GS1 digital link basics

GS1 digital link basics
What is exactly a GS1 digital link? How does it work? And why should I use it? Is it mandatory? The transition from the old barcodes to digital link QR codes connecting physical products to the web and enabling more efficient product tracking and supply chain management, improved back store operations, and enhanced customer engagement raises a lot of questions. In this detailed guide, you will find all the answers you need.

Table of Contents

What is the GS1 digital link? ​

In short, GS1 digital link takes a barcode and turns it into a web address. This way, the information and additional data about the object become part of the wider Internet, allowing consumers, retailers, brand owners, and all others involved in the supply chain to access a wide range of updatable product information. It’s like the Internet of Things, minus the embedded sensors and microchips.

The digital link is then encoded in a 2D barcode, such as a QR code, that works as a data carrier and can be added to the product or printed on its pack. Once scanned, the digital link QR code will redirect users to a web resource in order to access the product information.

The most interesting thing is if a POS scanner is used to scan the digital link QR code at a store’s checkout, the code will behave like any other barcode, supplying info about the price, SKUs, etc. But if the same code on the product packaging is scanned by consumers’ mobile devices, it will redirect to relevant content or to a brand-owned web page.

Of course, FDA-approved nutrition facts and EU Digital Product Passports are the first landing page options that come to mind. But, in addition to that, products might connect to a landing page for a promotional campaign, drive online shopping, prompt the download of mobile apps, show a how-to video, or provide a list of web links to multiple resources and platforms, including social media accounts.

It’s every marketer and all operations managers’ wildest dreams realized by an optimized solution, bundling consumer information, brand loyalty, and supply chain efficiency.

There will be no need to have both a traditional barcode and a QR code – and maybe also an RFID label – on a water bottle or a smartphone box to provide different levels of information anymore. It’s one code to rule them all.

A single code that conveys standard product identifiers (like the GTIN) and, at the same time, enables a radically enhanced consumer experience. That’s GS1 digital link basics in a nutshell.

How GS1 digital link is changing the way we interact with products

The GS1 digital link standard allows real-time editing and maintenance of accurate product data. So, for example, if there is a product recall the landing page connected to the digital link can be changed so that anyone scanning the code might receive a notification.

The same rules can be applied to give more detailed product information to consumers. For instance, to improve supply chain visibility.

In several industries – like consumer electronics or pharmaceutical – product information is often multilingual; with the GS1 digital link, it is possible to make sure that users, once the code is scanned, are sent directly to a page with information in their preferred language.

GS1 digital link offers a vision of a future in which classic linear barcodes are replaced by information-rich QR codes that can be used by everyone to access information tailored to their needs.

Get ready For Sunrise 2027

A new era is approaching. The retail industry together with the GS1 authority has set 2027 as a milestone timeline for the transition from linear barcodes to data-rich digital link 2D codes on product packaging.

By that time, all retailers should be able to scan 2D codes at POS – including those encoded with digital links. As more and more manufacturers are already switching to the smarter GS1 digital link standard, winning a decisive competitive edge, retailers are working hard to update their POS systems in order to be able to process the new, enhanced codes.

A report by GS1 US found that 82% of retailers and 93% of manufacturing companies support the migration from linear barcodes to 2D codes within the next few years. GS1 itself has already conducted a “Test Kit” pilot with three major US retailers and their solution providers to assess readiness.

Even if after Sunrise 2027 digital link QR codes and traditional barcodes will coexist for a while, this shift will have a major impact on a number of industries.

Upgrading from laser scanners to 2D imager readers able to fully capture QR codes will be, for a starter, a major challenge for retailers, while the traditional package and label printing process might need to integrate digital printing technology.

What’s crucial is, for companies in all sectors involved, to start preparing now for the digital link revolution.

Why use GS1 digital link?

You should use GS1 digital link to future-proof your brand and products. Digital link is the product ID for the digital age. Early adopters of the new standard across all industries are building a competitive advantage for themselves, grabbing the opportunity to shape the market.

More and more brands are already implementing digital links in their own product packaging and testing innovative ideas and solutions for supply chain management, inventory tracking, and quality control before anyone else.

Why Digital Link Now_

And this is happening way before the deadline of Sunrise 2027, the date that the GS1 authority and industry leaders have set for the migration from the good old barcodes to 2D codes and digital links.

Its built-in versatility makes the digital link ideal for use in a variety of applications, across multiple industries. A brand or a retailer can use digital link QR codes to improve supply chain visibility, provide mandatory or relevant consumer information, increase brand loyalty, and much more.

