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A barcode is an optical, machine read representation of data which relays to the object it is attached to. Originally, barcodes represented data by varying the widths and spacing of parallel lines, and may be referred to as linear or one dimensional.
The barcode became commercially successful when they were used to automate supermarket checkout systems. This was then taken and applied to other tasks that allow us to use them within a variety of industries, one benefit of a barcode as a method of tracking is that it can be applied to the entirety of your stock, with a different code for each product. This reduces human error massively, and increases workspace efficiency in opposition to a paper based method.
Barcode scanners are relatively low cost and extremely accurate compared to key-entry. A more modern approach is QR codes. These can be attached to any surface and read by imaging devices such as mobile phones.