to have a QR code engraved on a gravestone that links to a memorial website or online obituary about the deceased.

How to scan a QR code

It used to be that you needed a special app installed on your mobile device to scan a QR code, and that still may be the case with some older models. However, most smartphones today have built-in QR readers – usually as part of their camera function.

Scan a QR code on an iPhone or iPad

 Apple iPhones and iPads let you scan QR codes using the camera app:
  1. Open your camera and select the rear-facing view
  2. Point your device at the QR code so it appears in the viewfinder
  3. Once the camera reads the QR code, a QR symbol will appear on the screen.
  4. Tap the symbol to see your options, e.g. open or share the link.
  5. If your camera does not automatically scan QR codes, go to > Settings > Camera and make sure that Scan QR Codes is activated

 Scan a QR code with an Android phone or tablet

 Android devices have a QR code scan function built into the camera:
  1. Open your camera and activate the rear-facing view
  2. Point your camera so the QR code appears in the frame
  3. The camera should automatically scan the QR code; if it does not, press and hold your finger on it
  4. The QR link will appear along with the choice to open, copy or share it
  5. If this does not work, you may be using an old version of Android that does not support automatic QR scanning. Consider running an update or installing the Google Lens app, which features a QR scanner

 How do I create a QR code?

To make QR codes, you need software called a “QR code generator” that will save your desired information – e.g. text, photo, website link – as a classic QR square. Because QR codes are so widespread, there are many free QR code generators available online. Some widely recommended free online QR code creators include:
  1. Beaconstac QR Code generator
  2. QR-Code-generator.com
  3. QR Code Monkey
  4. The QR Code Generator
Free QR code generators differ in terms of quality and the features they offer, so we encourage you to shop around. Look for one that lets you choose the sort of data you’d like to encode, e.g. website URL, video, text, map location, contact information, etc. You probably also want the option of creating a dynamic QR code, which means it can be updated or edited later. Whatever QR generator you select, we advise you to test the QR code to make sure it works before printing it or sharing it with others! If you plan to create QR codes regularly, it may be worth subscribing to a paid QR tool.
Good to know: Google Chrome recently added the option to create a QR code for a website as one way of sharing the page’s URL, and browsers such as Firefox offer QR code generators as add-ons or extensions.
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Images: 1&1/Pexals

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