Portable Bitfields C++ library

This is a C++17 cross-platform bitfields header-only library, with defined behaviour, in the contrary to the standard. This library intends to strictly define the behaviour, which the standard leaves for the compilers to define. Implements serialization and deserialization of the bitfields, and this is the main objective of this library.

Examples of usage:

  • Accessing single bits of registers in ICs, from which the data is obtained through I2C, SPI, UART, …
  • Protocol headers.


  • Overflow and out-of-range defined bevaviour: least significant bits of the value are masked to fit into the bitfield.
  • Bitfields are packed left-to-right, in the same order they are defined.
  • Bitfields are packed, thus straddling is supported.
  • Configurable padding, by enforcing whole underlying type allocation.
  • Implements bitfield serialization, deserialization and extraction of a single bitfield’s value, with proper shifting.
  • No dynamic allocation (aka, no use of new/malloc).
  • C++17.
  • Tested with GCC 11.1 and Clang 13.0.0.
  • Supports bitfield groups total length up to 8 bytes.


Basic usage

Define field IDs (names):

enum class Id
    f1, f2, f3

Define bitfield type:

using namespace jungles;

using UnderlyingType = uint16_t;
using Register = Bitfields<
    Field<Id::f1, 3>, // <Id, Bit-size>
    Field<Id::f2, 9>, 
    Field<Id::f3, 4>>; 

The UnderlyingType will be occupied by the single fields like that:

f1 = X
f2 = Y
f3 = Z

XXXYYYYYYYYYZZZZ - 16 bits in total, because uint16_t has bit-size equal to 16

The above code shall emulate a structure like this:

struct RegisterWithRawBitfields
    uint16_t f1 : 3;
    uint16_t f2 : 9;
    uint16_t f3 : 4;

Use the bitfields:

Register r; // Default zero-initialized.
r.at<Id::f1>() = 0b101;
r.at<Id::f2>() = 0b001111100;
r.at<Id::f3>() = 0b0110;

// Emulates that:
// RegisterWithRawBitfields r_raw;
// r_raw.f1 = 0b101; 
// r_raw.f2 = 0b001111100; 
// r_raw.f3 = 0b0110; 

ASSERT(r.extract<Id::f1>() == 0b1010000000000000);
ASSERT(r.extract<Id::f2>() == 0b0000011111000000);
ASSERT(r.extract<Id::f3>() == 0b0000000000000110);

ASSERT(r.serialize() == 0b1010011111000110);


Register r{0b0101110001110110};
ASSERT(r.at<Id::f1>() == 0b010);
ASSERT(r.at<Id::f2>() == 0b111000111);
ASSERT(r.at<Id::f3>() == 0b0110);

Example use case #1: RTP header’s first word

enum class RtpHeaderField
    version, padding, extension, csrc_count, marker, payload_type, sequence_number

using namespace jungles;
using RtpHeaderFirstWord = Bitfields<
    Field<RtpHeaderField::version,              2>,
    Field<RtpHeaderField::padding,              1>,
    Field<RtpHeaderField::extension,            1>,
    Field<RtpHeaderField::csrc_count,           4>,
    Field<RtpHeaderField::marker,               1>,
    Field<RtpHeaderField::payload_type,         7>,
    Field<RtpHeaderField::sequence_number,      16>>;

// ...
std::vector<uint32_t> rtp_header{get_from_external_world_over_network()};

// Will automatically assign field values (deserialize).
RtpHeaderFirstWord rtp_header_first_word{rtp_header[0]};

Example use case #2: Zigbee ZCL header field Frame Format

enum class FrameFormatFields
    frame_type, manufacturer_specific, direction, disable_default_response, reserved

using namespace jungles;
using ZclFrameFormat = Bitfields,
    Field<FrameFormatFields::frame_type,               2>,
    Field<FrameFormatFields::manufacturer_specific,    1>,
    Field<FrameFormatFields::direction,                1>,
    Field<FrameFormatFields::disable_default_response, 1>,
    Field<FrameFormatFields::reserved,                 2>>;

Example use case #3: IC MP2695 Status register

enum class StatusField
    reserved1 = 0,

using namespace jungles;
using Status = Bitfields<uint8_t, 
                         Field<StatusField::reserved1,    2>, 
                         Field<StatusField::chg_stat,     2>,
                         Field<StatusField::vppm_stat,    1>,
                         Field<StatusField::ippm_stat,    1>,
                         Field<StatusField::usb1_plug_in, 1>,
                         Field<StatusField::reserved2,    1>>;

One can utlize the library in such a way:

bool MP2695::is_usb_plugged_in()
    // Read the register over the wire
    uint8_t status_register_address{0x05};
    auto raw_value{mp2695_on_i2c_interface.read(status_register_address)}; // Depends on your implementation.

