Combinable enumerations in C# .NET: numeric values of large enums

In this post we saw how to build an enumeration that can be combined using the bitwise OR, i.e. | operator:

var frontEndProgrammer = SoftwarePositions.Programmer | SoftwarePositions.FrontEnd;

We saw that enumeration values must be set in powers of two:

[Flags]
public enum SoftwarePositions
{
	Architect = 0
	, Developer = 1
	, Programmer = 2
	, FrontEnd = 4
	, BackEnd = 8
	, Database = 16
	, DomainModeller = 32
}

This is fine for short enumerations where it’s visibly easy to follow the numeric values 0,1,2,…,32. Most programmers are familiar with these digits so they’ll know what you are doing.

However, if this list gets longer then the powers of 2 will also grow exponentially. Here’s a table from Wikipedia:

Powers of two table from wikipedia

So if you have 31 elements in your enumeration then its value will be 1,073,741,824 as we’re starting with 0. Surely not too many people can remember that.

There’s a trick, however, to simplify this code using the left-shift operator:

[Flags]
public enum SoftwarePositions
{
	Architect = 0
	, Developer = 1
	, Programmer = 1 << 1
	, FrontEnd = 1 << 2
	, BackEnd = 1 << 3
	, Database = 1 << 4
	, DomainModeller = 1 << 5
}

This will shift the bit set for one by as many positions as there are after the left-shift operator yielding the number we’re after. E.g. left-shifting 1…

00000001

…by 3 positions gives…

00001000

…which is 8 in binary. The enum element BackEnd has value 8 so it’s correct.

View all various C# language feature related posts here.

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About Andras Nemes
I'm a .NET/Java developer living and working in Stockholm, Sweden.

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