Programming Tutorials

Bitwise Operators in C

By: Charles in C Tutorials on 2007-09-20  

C provides six operators for bit manipulation; these may only be applied to integral operands, that is, char, short, int, and long, whether signed or unsigned.


& bitwise AND
| bitwise inclusive OR
^ bitwise exclusive OR
<<   left shift
>> right shift
~ one's complement (unary)

The bitwise AND operator & is often used to mask off some set of bits, for example

   n = n & 0177;
sets to zero all but the low-order 7 bits of n.

The bitwise OR operator | is used to turn bits on:

   x = x | SET_ON;
sets to one in x the bits that are set to one in SET_ON.

The bitwise exclusive OR operator ^ sets a one in each bit position where its operands have different bits, and zero where they are the same.

One must distinguish the bitwise operators & and | from the logical operators && and ||, which imply left-to-right evaluation of a truth value. For example, if x is 1 and y is 2, then x & y is zero while x && y is one.

The shift operators << and >> perform left and right shifts of their left operand by the number of bit positions given by the right operand, which must be non-negative. Thus x << 2 shifts the value of x by two positions, filling vacated bits with zero; this is equivalent to multiplication by 4. Right shifting an unsigned quantity always fits the vacated bits with zero. Right shifting a signed quantity will fill with bit signs (``arithmetic shift'') on some machines and with 0-bits (``logical shift'') on others.

The unary operator ~ yields the one's complement of an integer; that is, it converts each 1-bit into a 0-bit and vice versa. For example

   x = x & ~077
sets the last six bits of x to zero. Note that x & ~077 is independent of word length, and is thus preferable to, for example, x & 0177700, which assumes that x is a 16-bit quantity. The portable form involves no extra cost, since ~077 is a constant expression that can be evaluated at compile time.

As an illustration of some of the bit operators, consider the function getbits(x,p,n) that returns the (right adjusted) n-bit field of x that begins at position p. We assume that bit position 0 is at the right end and that n and p are sensible positive values. For example, getbits(x,4,3) returns the three bits in positions 4, 3 and 2, right-adjusted.

   /* getbits:  get n bits from position p */
   unsigned getbits(unsigned x, int p, int n)
       return (x >> (p+1-n)) & ~(~0 << n);
The expression x >> (p+1-n) moves the desired field to the right end of the word. ~0 is all 1-bits; shifting it left n positions with ~0<<n places zeros in the rightmost n bits; complementing that with ~ makes a mask with ones in the rightmost n bits.

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