A bitfield abstraction for enum values

Given different values represented by an enum, the requirement is to pass a list of those values to another system. It’s not mandatory to use an enum, I’ve chosen it just as a use case. The list of values can be a vector, an array, a bitset, or any other container or utility that can hold multiple values. Depending on the context, there are advantages and disadvantages over one container or another.


A vector is very easy to use but uses dynamic memory allocation. In an embedded context, the use of dynamic memory can be restricted.

An array uses preallocated memory and has a fixed number of elements, which could be the maximum number of values in the enum. If you want to send fewer elements than the maximum, you must have a convention to let the other system know how many you are sending. This is because you will always send a fixed number of elements (the maximum). You can choose a special value that indicates an element in the array is not of interest. Or you can place the values you want to send starting with the first position in the array, and pass along another value that says how many elements you are sending.

For a bitset, you must know the number of bits used. And you have a general semantic of manipulating values. If these aspects are convenient, a bitset can be an option.

The most simple option I can think of is a bitwise representation on an unsigned, fixed-width integer type (eg: uint32_t). It can give you the smallest memory space to represent multiple values. If you need this list of values in a very small scope, like a small function where you set the bits on a variable which you pass to the other system, it might be enough. If you pass this variable in larger scopes of the project, it’s a matter of time until someone does not know what that variable holds (there is no semantic). And they might confuse it for a variable that holds a single value, not a representation of multiple ones. Then, operations like equality might work by coincidence in some cases, other cases being runtime bugs.

For all of the above and other options not mentioned, you need to obtain the underlying value of the enum. An unscoped enum is implicitly converted to the numeric type you use for the option you choose. From a scoped enum you have to explicitly get the value. Continue reading A bitfield abstraction for enum values