    // Initialize our Status register with the obtained data. It will map to proper bitfields.
    Status status_reg{raw_value}; 
    return status_reg.at<status::usb1_plug_in>() == 1;


  1. Copy the contents of src directory and use the header stright away, by including jungles/bitfields.hpp header. Remember the -std=c++20 flag!.
  2. Use FetchContent CMake module:


    GIT_REPOSITORY https://github.com/KKoovalsky/PortableBitfields.git
    # GIT_TAG <Some relevant SHA>


# Use 'jungles::bitfield' library target



template<auto Id>
UnderlyingType& at();

Returns reference to the field under the specified Id. One can use any integral-compatible operation on it: arithmetic, bitwise, logic, … operations. Use it to access the specific field: mutate the value, assign new one, retrieve it as an r-value.

See operations test for usage examples.


UnderlyingType serialize() const

Returns serialized bitfields, in the left-to-right order (the same as defined with Bitfields template).

See serialization test for usage examples.


template<auto Id>
UnderlyingType extract() const;

Returns the bitfield with applied shift, with all of the other bitfields cleared. Is equivalent to operation:

field value << field shift

See extraction test for usage examples.

Constraints, expected behaviour, tips and other notes

1. Overflow, or out-of-range

When assigning value out of range or overflowing the bitfield value, the least significant bits are masked to fit into the bitfield, e.g.:

using Register = Bitfields<
    Field<Id::f1, 3>,
    Field<Id::f2, 5>>; 

Register r;

r.at<Id::f2>() += 2;
r.at<Id::f2>() += 2;

ASSERT(r.at<Id::f1>() == 0b1);

r.at<Id::f2>() = 0b11111011;
ASSERT(r.at<Id::f2>() == 0b11011);

2. Field ID type

  • Field ID types must be the same for each field. Compilation error occurs otherwise.
  • Supported types are integral types, enum classes, enums, or other “structural” type.

3. Field ID

  • Field IDs must not duplicate; static assertion error goes off otherwise.
  • Accessing non-existing field ID is a static assertion error.

4. Field sizes

All the bits within the underlying type must be allocated. If the accumulated bit size is not equal to the underlying type’s bit size, then a static assertion will shoot.

5. Padding

To handle padding use “reserved” fields. Since, all of the bits must be allocated, one can control whether underlying value shall be padded left or right:

enum class Id
    f1, f2, reserved

using namespace jungles;

using RightAlignedRegister = Bitfields<
    Field<Id::reserved, 4>,
    Field<Id::f1, 6>,
    Field<Id::reserved, 6>>;

using LeftAlignedRegister = Bitfields<
    Field<Id::f1, 6>,
    Field<Id::reserved, 6>,
    Field<Id::reserved, 4>>;

6. Mask

To get a field mask, create a bitfield with all bitfields assigned to “ones”:

using namespace jungles;

using Register = Bitfields<
    Field<Id::f1, 5>, 
    Field<Id::f2, 7>, 
    Field<Id::f3, 4>>; 

Register r{std::numeric_limits<uint16_t>::max()};
ASSERT(r.extract<Id::f2>() == 0b0000011111110000);

Building and testing


cmake -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release ..
cmake --build .

To enable testing, set JUNGLES_BITFIELD_ENABLE_TESTING CMake cache variable.

There is also portability test, which downloads Clang 13.0.0 for Ubuntu 20.04, and runs the complete build and test with this compiler. To enable it, set JUNGLES_BITFIELD_ENABLE_PORTABILITY_TESTS. This takes long to run – few minutes approximately.

To research:

  1. Configurable field ordering, e.g. allow right-to-left field ordering.
  2. If Ad.1 legit, then switching ordering at runtime useful?
  3. Configurable overflow policies, e.g. allow, throw, clear field, etc.
  4. Would it be useful, if the type of a single field could be different than the underlying type of the bitfield group?
  5. Would it be useful, if the types of the field IDs wouldn’t have to be the same?


  1. Implement to std::array serialization.
  2. Allow underlying type std::array.
  3. Allow install target.
  4. Turn above todos into issues.
  5. Create ToC.


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