4.6. Bitwise Operators
In addition to the standard arithmetic operations described earlier, CPUs also support operations that are uncommon outside of binary. These bitwise operators directly apply the behavior of logic gates to bit sequences, making them straightforward to implement efficiently in hardware. Unlike addition and subtraction, which programmers typically use to manipulate a variable’s numerical interpretation, programmers commonly use bitwise operators to modify specific bits in a variable. For example, a program might encode a certain bit position in a variable to hold a true/false meaning, and bitwise operations allow the program to manipulate the variable’s individual bits to change that specific bit.
4.6.1. Bitwise AND
The bitwise AND operator (&
) evaluates two input bit sequences. For each
digit of the inputs, it outputs a 1 in the corresponding position of the output
if both inputs are 1 in that position. Otherwise, it outputs a 0 for the
digit. Table 1 shows the truth table for the bitwise AND of two
values, A and B.
A  B  A & B 

0 
0 
0 
0 
1 
0 
1 
0 
0 
1 
1 
1 
For example, to bitwise AND 0b011010 with 0b110110, start by lining up the two sequences. Checking vertically through each digit, set the result of the column to 1 if both digits are 1. Otherwise, set the result of the column to 0:
011010 AND 110110 Only digits 1 and 4 are 1's in BOTH inputs, so Result: 010010 those are the only digits set to 1 in the output.
To perform a bitwise AND in C, place C’s bitwise AND operator (&
) between two
operand variables. Here’s the same example again, performed in C:
int x = 26;
int y = 54;
printf("Result: %d\n", x & y); // Prints 18
Bitwise Operations versus Logical Truth Operations
Be careful not to conflate bitwise operators with logical truth operators. Despite having similar names (AND, OR, NOT, etc.), the two are not the same:
Note that C often uses similar (but slightly different) operators to distinguish
between the two. For example, you can indicate bitwise AND and bitwise OR
using a single 
4.6.2. Bitwise OR
The bitwise OR operator (
) behaves like the bitwise AND operator except that
it outputs a 1 for a digit if either or both of the inputs is 1 in the
corresponding position. Otherwise, it outputs a 0 for the digit.
Table 2 shows the truth table for the bitwise OR of two values, A and
B.
A  B  A  B 

0 
0 
0 
0 
1 
1 
1 
0 
1 
1 
1 
1 
For example, to bitwise OR 0b011010 with 0b110110, start by lining up the two sequences. Checking vertically through each digit, set the result of the column to 1 if either digit is 1:
011010 OR 110110 Only digit 0 contains a 0 in both inputs, so it's Result: 111110 the only digit not set to 1 in the result.
To perform a bitwise OR in C, place C’s bitwise OR operator (
) between two
operands. Here’s the same example again, performed in C:
int x = 26;
int y = 54;
printf("Result: %d\n", x  y); // Prints 62
4.6.3. Bitwise XOR (Exclusive OR)
The bitwise XOR operator (^
) behaves like the bitwise OR operator except that
it outputs a 1 for a digit only if exactly one (but not both) of the inputs
is 1 in the corresponding position. Otherwise, it outputs a 0 for the digit.
Table 3 shows the truth table for the bitwise XOR of two values, A and
B.
A  B  A ^ B 

0 
0 
0 
0 
1 
1 
1 
0 
1 
1 
1 
0 
For example, to bitwise XOR 0b011010 with 0b110110, start by lining up the two sequences. Checking vertically through each digit, set the result of the column to 1 if only one digit is 1:
011010 XOR 110110 Digits 2, 3, and 6 contain a 1 in exactly one of Result: 101100 the two inputs.
To perform a bitwise XOR in C, place C’s bitwise XOR operator (^
) between two
operands. Here’s the same example again, performed in C:
int x = 26;
int y = 54;
printf("Result: %d\n", x ^ y); // Prints 44
4.6.4. Bitwise NOT
The bitwise NOT operator (~
) operates on just one operand. For each bit in
the sequence, it simply flips the bit such that a zero becomes a one or vice
versa. Table 4 shows the truth table for the bitwise NOT operator.
A  ~ A 

0 
1 
1 
0 
For example, to bitwise NOT 0b011010, invert the value of each bit:
NOT 011010 Result: 100101
To perform a bitwise NOT in C, place a tilde character (~
) in front of an
operand. Here’s the same example again, performed in C:
int x = 26;
printf("Result: %d\n", ~x); // Prints 27
Bitwise NOT vs. Negation
Note that all modern systems represent integers using two’s complement, so bitwise NOT isn’t quite the same as negation. Bitwise NOT only flips the bits and doesn’t add one. 
4.6.5. Bit Shifting
Another important bitwise operation involves shifting the position of an
operand’s bits either to the left (<<
) or to the right (>>
). Both the left
and right shifting operators take two operands: the bit sequence to shift and
the number of places it should be shifted.
Shifting Left
Shifting a sequence to the left by N places moves each of its bits to the left N times, appending new zeros to the right side of the sequence. For example, shifting the eightbit sequence 0b00101101 to the left by two produces 0b10110100. The two zeros at the right are appended to end of the sequence, since the result still needs to be an eightbit sequence.
In the absence of overflow, shifting to the left increases the value of the result because bits move toward digits that contribute larger powers of two to the value of the number. However, with a fixed number of bits, any bits that shift into positions beyond the maximum capacity of the number get truncated. For example, shifting the eightbit sequence 0b11110101 (unsigned interpretation 245) to the left by one produces 0b11101010 (unsigned interpretation 234). Here, the truncation of the highorder bit that shifted out makes the result smaller.
To perform a left bit shift in C, place two lessthan characters (<<
) between
a value and the number of places to shift that value:
int x = 13; // 13 is 0b00001101
printf("Result: %d\n", x << 3); // Prints 104 (0b01101000)
Shifting Right
Shifting to the right is similar to left shifting — any bits that are shifted out of a variable’s capacity (e.g., off the end to the right) disappear due to truncation. However, right shifting introduces an additional consideration: the new bits prepended to the left side of the result may need to be either all zeros or all ones depending on the type of the variable being shifted and its highorder bit value. Conceptually, the choice to prepend zeros or ones resembles that of sign extension. Thus, there exist two distinct variants of right shifting:

A logical right shift always prepends zeros to the highorder bits of the result. Logical shifting is used to shift unsigned variables, since a leading 1 in the most significant bit of an unsigned value isn’t intended to mean that the value is negative. For example, shifting 0b10110011 to the right by two using a logical shift yields 0b00101100.

An arithmetic right shift prepends a copy of the shifted value’s most significant bit into each of the new bit positions. Arithmetic shifting applies to signed variables, for which it’s important to preserve the signedness of the highorder bits. For example, shifting 0b10110011 to the right by two using an arithmetic shift yields 0b11101100.
Fortunately, when programming in C, you don’t typically need to worry about the
distinction if you’ve declared your variables properly. If your program
includes a right shift operator (>>
), virtually every C compiler will
automatically perform the appropriate type of shifting according to the type of
the shifting variable. That is, if the shifting variable was declared with the
unsigned qualifier, the compiler will perform a logical shift. Otherwise, it
will perform an arithmetic shift.
C Right Shift Example Program
You can test the behavior of right shifting with a small example program like this one:
This program declares two 32bit integers: one as an unsigned integer
( $ ./a.out 000FF000 FFFFF000 Because a leading 1 doesn’t indicate "negative" for the unsigned 