GS1 digital link makes compliance a breeze

GS1 digital link standard makes it easier for product manufacturers to provide mandatory information to customers.

In the US, the FDA requires that all food and beverage commodities have an updated nutrition facts sheet. In the EU, soon an official Digital Product Passport will be required for all goods circulating within the Union.

Digital links allow manufacturers to encode this information in a digital format, making it easy to share with customers via QR codes or other data carriers, like Data Matrix. This not only saves time and money but also helps to ensure compliance with regulations. As more and more governments adopt similar requirements, the digital link is poised to become an essential part of the global supply chain.

GS1 digital link frees up real estate on product packaging

The GS1 digital link framework allows product manufacturers to use a single code on their product packaging that can work as both a traditional barcode and a dynamic QR code.

This way, manufacturers won’t need to have multiple data carriers – a separate barcode, QR code, and maybe also RFID tags – on their products, freeing up space on the packaging and reducing informational noise.

This makes it ideal for use on products with limited real estate available, such as cosmetics and food items.

GS1 digital link helps businesses to operate in a more streamlined and efficient manner

By digitizing information about production and distribution, the digital link makes it easier for businesses to track and trace products, ensuring accurate product data, transparency, efficiency, and sustainability throughout the supply chains.

Especially when paired with blockchain technology, the GS1 digital link standard allows for simplified and integrated traceability, resulting in improved inventory and ordering. It’s a win-win scenario, with huge benefits for brands, retailers, solution providers, trading partners, and consumers.

GS1 digital link enables brand owners to connect more easily with their customers

Everyone’s familiar with the power of dynamic QR codes by now, and we all know how effective they are in sharing always updated digital content within the real world.

Think digital link as the next level in engaging with users and customers, through the most important brand-owned channel: the products themselves.

The GS1 digital link is a platform to completely reimagine the consumer experience. The sky’s the limit to what can be shared with just a scan of a code.

A web page with more product information, how-to’s, tutorials, or recipes. A dematerialized instruction manual in their preferred language – saving paper and printing costs. A series of videos. A quick link to download a mobile app. A marketing promo. An online shopping platform. All the branded social media accounts. A link-in-bio type of page, with a list of web links for all of the above and more.

Digital link adds a valuable digital layer to all physical objects.

GS1 digital link provides benefits to all industries

The impact of the GS1 digital link standard is not limited to a single sector or just a few industries. Here are just a few GS1 digital link examples of applications in different fields.

GS1 digital link for apparel

The GS1 digital link standard provides a way to guarantee authenticity for fashion and apparel products by creating a unique identifier for each item that can be used to track it throughout its lifecycle.

This enables stakeholders to verify that an item is genuine and has not been tampered with, ensuring that consumers receive the quality product they expect.

GS1 digital link for automotive

The new standard has the potential to revolutionize the automotive industry by allowing vehicles to be identified and tracked digitally throughout their lifecycle. This would enable new levels of transparency and traceability, as well as allow for more efficient recall procedures.

GS1 digital link for consumer goods

Digital links can be used to track inventory levels, reducing wastage and increasing efficiency.

For the consumer goods industry, digital link represents a major step forward in terms of cost-savings, sustainability, and customer satisfaction.

GS1 digital link for food & beverage

By replacing multiple barcodes with a single 2D code that can be read by any smartphone or device equipped with a camera, the GS1 digital link standard makes it easier for brands to track their products throughout the supply chain, and for consumers to access information about the products they’re buying.

This is, for instance, a real-life example of the application of digital links by the Brazilian dairy brand Tirolez. The company decided to move from barcodes to digital links early on, making it one of the first successful cases.

Before their barcodes held the EAN number only; now with their digital link QR code, cashiers can open the product’s info, while consumers scanning it with a smartphone can explore the brand selection of content. In this case, a customized web page with information about ingredients, purchasing options, customer support via WhatsApp, and social media profiles.

queijo mussarela tirolez

You can visit this digital link here.

Tirolez Digital Link 1

GS1 digital link for healthcare

With digital links, patients and healthcare professionals can scan a single code on a medical product to access customized, detailed information that is specifically relevant to each one of them.

GS1 digital link for retail

Digital links help improve safety and efficiency within retailers’ operations, like flagging recalled or counterfeit products wherever they are, automatically discounting items about to expire, and improving B2B data-sharing processes.

