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Decoding Barcodes for the Keys to Your Own System

By Lillian Huang

Translator: Gary Liaw, Fabio Kuo

The barcode is commonly used in information management and can be a key part of popular features such as fast inventory, cashier checkout, and sign-in by barcode. Lucky for our users, Ragic’s cloud database platform supports barcode integration. Ragic allows its users to quickly build a database in an Excel-like interface without needing to write code and knowledge about barcodes can help to integrate them in Ragic.

In this post, we’ll introduce how barcodes work, what you can do barcodes in Ragic, and answers to the most frequently asked questions by our users so you can quickly determine whether you can use Ragic with barcodes to do what you want. (If you already know barcodes and just want to learn how to integrate it with Ragic, you can click on the menu in the top right corner to skip to the examples.)

What is a barcode?

Barcodes are everywhere: it’s there when you take a bag of chips or your bill to the cashier, it’s there on your membership card, and it’s there when you add contacts in certain instant messengers.

In these examples, the process involves a barcode image and a way to read it (i.e. hardware to read the barcode and software to trigger the steps that follow). We can split the process up and look at each component separately:

1.The barcode: an image that represents information (a string of characters)

Whether it's a 1D barcode of black and white stripes or a 2D one composed of squares, each image represents information. More specifically, it represents a string of numbers, symbols, and letters, often a product code (e.g. CK0101234), or a bill number (e.g. E94122084). Sometimes it’s used to represent more information such as URLs (e.g. https://www.ragic.com), which are often turned into 2D barcodes.

Barcode images are generated from the original information according to a particular universal conversion rule so that different people reading the same image would get the same result. This conversion rule is the so-called barcode symbology, and common ones include Code 128, Code 39, and QR Code.

To create a barcode, simply use a barcode generator (software), select a symbology, and enter the URL or number to be converted. You’ll notice there are several symbologies to choose from and the reason for that has to do with user requirements and the circumstances under which each specific symbology was invented.

For small businesses that need barcodes strictly for internal use, they can be encoded and printed as needed.

On the other hand, some globally adopted barcodes used for identification must be unique. Examples of such barcode include the ISBN for books and the EAN-13 International Article Number printed on the product packaging in the above picture. To use such a barcode, a company must apply to the relevant international organization for a number and pay a fee before they can generate and print the barcode according to the particular symbology.

For example, consumers can then find publicly available information about the product using the EAN barcode. If you scan this barcode in an app like Buycott or google the number below the barcode (i.e. the value that the barcode represents), you can see information about the product (e.g. this is what comes up when the barcode below is scanned.)

2.BEEP! Scanning: Converting an image into digital data without manual input.

The main purpose of the barcode is to simplify the process of inputting data. Scanning a barcode can convert the image back into its original data for input. Devices that can read a barcode include barcode scanners, RFID sensors, stock-taking terminals, and smartphone cameras. These devices can be used alone or with other devices such as a computer. In such a case, at the all-familiar "BEEP", the scanner emits a red light that hits the black and white stripes of the barcode which reflect optical patterns that are then converted to digital data and inserted to a specific place on the computer screen.

Scanning barcode as a means of input can accomplish different things depending on the location. An example is when the cursor is in the search box of the database, which is equivalent to manually typing the information (e.g. product code) and searching for the corresponding entries in the database. It’s important to note that a database must be connected so you can get results with the search engine.

Generally, scanning barcodes are for replacing keying-in data. But with the help of other software applications, scanning the barcode may also trigger further actions. For example, some smartphone apps will launch a browser with a URL already entered after reading a QR Code encoding the URL, while others will display the content of the website after scanning the barcode, launch a payment flow, or other processes. Regardless of the actions, the original trigger is the information encoded in the barcode.

✎ The main action supported by Ragic in the browser after reading a barcode is “keying in”. If the barcode is not correlated to a corresponding database, even a EAN number will not display the information. But if you create entries containing the product information in a Ragic database that include a field for EAN number, scanning the barcode in the search engine will have the same effect as inputting text there.

