PDF417 reader - Mobile solution for logistics, mail, or ticketing

January 11, 2021

We encounter barcodes in countless aspects of our everyday lives. They are printed on the products we buy in retail, on the tickets for the next concert we are going to attend or on the parcel that just arrived from our favorite online shop. One of the most common barcode types is the PDF417 code. Let us show you the various advantages and use-cases of this versatile barcode solution.

Facts & Figures

First, let's take a look at the technical details of the PDF417 barcode, which was developed by Symbol Technologies in 1991. You might have wondered about its name before, so let's clarify that first. The abbreviation "PDF" is widely known, of course, yet it has nothing to do with the "Portable Document Format."

In this case, "PDF" stands for "Portable Data File," while the four describes the number of bars and spaces used to encode every character, and 17 means that the total width of these eight bars and spaces is 17 units. It has the ISO/IEC certification "ISO/IEC 15438".

It is a stacked two-dimensional barcode (2D) with a variable line width, which is able to memorize a high amount of data. Around 2725 numbers or 1850 alphanumeric characters can be stored on a single code. That's about ⅔ of a DIN A4 page, to give you an idea.

Additionally, you can concatenate two or more PDF417 barcodes to store larger data files and turn them into Macro PDF417s. 

Various advantages of the PDF417 barcode

PDF417 Code Example
This PDF417 code, for example, contains the whole last paragraph. Pretty amazing.

Amount of information 

Using this barcode type offers you a range of striking advantages. Compared to other common barcode types, like the popular QR-code, a PDF417 code can store around three times as much information. Therefore, it can display even rather complex data without difficulty. Due to its adjustable length and width, it can appear on any type of product or document, independent of its size.

Hardware-scanner vs. Mobile application

Reading methods

Another significant benefit of this barcode type is the fact that any conventional reading device can be used to extract information from it. Besides standard optical readers, a much more modern approach is to use the photo cameras of smartphones. One example of this would be implementing a PDF417 SDK scanner to your mobile apps in order to enable scanning on mobile devices.

Partially damaged PDF417 barcodes



Barcodes tend to get sometimes damaged since they are usually added to products that either travel a long distance, like parcels, for example, or are just printed on paper and carried around all day as concert tickets or boarding passes. Fortunately, PDF417 codes are highly redundant and can be read flawlessly, as long as less than 50% of the barcode is damaged. 

Benefits of using smartphones as scanners

At times of fast technological development, one should face the fact that hardware scanners and computers are not up-to-date anymore and way more cost-intensive than other options. 

Implementing a Barcode Scanner into a mobile iOS or Android application is the most efficient and cost-reducing solution for scanning various types of barcodes, including PDF417. Smartphones are today's society's multi-tool and therefore offer a high camera quality at a low price already. 

Using mobile devices with an implemented scanning functionality and the ability to send it to your server makes additional hardware in the form of a computer redundant since all information is processed on the device, making it the most convenient option possible.

Use cases & Examples

After mentioning all these remarkable advantages, we should now look at the numerous use cases of PDF417 barcodes. As previously mentioned, ticketing and travel are some of the most common domains for this type of code, among logistics. Other sectors include healthcare, warehousing, administration, and ID-documents.

Interesting fact: The Global Transport Label Standard for the Automotive Industry includes a PDF417 code as well!

Let's take a look at some specific examples of possible use cases:

PDf417 barcode on a boarding pass

Boarding pass & Ticketing

Your employees can easily extract and process any relevant information from your customers' boarding passes or tickets within seconds by just scanning the PDF417 code that's printed on them. Match the data with a passport by scanning the MRZ, and you can easily verify passengers in seconds.

PDF417 barcode on a parcel

Mail-Order & Logistics

Package-delivery becomes more efficient since parcels can easily be registered and followed on their way to their destination by just scanning the PDF417 attached to them.

PDF417 in logistics


US driver's licenses got a PDF417 barcode printed on the back. Extract all relevant information by just scanning it and let your smartphone check the record for any charges in no time.  

Scanning: Easier than ever before

Using a smartphone makes scanning more comfortable than previously used options. In contrast to handheld scanners, the image of the document can be saved as well, while a larger amount of information can be displayed on the device immediately after scanning the barcode. 

At times, the paper containing the document might be crumbled, damaged, or you don't have enough light. Hardware-scanners tend to struggle under these circumstances, while the camera of a smartphone is still working flawlessly. Even at an angle! And every smartphone has a flashlight in case there's no light at all. 

Since the solution is software-based, it can be adjusted to different needs and new barcode types quickly. This makes it more future-proof than hardware-based options. 

Scanbot SDK - Barcode-Scanner

Try it with your smartphone and the Scanbot Barcode Scanner SDK Demo App

Did we raise your interest? You can quickly try out the features that we just mentioned in our Scanbot Scanner SDK Demo App for iOS and Android. If you want to learn more about the different barcode formats, have a look at our overview on different types of barcodes.

If you're a developer seeking a Barcode Scanner SDK, go to our documentation to check out the example apps for all major development platforms: Native iOS or Android, Ionic, React Native, Cordova, Xamarin.Forms, Xamarin, PhoneGap, or Flutter.

Check out our blog post for information regarding the Data Matrix barcode. An overview of all common barcode types can be found here!

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