OpenSource Internship opportunity by OpenGenus for programmers. Apply now.
Reading time: 25 minutes
Bit manipulation is the act of algorithmically manipulating bits or other pieces of data shorter than a byte.
Now , What is Bit Mask?
A bit mask (or Bitmap) is a data structure, usually an integer or array of bits, that represent a bit pattern which signifies a particular state in a particular computational problem. It takes advantage of bitwise operations.
Example
Consider a situation where you have 5 computers which you assign to your guests. When a new guest arrives or some other event, you need to have information of the computers available or already assigned.
In short, we need the current state of the 5 computers.
There are many ways in which this problem can be represented like:
 list of computer objects
We will focus on bitmasks.
In the bit mask approach, we will have a 5 bit number where the ith bit conveys information:
 if ith bit is set to 1, ith computer is occupied
 if ith bit is set to 0, ith computer is free
Hence, 01101 represents:
 Computer 2, 3 and 5 are occupied
 Computer 1 and 4 are free
Why we use bit mask?
We use bit masks because:

it is memory efficient in most problems

it is computational efficient as we can use bitwise operations which are natively supported by the computer system and will be faster than other operations like addition (+).
Common bit operations

Turning on bit:
[ 0 > 1  1 > 1 ] 
Turning off bit:
[ 1 > 0  0 > 0 ] 
Toggle specific bit:
[ 1 > 0  0 > 0 ] 
Querying Bit:
[ Check whether particular bit is 0 or 1 ]
bit Operators :
 (&)  Bitwise AND
 ()  Bitwise OR
 (^)  Bitwise XOR (Exclusive OR)
 (!)  Bitwise complement
 (<<)  Left Shift
 (>>)  Right Shift
Example :
First Let's take one random number:
178 // base 10 (decimal)
10110010 // base 2 (binary)
data = 178
I will use this number through out the article
1) Quering Bit :
Quering Bit means check particular bit whether it is 0 or 1 at desired position. For that first i have to build a mask.
 Let's check 3rd bit is 0 or 1
// Build a Mask
mask = 00000100
How? We can have given mask by left shift of 1 by 2 times that is,
mask = 1 << 2
mask = 00000100
Now , AND(&) of data with mask
data 10110010
mask & 00000100
________
ans = 00000000
if(ans is ZERO)
desired bit is zero (0)
if(ans is NON ZERO)
desired bit is one (1)
ans = 0 (base 10)
here, ans is ZERO so, 3rd bit is 0 :)
Why? Here we have used AND(&) operator...
x & 0 = 0
x & 1 = x (x = 0/1)
 Let's check 5th bit is 0 or 1
Same procedure ,
// Build a mask
mask = 1 << 4
mask = 00010000
// AND(&) of data with mask
data 10110010
mask & 00010000
________
ans = 00010000
ans = 16 (base 10)
here, ans is NON ZERO so, 5th bit is 1 :)
Hack is we are anding(&) by 1 only with our desired bit so if it is 1 then answer will obvious non zero and if it is zero then all bits in answer will be zero.
So , answer (data & mask) is NON_ZERO iff desired bit is set or 1. If answer is zero then desired bit is 0.
2) Turning Bit On :
If we want to set perticular bit to 1 then Bit Mask will help us.
 Let's set 7th bit to 1
// Build a Mask
mask = 01000000 (7th bit 1 others 0)
// OR() of data with mask
data 10110010
mask  01000000
________
ans = 11110010
Why? Here we have used OR() operation
Hack is OR() will give ans 0 iff both bits are 0 otherwise it will gives 1
x  0 = x
x  1 = 1 (x = 0/1)
Hack is if we do OR() of 1 with anything (0/1) it will set ans to 1. So, here we are doing OR() operation with our desired bit and it will set that bit to 1. And if We do OR() by 0 with any other bit it it will not change that bit.
3) Turning Bit Off :
If we want to set perticular bit to 0 then Bit Mask will help us.
 Let's set 2nd bit to 0
// Build a Mask
mask = 11111101 (2nd bit 0 others 1)
How?
mask = ~(1<<2) [Bitwise complement(~) operator : it will flip all bits ~(11110000) = (00001111)]
mask = !(00000010)
mask = 11111101
// AND(&) of data with mask
data 10110010
mask  11111101
________
ans = 10110000
Got it?? Because we have used AND(&) :)