GS1 digital link is a new and powerful SEO tool

Since Google moved from “search” to “knowledge” structured data have become more and more important for web page positioning and ranking – in a word, SEO.

The wealth of granular, clean, structured, and reliable information provided by digital links which connect essential product data with all sorts of additional content layers in an always-expanding Knowledge Graph, makes the digital link itself an incredible addition to the marketers’ toolbox.

Structured data provided by digital links, combined with branded content, will play a key role in delivering enhanced customer experiences and better, more relevant search results. All while enabling a radically new and more satisfactory approach to visual search whose impact on users’ behaviors is still to discover.

How does the GS1 digital link work?

GS1 digital link works by creating a bridge between standard product identification schemes and the Internet. In order to do that, enabling multiple linking and smart redirecting in the process, a few components are required:

  • a domain and an identifier
  • a web URI to contain both
  • a resolver to process the link

A standard to end all standards

Technically, the digital link is a standards-based structure that defines the syntax and architecture for links to connect data carriers (again, a QR code, a Data Matrix, etc.) to the web.

It all starts with the encoding of a domain and a product identifier in the digital link formatted URI, which will then be embedded in the data carriers. Are you wondering what a URI is? You should be familiar with the ubiquitous term URL (short for Uniform Resource Locator). Well, URL is nothing but a sub-type of URI (Uniform Resource Identifier). A URI is a string of characters that uniquely identifies something, according to a specific set of rules.

Once the digital link is read, the URI is interpreted by a resolver that redirects the visitor to the appropriate link or piece of content.

As a result, the same code containing a digital link might trigger different behaviors or drive to different online resources and additional data depending on who is scanning it, and with what software and device (mobile phone or otherwise).

A much more in-depth analysis of the technology behind the digital link is available in our GS1 digital link implementation guide.

The GS1 digital link standard

What is the GS1 digital link standard?

The GS1 digital link standard consists of a set of detailed specifications enabling the evolution of traditional product identifiers (encoded in linear barcodes) into links between a physical product and its data available online.

These specifications describe in detail the valid structure and syntax of a digital link web URI, list all the types of identifiers, qualifiers, and attributes available for products, define how a server resolving digital links should behave, and in general includes all the policies and the resources required to implement digital links.

The GS1 digital link standard has been developed by GS1, the international organization that develops and maintains global standards for business communications. These standards, such as UPC, EAN, etc., are used by more than two million companies in 150 countries around the world, including some of the biggest names in retail.

The global standard connecting products to the digital world

Barcodes have come a long way since their invention in the late 1940s.

1D barcodes, the linear black-and-white barcodes found on most products in stores today, were first developed as a way to speed up the checkout process. These codes store information in a sequence of black bars and white spaces that can be read from left to right and that can hold up to 85 characters.

Starting in the 1980s, 2D codes were introduced. 2D codes use patterns, squares, dots, and other geometric shapes that, in the case of the ubiquitous QR codes, expand the available space for encoded information to 4,296 alphanumeric characters. And then, with the invention of dynamic QR codes at the beginning of the 2010s, all data storage limits virtually disappeared by embedding in QRs short URLs that can be redirected to any online resources.

The digital link is the next step in the evolution of barcodes. One that will completely change the way we experience products and physical objects.

GS1 digital link glossary

Even if the digital link technology is based on existing and well-established standards and protocols, the amount of technical jargon involved in every conversation around it can be overwhelming.

While virtually everybody knows what a QR code is, maybe not all marketing professionals or logistics managers at a manufacturer are versed in linktype parameters.

That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive, constantly updated glossary to understand the basic concepts behind the GS1 digital link standard.

Application identifiers

Application identifiers are used to identify the applications that can be used to access a resource. They are often used to restrict access to a resource or to specify the authentication that is required for that.


A machine-readable code that can be used to store information about an object or product. Barcodes are commonly used in retail settings to track inventory and pricing information. The rise of digital links is giving barcodes a completely new meaning and role.

Context parameter

A context parameter is an identifier that is passed as part of a URL that provides additional context information about the resource being linked to. It is used to identify the context in which an action should be performed.


The unique name that identifies a website on the internet. A domain typically consists of two or more parts, separated by periods. For example, the domain for GS1 US is “”. The domain is an essential part of the digital link structure.


To convert data into another format using an algorithm or cipher so that it can only be decoded by someone who knows the secret key. For example, a URL can be encoded in a QR code so that it can be read by any device with QR code-reading capabilities (like any smartphone with a camera) with a simple scan.