An express passage between the real world and the virtual world

To summarize the above, the main function of the barcode is to simplify the process of inputting information. Since entering information with the beep of a scanner is much faster than manual input, the barcode can be seen as an express gateway between the physical world (barcode label) and the virtual world (product code, account number, or membership number in the computer).

This gateway comes in handy in scenarios such as warehouse/stock-taking/logistics management, retail checkout, membership cards, and agricultural tracking and tracing. It's also proven useful in the library, office supply management, and other administrative applications. When an appropriately designed spreadsheet or Ragic form is used with a barcode, these sheets are instantly upgraded to a barcode management system.

Barcodes are most effective when paired with an information system. While the words “information system” may conjure up images of big businesses with IT teams building complex systems, that's not the case with Ragic. Because Ragic is a non-traditional database development tool, small businesses and teams can easily use Ragic to create their own custom system with the help of the various available templates, all the while saving time and money.

How do I use Ragic for barcode management?

You may refer to this document to understand barcode-related features that Ragic currently supports.

In short, there are two parts. The first part involves turning data in Ragic into a barcode (barcode generator), while the second, and most asked-about part, involves using a barcode scanner (or the Ragic smartphone app) to input data in Ragic. The two parts are explained separately below.

If you have a string that is already a Ragic field value that you want to turn into a barcode, you can set the field type to “barcode” and Ragic will automatically generate a barcode image. The label maker in the Ragic report tool can help you make a booklet out of the barcodes if needed.

To input data from the barcode, just connect a barcode reader, move the cursor to the location where the data needs to be entered (e.g. the search box), scan the barcode, and the data encoded in the barcode will appear at the location of the cursor. For example, a product search can be done by scanning the product code barcode with the cursor in the search box of the product form then clicking the search button.

Many users who want to use Ragic for barcode management really are looking to input data from barcodes. Since barcodes are merely used to replace the act of manually inputting data, any field type that requires data input can be entered by scanning barcodes. So, you can ask yourself two questions, in order:

(1) Can the function be designed so that it can be executed when you search and input data in Ragic? (For example, when searching for the product code in the search box or field header, change the inventory count of the entry for inventory checking when the corresponding product information has been found)

(2) Does the process still fit into your workflow when the action of "manually entering data" is swapped for "scanning the barcode”?

If the answer to both questions is "yes", then Ragic should be of help to you. If you are uncertain about the first question, then you need to rethink the database design.

Note:

Any field type that allows data input can be entered using a barcode, including linked fields in Ragic. So if you want to set link-and-load relationships for the product code, you can do that by using barcode scanning to trigger input into a linked field.

Scanning with the Smartphone App

A lot of users have also asked us whether we support scanning barcodes with a smartphone, yes we do! Currently, both our iOS and Android Apps already support scanning barcodes with the camera.

You can use it to do a search

or input data:

You can also use the Ragic smartphone app with a Bluetooth barcode scanner to input and look up data.

Frequently Asked Questions

For your reference, we have collected some questions that Ragic users have asked us about and categorized them by scenario (though the specifics of the design would depend on your own requirements):

(1)Warehousing, Inventory, Shipping and Receiving (Incoming/Outgoing), Stock-taking, Logistics:

The simplest application is to create entries for your products, number them, and create barcode labels from the numbers to put on the products. In this way you can simply scan the barcode label to know what the product is and where it is during stock-taking or shipping, accelerating the process.

Q: Can we use the existing Ragic Inventory Module with barcodes?

A: All you have to do is make slight adjustments to our free inventory management template by generating barcodes from "Inventory No." and "Location Code" fields.

Q: If we don't use the existing templates, do you have any suggestions on the design and step-by-step instructions on how to implement it?

A:

[1] Firstly, your Ragic database should have separate forms that manage inventory and the incoming/outgoing process.

[2]The items that require inventory management should have entries created for them in the Ragic cloud database (e.g. in a product form).

[3]Create a new field, copy a unique value from the item information (we recommend using the product code) and generate a barcode from it.

[4]In the workflow, replace the step that requires manual input or selection of product code with barcode-scanning using a Bluetooth barcode reader connected to a mobile device. (In the future this can be done using only the mobile device.)

Q: How can a traditional shoe store migrate from manually receiving and counting the goods to an automated process? How would I integrate barcodes into the process?