Hack is if we do AND(&) of 0 with anything (0/1) it will set ans to 0. So, here we are doing AND(&) operation with our desired bit and it will set that bit to 0. And if We do AND(&) by 0 with any other bit it it will not change that bit.
4) Toggling Bit :
If we want to toggle bits that is 0>1 or 1>0 then Bit Mask will help us.
 Let's toggle 4 bits [1,2,6,7] of data (10110010)
// Build a Mask
mask = 01100011 (1st , 2nd , 6th , 7th bits are 1 others are 0)
How?
mask = (1<<6)  (1<<5)  (1<<1)  (1<<0)
mask = 01100011
// XOR(^) of data with mask
data 10110010
mask ^ 01100011
________
ans = 11010001
Why? Because we have used XOR(^) operator
Hack is if we do XOR(^) of 0 with anything (0/1) it will not change that bit. So, here we are doing XOR(^) operation with our desired bit and it will put it as it is. And if We do XOR(^) by 1 with any other bit it it will flip that bit.
x ^ 0 = x [0^0 = 0 , 1^0 = 1]
x ^ 1 = ~x [0^1 = 1 , 1^1 = 0] x = {0/1}
Code example
I suggest you go through code it is very simple. I have made function for all above operations. You have to pass data and position of bit on which you want to perform operation.
#include <bits/stdc++.h>
using namespace std;
void queryBit(int data , int position){
int mask,ans;
cout << "Check for " << position << " Bit" << endl;
// storing data
data = 178;
cout << "data : " << bitset<8>(data) << endl;
// Build Mask
mask = 1 << (position1);
cout << "mask : " << bitset<8>(mask) << endl;
// Bitwise AND(&) between data and mask
ans = data & mask;
cout << "ans : " << bitset<8>(ans) << endl;
if(ans == 0) // If ZERO then desired bit is 0
cout << "Bit at position " << position << " is = " << 0 << endl;
else // If NON_ZERO then desired bit is 1
cout << "Bit at position " << position << " is = " << 1 << endl;
cout << endl;
}
void setTo1(int data , int position){
int mask,ans;
cout << "Set to 1 at position " << position << endl;
// storing data
data = 178;
cout << "data : " << bitset<8>(data) << endl;
// Build Mask
mask = 1 << (position1);
cout << "mask : " << bitset<8>(mask) << endl;
// Bitwise OR() between data and mask
ans = data  mask;
cout << "ans : " << bitset<8>(ans) << endl;
cout << endl;
}
void setTo0(int data , int position){
int mask,ans;
cout << "Set to 0 at position " << position << endl;
// storing data
data = 178;
cout << "data : " << bitset<8>(data) << endl;
// Build Mask
mask = ~(1 << (position1));
cout << "mask : " << bitset<8>(mask) << endl;
// Bitwise AND(&) between data and mask
ans = data & mask;
cout << "ans : " << bitset<8>(ans) << endl;
cout << endl;
}
void toggleBits(int data , int position){
int mask,ans;
cout << "Toggle bit at position " << position << endl;
// storing data
data = 178;
cout << "data : " << bitset<8>(data) << endl;
// Build Mask
mask = 1 << (position1);
cout << "mask : " << bitset<8>(mask) << endl;
// Bitwise XOR(^) between data and mask
ans = data ^ mask;
cout << "ans : " << bitset<8>(ans) << endl;
cout << endl;
}
int main(){
int data = 178; // our data  10110010
queryBit(data,2);
queryBit(data,3);
setTo0(data,2);
setTo0(data,3);
setTo1(data,2);
setTo1(data,3);
toggleBits(data,2);
toggleBits(data,3);
return 0;
}
Output:
Check for 2 Bit
data : 10110010
mask : 00000010
ans : 00000010
Bit at position 2 is = 1
Check for 3 Bit
data : 10110010
mask : 00000100
ans : 00000000
Bit at position 3 is = 0
Set to 0 at position 2
data : 10110010
mask : 11111101
ans : 10110000
Set to 0 at position 3
data : 10110010
mask : 11111011
ans : 10110010
Set to 1 at position 2
data : 10110010
mask : 00000010
ans : 10110010
Set to 1 at position 3
data : 10110010
mask : 00000100
ans : 10110110
Toggle bit at position 2
data : 10110010
mask : 00000010
ans : 10110000
Toggle bit at position 3
data : 10110010
mask : 00000100
ans : 10110110
Practical use

In programming languages such as C, bit fields are a useful way to pass a set of named boolean arguments to a function.[2]

Masks are used with IP addresses in IP ACLs (Access Control Lists) to specify what should be permitted and denied.[2]

In computer graphics, when a given image is intended to be placed over a background, the transparent areas can be specified through a binary mask.[2]