What is the Universal Product Code (UPC)

UPC (technically refers to UPC-A) consists of 12 numerical digits, that are uniquely assigned to each trade item.

Along with the related EAN barcode, the UPC is the barcode mainly used for scanning of trade items at the point of sale, per GS1 specifications. UPC data structures are a component of GTINs and follow the global GS1 specification, which is based on international standards. But some retailers (clothing, furniture) do not use the GS1 system (rather other barcode symbologies or article number systems). On the other hand, some retailers use the EAN/UPC barcode symbology, but without using a GTIN (for products, brands, sold at such retailers only).

Each UPC-A barcode consists of a scannable strip of black bars and white spaces above a sequence of 12 numerical digits. No letters, characters or other content of any kind may appear on a UPC-A barcode. There is a one-to-one correspondence between 12-digit number and strip of black bars and white spaces, i.e. there is only one way to represent each 12-digit number visually and there is only one way to represent each strip of black bars and white spaces numerically.

UPC in its most common usage technically refers to UPC-A.

Other variants of the UPC exist:

  • UPC-B is a 12-digit version of UPC with no check digit, developed for the National Drug Code (NDC) and National Health Related Items Code.
  • UPC-C is a 12-digit code with a check digit.
  • UPC-D is a variable length code (12 digits or more) with the 12th digit being the check digit. These versions are not in common use.
  • UPC-E is a 6-digit code, that has its equivalent in UPC-A 12-digit code with number system 0 or 1.
  • UPC-2 is a 2-digit supplement to the UPC used to indicate the edition of a magazine or periodical.
  • UPC-5 is a 5-digit supplement to the UPC used to indicate suggested retail price for books.

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