Bitwise Operations

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Bitwise operations are used to perform an action on the bits (the 1's and 0's) of a number.

In this article a "binary" formatted number (which represents the "bits" of a number) will be written with a 2... and a decimal number with a 10


In Sphere, numbers are stored in something called a "DWORD". The largest number a DWORD can store is constrained by the fact that a DWORD is 32 bits wide. That means the largest number it can store is 2^32-1.

  • In Binary that's 11111111111111111111111111111111.
  • In Hex it's FFFFFFFF.
  • In Decimal that's 4294967295.

To store a 'signed' number in a DWORD (in other words, a number that can be positive or negative), the first bit is used to indicate the sign (a 1 is negative). Which means the largest 'signed' positive number is 2^31-1

  • In Binary that's 01111111111111111111111111111111.
  • In Hex it's 7FFFFFFF.
  • In Decimal that's 2147483647.

In sphere script language, the EVAL function outputs a signed DWORD, and the UVAL outputs an unsigned DWORD.

[FUNCTION Mathtest]
SERV.LOG eval0=<EVAL <LOCAL.Number0>> eval1=<EVAL <LOCAL.Number1>> eval2=<EVAL <LOCAL.Number2>>
SERV.LOG uval0=<UVAL <LOCAL.Number0>> uval1=<UVAL <LOCAL.Number1>> uval2=<UVAL <LOCAL.Number2>>

The output of this test is:

13:37:(test.scp,10)eval0=2147483647 eval1=-1 eval2=-4
13:37:(test.scp,11)uval0=2147483647 uval1=4294967295 uval2=4294967292


  • The output is limited to align with the limitation of the DWORD itself.
  • Since there are 32 "bits" in a DWORD, there can only be 32 flags in a set.
  • Be careful when manipulating flags using EVAL, because the 32nd flag could get lost.


In the Sphere server, quite a few concepts are implemented using "flags". You can see examples of flags being defined in the Sphere.ini file, or the sphere_defs.scp files. For example:

[DEFNAME attr_flags]
attr_identified       01
attr_decay            02
attr_newbie           04
attr_move_always      08
attr_move_never      010
attr_magic           020
attr_owned           040
attr_invis           080
attr_cursed         0100
attr_cursed2        0200
attr_blessed        0400
attr_blessed2       0800
attr_forsale       01000
attr_stolen        02000
attr_can_decay     04000
attr_static        08000
attr_exceptional  010000
attr_enchanted    020000
attr_imbued       040000
attr_questitem    080000
attr_insured     0100000
attr_nodrop      0200000
attr_notrade     0400000
attr_lockeddown  0800000
attr_secure     01000000

This technique is a very efficient way to store a number of Boolean values using as little memory as possible. Let's tip that list on it's side and chart the first 8 flags:

Flag Name: attr_invis attr_owned attr_magic attr_move_never attr_move_always attr_newbie attr_decay attr_identified
Flag Position 8th position 7th position 6th position 5th position 4th position 3rd position 2nd position 1st position
Binary Number: 10000000 01000000 00100000 00010000 00001000 00000100 00000010 00000001
Hex Number: 080 040 020 010 08 04 02 01
Decimal Number: 128 64 32 16 8 4 2 1

Now you can probably see the pattern... the numbers 1,2,4,8,16,32,64,128,... are all multiples of 2 and they are special because they all have a single 1 in them when converted to binary. To enable or disable an individual flag on an object is accomplished using the bitwise operators AND, OR, XOR, and NOT.

The OR Operator (inclusive OR): |

A bitwise OR takes two bit patterns of equal length and performs the logical inclusive OR operation on each pair of corresponding bits. When you perform this operation, the result in each position is 0 if both bits are 0, and the result is 1 if either (or both) the bits were 1. For example:

   0101 (decimal 5)
OR 0011 (decimal 3)
 = 0111 (decimal 7)

In Sphere, this technique is commonly used to set a flag in a register, while preserving the existing flags. So, 0010 (decimal 2) can be considered a set of four flags, where the first, third, and fourth flags are clear (0) and the second flag is set (1). The fourth flag may be set by performing a bitwise OR between this value and a bit pattern with only the fourth bit set:

   0010 (decimal 2)
OR 1000 (decimal 8)
 = 1010 (decimal 10)

In the following example Sphere code, we create a new object, then set that objects flags to equal 010, then we enable the 4th flag as well:


...that same example, using flag names:


The AND Operator (logical and): &

A bitwise AND takes two equal-length binary representations and performs the logical AND operation on each pair of the corresponding bits, by multiplying them. If both bits in the compared position are 1, the bit in the resulting binary representation is 1 (1 × 1 = 1); otherwise, the result is 0 (1 × 0 = 0 and 0 × 0 = 0). For example:

    0101 (decimal 5)
AND 0011 (decimal 3)
  = 0001 (decimal 1)

The operation may be used to determine whether a particular bit is set (1) or clear (0). For example, given a bit pattern 0011 (decimal 3), to determine whether the second bit is set we use a bitwise AND with a bit pattern containing 1 only in the second bit:

    0011 (decimal 3)
AND 0010 (decimal 2)
  = 0010 (decimal 2)

Because the result 0010 is non-zero, we know the second bit in the original pattern was set. This concept is often called bit masking. In Sphere, this is often used in an IF statement to check if a specific flag is enabled or not. For example, the sphere code to check if an object is identified is done by applying a AND of the object's ATTR to the attr_identified flag like this:

IF (<ATTR>&attr_identified)

The XOR Operator (exclusive OR): ^

A bitwise XOR takes two bit patterns of equal length and performs the logical exclusive OR operation on each pair of corresponding bits. The result in each position is 1 if only the first bit is 1 or only the second bit is 1, but will be 0 if both are 0 or both are 1. In this we perform the comparison of two bits, being 1 if the two bits are different, and 0 if they are the same. For example:

    0101 (decimal 5)
XOR 0011 (decimal 3)
  = 0110 (decimal 6)

The bitwise XOR is often used to invert selected bits in a register (also called toggle or flip). Any bit may be toggled by XORing it with 1. For example, given the bit pattern 0010 (decimal 2) the second and fourth bits may be toggled by a bitwise XOR with a bit pattern containing 1 in the second and fourth positions:

    0010 (decimal 2)
XOR 1010 (decimal 10)
  = 1000 (decimal 8)

The NOT Operator (bitwise not): !

The bitwise NOT, or complement, is an operation that performs a logical negation on each bit, forming the ones' complement of the given binary value. Bits that are 0 become 1, and those that are 1 become 0. For example:

NOT 0111  (decimal 7)
  = 1000  (decimal 8)

The bitwise complement is equal to the two's complement of the value minus one. If two's complement arithmetic is used, then:

NOT x = −x − 1.

For unsigned integers, the bitwise complement of a number is the "mirror reflection" of the number across the half-way point of the unsigned integer's range. For example, for 8-bit unsigned integers, NOT x = 255 - x, which can be visualized on a graph as a downward line that effectively "flips" an increasing range from 0 to 255, to a decreasing range from 255 to 0.

Left and right shift