GS1 Renames Reduced Space Symbology as GS1 DataBar

In a move that caught many automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) industry professionals by surprise, GS1 announced on February 14 at its annual meeting of national member organizations (such as GS1 US, GS1 Canada, GS1 UK, etc.), that it was changing the name of Reduced Space Symbology, often referred to as RSS, to GS1 DataBar.

The primary reason, according to Scott Gray, bar codes and eCom global business manager for GS1’s office in Brussels, is to more uniquely identify the symbology that is slated to become as globally ubiquitous in the 21st century as the EAN/UPC symbology has become over the last 30 years. An underlying factor (but by no means the principal consideration, insists Gray) is the greater recognition and association by the general public of the acronym RSS with Really Simple Syndication, the term coined (subsequent to the introduction of Reduced Space Symbology) to describe an XML format.

The consistent global designation of bar code data structures and symbologies has been an issue that GS1 has wrestled with throughout its history, as the North American system was embraced by Europe and, ultimately, more than 100 countries worldwide. According to Gray, “As commerce becomes more global, we must force a discipline of one term for one thing everywhere within the GS1 world. Without this, a purchase order arrives at a printer asking for a data structure or bar code name that the vendor is not familiar with or the bar code design software does not support.”

Gray admits that “the exercise over the past few years to come to one set of nomenclature has not been without pain,” but asserts that “it is gradually improving what had been an almost unmanageable communication task.”

The same might be said about the even more fundamental coalescence around the new GS1 name.

Until 2006, the parent organizations and the various national member organizations had widely disparate names, ranging from EAN International and Uniform Code Council (USA) to Electronic Commerce Council of Canada, Article Numbering Association (UK) and Distribution Code Center—Japan. Now, they all share a common nomenclature. The parent organization in Brussels is GS1 and the member organizations are designated as GS1 followed by a country abbreviation or name.

The name change, Gray emphasizes, is strictly a change in nomenclature—or as others have called it, “rebranding.” It in no way affects the technical characteristics of the symbology or its use, whether as a stand-alone symbol or in conjunction with its 2-D composite component, a microPDF symbology variant sometimes used in the pharmaceutical industry to encode expiration date and lot number in addition to the 14-digit Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) encoded in the GS1 DataBar symbol.

This is not to say, however, that the name change is inconsequential. Applicable international technical standards governing or referencing the symbology will have to be updated. And countless AIDC industry corporate references on Web sites and in product literature—as well as the nomenclature within products, such as bar code label design software and bar code print quality verifiers, to name just two—will have to be revised. For technical standards relating to Reduced Space Symbology that have just recently been updated during a normal periodic review, this is something that could take as long as five years.

In the meantime, according to Gray, GS1 will amend the glossaries in its standards to “maintain the legacy term alongside the new one for a period of two years.” At the same time, he says, “we need software, Web sites, guides, and standards to migrate to the new name within that same period.”

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Although the rebranding of RSS to GS1 DataBar may have minimal overall impact on pharmaceutical manufacturers and packagers, one should not overlook the need to update references to RSS or Reduced Space Symbology on component specifications and artwork (especially, for example, on primary labels and flexographic printing plates and print mats), bills of material, and in other places. And although it may seem verbose and unwarranted to some, the use of a dual reference—such as “GS1 DataBar Stacked (formerly RSS-14 Stacked)”—may help avoid confusion during the transition period of the next several years.

There have been other significant changes in nomenclature within the global GS1 system over the last year. As a result, GS1 has made a PDF download of the current version of the GS1 General Specifications glossary (7.1) available at Standards_Glossary_of_Terms.pdf. Ironically, the RSS name change came after the release of this update so it is not reflected in this glossary. For additional information visit

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