Bitwise OR

Following on from last week’s look at the bitwise AND operator, this week I’m going to look at bitwise OR and provide an example of how you can use it.

Bitwise OR is represented by the | symbol.

Can I see an example?

130 | 10 = 138

What is this actually doing?

Bitwise OR compares each bit setting and if either one is set, sets the corresponding output bit to 1. So in the example above, we can see the actual bit comparisons as follows:

10000010    //130
00001010    //10
10001010    //138

Note that it doesn’t matter if one or both bits are set in what we are comparing. As long as either one is set, the output bit is set to 1.

What would I use bitwise OR for?

OK, an example follows – it’s much easier to understand the usefulness of these operators when you see them in action.

Turning on an individual bit

Remember last week we used bitwise AND to turn off an individual bit? Well bitwise OR allows you to do the opposite. By using a mask with the bits set that we want to turn on, we can modify the individual bits in any byte.

Let’s say we have a byte, containing 8 bits, which are used as true/false values. Without changing the settings of any of the other bits, we want to set the first bit to be true. We apply the mask 1 (decimal) as follows:

11000100    // 196
00000001    // 1
11000101    // 197

The result is that the first bit (that is, the right-most bit) is now set to 1, and the other bit settings remain unchanged.

That’s all there is to it!

Next week we’ll look at bitwise XOR.



  1. Posted 25 August 2011 at 21:36 | Permalink

    A suggestion for a future article: showing how these bitwise ops are really used in action/practice. For example manipulating enum flags to encode options in a program or how one uses simple named variables. I mean, numeric literals (magic constants) that seems to pop-up out from nowhere can confuse a beginner.
    I can’t wait for the next article! 😉

  2. Faye
    Posted 29 August 2011 at 12:20 | Permalink

    Yes – great idea. I found them really unintuitive when I first had to use them in the real world. I’ll look at doing something more practical with a set of examples in the near future!