HTML page

An HTML page is a document that is written in HTML. It contains markup that defines the structure and layout of the page and can be used to create interactive pages with dynamic content.

HTTP link header

Used to specify the location of a resource. It is sent as part of an HTTP request and contains the URL of the resource.


An identifier is a unique string assigned to a product or other entity for identification purposes. This string is used to identify the product both online and in person, and it’s more recognizable as the barcode number. The identifier helps a business keep track of its products and ensures that each item has a unique ID. The identifier is an essential concept in the GS1 digital link standard and a key part of its URI structure.

JSON Object

A JSON object is a piece of data that is represented in the JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) format. It is a way of representing data in a human-readable and machine-readable format.

Linear barcode

A linear barcode is a type of barcode that encodes data in a one-dimensional array, as opposed to two-dimensional codes like the QR code. It is the most common type of barcode and is used to encode information such as product IDs and tracking numbers. The digital link builds on the ubiquitous barcode standard to create a new framework.

Linktype parameter

The linktype (or link type) parameter is used to specify the link type that should be used to access a resource. It can be used to specify whether a URL should be accessed through an HTTP link header, or through an HTML page.

Media type

A media type is a type of file that can be used to represent data. It can be used to specify the format of a document or the encoding of a file. Media types are often used to indicate the content of a file or the purpose of a file and are crucial to the creation of structured data.

NFC tag

A type of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag that uses near-field communication (NFC) technology to communicate with NFC-enabled devices such as smartphones. NFC tags can be used like QR codes to open digital pages on websites or apps when they are tapped with an NFC-enabled device. They are planned to be available as a type of data carrier for digital links.

Product information page

A product information page is a web page containing detailed information about a specific product or product category.

QR code

A type of two-dimensional barcode that can be read by smartphones and other devices equipped with a camera. Various types of data can be encoded in QRs, including URLs. When scanned, a QR code can automatically open digital pages on websites or apps. That’s what makes a QR the perfect data carrier for a digital link.

Query parameter

A query parameter is a piece of information that is passed as part of a query string. It is used to specify the criteria for a search, or the parameters for an action.

Redirect requests

A redirect request is a type of HTTP request that is used to request a redirect response from a server. A redirect is a response from a server that tells a client that it should go to another URL.


A resolver is a computer system that converts numerical identifiers into more meaningful, human-readable labels, using a resolver description file. In the case of the GS1 digital link resolver, it validates and processes the URIs that it receives, redirecting visitors to the most appropriate destination.


A type of tag that uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to communicate with RFID-enabled devices such as smartphones. RFID tags can be used like QR codes and NFC tags to open digital pages on websites or apps when they are tapped with an RFID-enabled device.

Solution providers

Companies that provide software or services that help businesses to solve problems. They can be used to improve supply chain management, product development, and customer service. In the context of digital links, solution providers can operate as resolvers for a brand owner or retailer implementing the GS1 digital link standard.

Supply chains

Networks of businesses and organizations that are involved in the production and distribution of goods and services. They can be leveraged to improve the efficiency of operations and to reduce the cost of goods and services.

Target URL

The target URL is the destination URL for a redirect. When a client requests a URL that redirects to another URL, the original URL will be displayed in the browser’s history list.


A Uniform Resource Identifier that can be used to identify physical products and locations. URIs are commonly used in web addresses, but the GS1 digital link standard goes a step further by using URIs as a way to link physical objects to digital information.


A Web URI is a unique string of characters that identifies a specific webpage on the internet. Web URIs are often used in web addresses, but they can also be used to identify other types of digital content such as documents, images, and videos. The GS1 digital link standard builds on the existing Web URI standard by providing a way to link physical products with their corresponding digital content.

Digital links are the future of barcodes

Digital links are more efficient than traditional barcodes and can be used by any brand to add value for their marketing and logistics departments and consumers.

Adding a digital link QR code to your packaging can make your product more accessible and have more control over the accessed content. This will allow you to provide valuable information to your customers and build loyalty with them. Sharing your web or important information about a product’s line will be easier with a single code.

Overall, the GS1 digital link standard is an excellent choice for any business of all sizes due to its enormous flexibility and versatility. With all these advantages, it is hard to imagine not using digital links in some form or another!

Are you ready to start using digital links?


Be a leader in the transition from barcodes to digital links

Be a leader in the transition from barcodes to digital links