This came from one of our users: "Traditional shoe stores manually receive and count the incoming products. Often times when the customer is looking for a particular product, I have to spend a lot of time in the storage searching before I am certain the product is out of stock. Can we emulate a convenience store, where we generate a barcode upon receipt and stick it on the shoe, then just scan it with a scanner later to find out where it is stored and its quantity?

And make a deduction from the database for the products which have been sold. Or even add notes about shoe features (e.g. price, material, grip) so we can get all the details when we are selling it simply by scanning the barcode. Or maybe even develop an app for customers so they can look up the information themselves by scanning the barcode or QR code."

A: You can create separate Ragic sheets for product information and warehouse management, generate barcodes for the identifying product information (e.g. product code) and the storage location information (e.g. storage number), and stick them on the shoes when receiving them.

If you want to make a note when you have made a sale, you can link the warehouse inventory management forms (refer to the inventory management template mentioned above), and, in the product code field of the outgoing form, scan the custom barcode on the shoe.

Upon receiving the shoes, you can note the features of the shoe and add it to the product information form. This way when you scan the barcode in the product form, the details are displayed.

Q: Can I use a terminal or PDA to add or deduct from inventory?

A: If the terminal or PDA support a browser that can open Ragic and can input data into the browser by scanning barcodes, then yes.

(2) Retail, E-commerce, CRM, Membership Management

Common applications include scanning product code or bill number barcodes at the cashier and turning online shop URLs into QR codes. For after-sales service, using a repair number barcode can facilitate tracking when the product is returned for repairs. For membership systems, the client membership number barcode can be added to the membership card or app to allow information look-up by scanning.

Q: Is payment by barcode-scanning possible? I want to give every customer a barcode so when they make a payment we can do it by directly scanning a barcode, then print a receipt for the user, like what they do at convenience stores.

A: You can design a receipt form that includes a field with an automatically generated number and configure the system to display that number as a barcode. The form should also include information such as the amount paid.

Connect the barcode scanner to the computer and scan the barcode in the full-text search field when the customers come to make a payment to find the corresponding receipt entry. Then, you can perform the checkout according to the receipt information (the payment flow needs to be handled in a separate process) and print the receipt in Tools > Printer Friendly menu item.

If necessary, you can make an "order" form first, then create a copy of the order as a "receipt" form. From this receipt version, you can remove the fields that you do not want the customer to see.

Reminder: Scanning a barcode only saves you the time needed to manually input data. Once the entry has been located by scanning a barcode, you still need to manually edit the entry (e.g. to complete payment).

Q: How do I print a barcode for the customer that links to the online shop or product purchase page?

A: All you have to do is generate a barcode from the website URL. (The symbology must supports text and symbols; QR code is the most common).

Other Questions

Q: Does Ragic support EAN / Code 128 / QR Code?

A: Yes, Ragic supports all of them, as listed in the Field Setting for any barcode field:

Q: How do I bulk-generate barcodes corresponding to product information in a file?

A: A barcode file is usually desired for product codes and can be created in the product data sheet (if you don't have one, you need to create one first). If you don’t already have requirements for barcodes or format, you can add a barcode field in the form and use the default Code 128 symbology to generate barcodes from the product code.

If your business already uses some type of product barcode and want to batch-generate them, you first need to have two pieces of information: (1) the value represented by the barcode and (2) the symbology is used to generate the barcode. Once you have this information and the symbology is supported by Ragic, you can generate barcodes of an identical type. If you only have a barcode image but don't have the information mentioned above, you can scan the barcode with a scanner to find out what the encoded value is, while the symbology may be displayed by the scanner.

If you must print the barcodes using the format of the scanner, refer to the "Mass file upload" function to upload these files.

Q: How do I use a label printer with the system?

Most label printers can generate labels from CSV files. Just export the fields you want into a CSV file to print your labels.

Other Scenarios

You can perform administrative tasks with barcodes. Loan office equipment, for example, by attaching a barcode label to the equipment. In the form where all office equipment is listed, the administrative staff can scan the equipment barcode in the search field to find the corresponding entries where they can note the loan status.

Category: What is Ragic, Tips and Tools

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