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RFID vs Barcode: What's the Difference? [2024 Update]

2 Minutes

In this article we explore barcodes vs RFID and uncover the main differences between the two. Read on to learn which one is right for you.

barcode vs rfid


Barcodes are optical patterns that visually represent data, primarily through varying-width lines and spaces.

  • Linear patterns of lines and spaces that encode specific data.
  • Predominantly one-dimensional, but 2D variants exist.
  • Capable of storing a restricted number of alphanumeric characters.
  • Requires specialized barcode scanning devices for interpretation.
  • Routinely used for encoding product identification numbers.
  • Widely integrated across retail, ticketing, and inventory systems.

barcodes vs rfid

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification)

RFID technology utilizes electromagnetic fields to automatically track and discern tags attached to objects.

  • No direct line-of-sight required for reading the data.
  • Tags possess the capability to store a diverse range of information.
  • Reading range is influenced by the specific type of tag used.
  • Tags can either be passive (without battery) or active (with battery).
  • Common applications include supply chain management, asset tracking, and access control systems.
  • Tags can be designed in various forms, from embedded chips in cards to stickers and key fobs.

Difference Between RFID and Barcodes

RFID and barcodes are both technologies used for tracking and identification. However, they function based on different principles and have varied applications. Here's a breakdown of their differences:


Barcode: A series of parallel lines of diverse thicknesses and spacings.

RFID: Typically a small chip and antenna, which can be encased in various forms like cards, stickers, or key fobs.

Data Capacity:

Barcode: Can accommodate approximately 20-25 characters of information, depending on its type.

RFID: Can store a lot more data, ranging from a basic ID number to several kilobytes of data storage.

Data Type:

Barcode: Mostly encodes numeric or alphanumeric data.

RFID: Can encode a vast range of data types, including but not limited to, product details, location data, and even sensor data in some advanced tags.

Error Correction:

Barcode: Typically lacks error correction; damage can render them unreadable.

RFID: Can be read even if obscured by dirt or other contaminants, providing a level of error tolerance.


Barcode: Needs to be scanned linearly, making orientation essential.

RFID: Does not require a direct line-of-sight, offering more flexibility in orientation during scanning.


Barcode: Widely utilized in retail for product labeling, POS systems, libraries, and inventory management.

RFID: Pervasive in supply chain management, asset tracking, race timing, access control, and livestock tracking, among others.

Scanning Equipment:

Barcode: Requires light to shine on the bars and a sensor to gauge the reflections for code interpretation.

RFID: Uses radio-frequency (RF) technology. Readers send a signal to the tag and read its response.

Origin and History:

Barcode: The foundational barcode system, mirroring today's UPC barcodes, was patented in the U.S. in 1952.

RFID: Originated in the 1940s with roots in radar technology. It started gaining traction in the 1970s and 1980s as the cost of technology decreased.

We hope that our RFID vs barcode article has now left you with a better understanding of the main differences between RFID and barcodes.

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