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Bitwise operators

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Hi all, basically I''m just wondering whether it is necessary to know these (I was re-reading K&R''s C book just before and realised I have never used these operators... yet). i.e: & bitwise AND | bitwise inclusive OR ^ bitwise exclusive OR << left shift >> right shift ~ one''s complement (unary) Are these operators used often or rarely? (never by me :-) Can someone explain when you would be using these (or even better, recommend a book/site etc. that explains them in a bit more detail so I can get a better grasp on them). thanks in advance; any help appreciated :-)

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Well, one place I use them is in my compression code. Doing things like "add 4 bits to this stream" or "mask off bits 5-7" are easily handled with the bitwise operators. Another place they come in handy is while reading binary file formats (if bit n is high then we use full color...)


Piranha are people too.

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I'd say it's very important you know these operators. They are used quite often actually. I'd say you'd see the shifts most often, following closely by bitwise AND and OR. Then comes exclusive OR, and finally the bitwise NOT (in my experience).

The shifts are used when you want to quickly multiply or divide by powers of 2, and when you want to, well, shift bits left and right, to get them into certain positions. You use the bitwise AND and OR most often to check and set bits in integers, and exclusive OR can be used to determine which bits are different between two integers (one of many usages). Bitwise NOT can be used to flip all the bits in an integer, although reasons for doing this vary.

These are all only some of the many usages of these operators. I'd recommend you get a more in-depth knowledge of how they actually work and what they do. I've found that MSDN has some really good explanations of these operators, but you can search around on the web for some other references.

[edited by - Zipster on April 10, 2004 4:11:47 AM]

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get to know these operators. you basically can''t live without them. usually these can get executed in one cpu cycle which is about as fast as is gets. you will need to know them if you do any API programming because, for example the winapi, uses the bitwise OR to concatenate flags you pass to api functions

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this depends on what you are programming,
and on your programming techniques.
for example vb dont have they operators,
and people are still living without them.
but its good to know them at least,
so that when you need one of them you will
recognize that.

most of their usage is when you want to encode
a state of something in a compact way.

for example lets say you want to encode a move on
chessboard with one 16-bit integer:

from: 0-7 (3-bits) , 0-7
to: 0-7 , 0-7

so you do this:
move = (fromx) | (fromy << 3) | (tox << 6) | (toy << 9)

thats the first thing that come to my mind about the use of shift

to de-encode this use:
fromx = move & (1+2+4)
fromy = ( move << (16-6) ) >> (16-3)

note: 1+2+4 is eqivalent to: 0000 0000 0000 0111

these are most important techniques to use them.
still u can use four seperate integers to represent
the move. that depends on you.

sure many other uses are there, but my point is
if you dont know these operators,
you can never guess that you can encode a chessboard
move in one integer.

[edited by - zaidgs on April 10, 2004 5:41:32 PM]

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GameDev has an excellent article on this topic. I highly reccomend reading it. Once upon a time, when I was asking myself the same question you did, I learned almost everything I needed to know from this.

A more specific answer to your question: I used some of these operators recently in writing a function to convert from decimal integer to hexadecimal character. Check it out:

const char ToHex(int num, int index){

char digit = 0;

//we figure out one hex digit of the num

//specified by index. i.e. index 7 is the highest

//order hex digit, as in 0xF0000000 whereas index

//0 is lowest order, as in 0x0000000F

//The bitshifts move the isloated bits to the front

//of the number, in its lowest order, so it turns out

//to be a legitimate character.

case 0: digit = int(num & 0x0000000F); break;
case 1: digit = int((num & 0x000000F0) >> 4); break;
case 2: digit = int((num & 0x00000F00) >> 8); break;
case 3: digit = int((num & 0x0000F000) >> 12); break;
case 4: digit = int((num & 0x000F0000) >> 16); break;
case 5: digit = int((num & 0x00F00000) >> 20); break;
case 6: digit = int((num & 0x0F000000) >> 24); break;
case 7: digit = int((num & 0xF0000000) >> 28); break;
default: return 0;

//for the following, we must test the character as if

//it were a number in order to determine how to make

//it so that it is interpreted as the correct letter

//we want.


//OR a bitmask of 0011|0000 onto digit to make it alpha-numeric

if((digit >= 0) && (digit <= 9)) digit |= 0x30;

//OR a bitmask of 0100|0000 onto digit to make it alpha

else if((digit >= 10) && (digit <= 15)) (digit -= 9) |= 0x40;

else return 0; //error

return digit;

If you're a bit unclear on the OR's at the end of the ToHex() function, look up an ASCII code table and see the difference between the letter characters and the number characters. Look only at the hex values for each letter / digit. It is necessary to give the character the correct specifier bits on the high order of the character's byte so that they are interpreted correctly as a letter and not something else.

Now, imagine doing all that without bitwise operators... powerful, eh? I'll admit this isn't the most efficient way, but it certainly illustrates a good many uses of the most common bitwise operators.

EDIT: added comments to make code more clear

[edited by - MajorShredd on April 10, 2004 6:52:33 PM]

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Actually, even VB uses them. The obvious one is "if PlayerHealth <= 0 AND Lives = 0 then". However, when using the Win32 GDI, you need to know how masking works to perform transparent blitting.

Mask AND Screen
Sprite OR Screen

There''s an article on this, IIRC, but basically you''re switching off the bits you want to draw to, then switching them back on to the right color.

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"if PlayerHealth <= 0 AND Lives = 0 then" is not the same as "& bitwise AND"

VB AND = C/C++ &&

&& would be:
if(PlayerHealth <= 0 && Lives == 0)


& would be:

enum FLAGS
Flag1 = (1<<1),
Flag2 = (1<<2),
Flag3 = (1<<4)

void SomeFunction(int Flags = Flag1 | Flag2)
if(Flags & Flag1)
//Handle Flag1


if(Flags & Flag2)
//Handle Flag2


if(Flags & Flag3)
//Handle Flag3


Ariel Productions
|Designing A Screen Shot System|

"You wished for a white christmas... Now go shovel your wishes!"

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It''s very hard to avoid, at least bitwise or, if you are programming for windows. Many windows or directx functions requires some flags to be combined togheter, and that''s done with bitwise or.

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Original post by UltimaX
"if PlayerHealth <= = 0 AND Lives = 0 then" is not the same as "& bitwise AND"
Actually, it is. I didn't realize it for a long time, but VB doesn't have logical operators, only bitwise operators. So aside from shifting, which I suppose could be done with multiplication and integer division, VB has everything you need for bit manipulation. I wish I had known that on many previous occasions.

[edit]Well, I should add that in the original example, you would need parentheses around (PlayerHealth <= 0) and (Lives = 0), because since And is a bitwise operator, it evaluates before <= and = and other operators. Which sucks. And probably confuses plenty of people when they first learn VB, if they're use to something that does it differently, like C.[/edit]

[edited by - Agony on April 10, 2004 9:30:27 PM]

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