Learn C# Enum Flags by Doing

Ever tried naming your favorite things using enums in C#/.NET, like choosing between Dog, Cat, or Bird for your favorite pet, or picking your top language from English, German, Ukrainian? Enums are fantastic for this - like a personal pick-n-mix of named values. But here’s the twist: what if you’re a multi-pet enthusiast or a polyglot? Do you resort to an array of enums? Nope, there’s a cooler way - enum flags.

animals with flags

Picture this enum:

public enum Pet
    Dog =    0b_0001, // 1 - the loyal friend
    Cat =    0b_0010, // 2 - the whiskered boss
    Bird =   0b_0100, // 4 - the chirpy companion
    Rabbit = 0b_1000  // 8 - the fluffy hopper

Say I’m a cat and rabbit person. In enum flag land, my love for feline and fluffy equals Pet.Cat | Pet.Rabbit, which, by some magic, equals 10. Hold that thought - we’ll unravel this mystery soon!

var myPreferences = Pet.Cat | Pet.Rabbit;

What if someone asks if I’m a dog lover?

var isDogLover = myPreferences.HasFlag(Pet.Dog);

Spoiler alert: I’m not (at least for now).

But wait, there’s more! Imagine one day I’m all about Team Dog, and suddenly, rabbits just aren’t my thing anymore (sorry, bunnies!). This is where things get really exciting! If you can play around with those bitwise operations and flip flags like a pro, then you’re basically a code wizard! As for me, I’m just a bit forgetful. Sometimes I can’t even remember if I chose cats or dogs (or was it birds?). So, writing this post is my way of keeping it all straight - and hopefully helping you too!

So, buckle up for an adventure in the land of enum flags, where we’ll learn how to make our code as versatile as our changing preferences! 🐾🐱🐶🐰


Ever scratched your head wondering why on Earth there’s a HasFlag but no SetFlag in C#/.NET? Is it just me or is my autocomplete on a coffee break? How do you even set a flag without it?

Raise a Flag

Imagine me, trying to be a code wizard, and I’m all for Team Cat.

var myPreferences = Pet.Cat;

But then, one sunny day, I decide to join the fluffy rabbit fan club. Time for some OR bitwise magic!

myPreferences = myPreferences | Pet.Rabbit;

A bit of math (don’t worry, it’s not scary):

   0010 - Cat
   1000 - Rabbit
   1010 - Cat + Rabbit

Ta-da! There’s our 10, which in the binary world is 1010.

Lower a Flag

Now, imagine a plot twist: I’m no longer a fan of the whiskered cat boss. It’s time to say goodbye using AND and NOT bitwise operations.

myPreferences = myPreferences & ~Pet.Cat;

Let’s do the math (this one may be scary):

    1010 - Cat + Rabbit
    1101 - NOT(Cat) which is NOT(0010)
    1000 - Rabbit

It’s so easy to forget that little ~, or mix up & with |, or even && and ||. Sometimes, I wonder why there isn’t a handy SetFlag method yet. But hey, no worries – we’re here to fix that!


Drumroll, please! Introducing the hero we’ve all been waiting for: the SetFlag method!

using System.Linq.Expressions;

namespace Gaev.Blog.EnumFlags;

public static class EnumFlagExtensions
    public static TEnum SetFlag<TEnum>(this TEnum value, TEnum flag, bool state) where TEnum : Enum
        var left = Convert.ToUInt64(value);
        var right = Convert.ToUInt64(flag);
        var result = state
            ? left | right
            : left & ~right;
        return (TEnum)Convert.ChangeType(result, Enum.GetUnderlyingType(typeof(TEnum)));

But wait, hold your horses! Don’t copy-paste just yet. Let’s see this magic in action.

Raise a Flag

myPreferences = myPreferences.SetFlag(Pet.Rabbit, true);

Easy peasy, just like saying, “Yes, please, to bunnies!”

Lower a Flag

myPreferences = myPreferences.SetFlag(Pet.Cat, false);

Goodbye, cat – no more cat hairs on my keyboard!

See? No more losing that sneaky ~.

The above code is cool, but some brainy folks suggested we could make it even faster by cutting out the boxing, check out StackOverflow topic. So, here’s the turbo-charged version:

using System.Linq.Expressions;

namespace Gaev.Blog.EnumFlags;

public static class EnumFlagExtensions
    public static TEnum SetFlag<TEnum>(this TEnum value, TEnum flag, bool state) where TEnum : Enum
        var left = Caster<TEnum, UInt64>.Cast(value);
        var right = Caster<TEnum, UInt64>.Cast(flag);
        var result = state
            ? left | right
            : left & ~right;
        return Caster<ulong, TEnum>.Cast(result);

    public static TEnum RaiseFlag<TEnum>(this TEnum value, TEnum flag) where TEnum : Enum
        => value.SetFlag(flag, true);

    public static TEnum LowerFlag<TEnum>(this TEnum value, TEnum flag) where TEnum : Enum
        => value.SetFlag(flag, false);

    private static class Caster<TSource, TTarget>
        public static readonly Func<TSource, TTarget> Cast = CreateConvertMethod();

        private static Func<TSource, TTarget> CreateConvertMethod()
            var p = Expression.Parameter(typeof(TSource));
            var c = Expression.ConvertChecked(p, typeof(TTarget));
            return Expression.Lambda<Func<TSource, TTarget>>(c, p).Compile();

Now, feel free to copy-paste!

And for the nerds among us (I proudly count myself as one), here’s the performance report via BenchmarkDotNet:

Method Runtime Mean Error StdDev Gen0 Allocated
RaiseFlag_Native .NET 7.0 0.3910 ns 0.0194 ns 0.0181 ns - -
RaiseFlag_NonBoxing .NET 7.0 2.7012 ns 0.0119 ns 0.0111 ns - -
RaiseFlag_Boxing .NET 7.0 52.0814 ns 0.6821 ns 0.6380 ns 0.0114 144 B
LowerFlag_Native .NET 7.0 0.4116 ns 0.0109 ns 0.0102 ns - -
LowerFlag_NonBoxing .NET 7.0 2.6383 ns 0.0146 ns 0.0137 ns - -
LowerFlag_Boxing .NET 7.0 51.5234 ns 0.3467 ns 0.2895 ns 0.0114 144 B
RaiseFlag_Native .NET Framework 4.8 0.3665 ns 0.0234 ns 0.0269 ns - -
RaiseFlag_NonBoxing .NET Framework 4.8 3.5727 ns 0.0178 ns 0.0167 ns - -
RaiseFlag_Boxing .NET Framework 4.8 100.7910 ns 0.2107 ns 0.1759 ns 0.0229 144 B
LowerFlag_Native .NET Framework 4.8 0.3292 ns 0.0305 ns 0.0327 ns - -
LowerFlag_NonBoxing .NET Framework 4.8 3.8718 ns 0.0203 ns 0.0170 ns - -
LowerFlag_Boxing .NET Framework 4.8 103.2550 ns 2.0824 ns 2.3981 ns 0.0229 144 B

As you can see, our new SetFlag method is not just easy to use, but close to the native bitwise operations! Quick, simple, and efficient.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Enum Flags in C#/.NET?

Enum flags in C#/.NET allow you to store multiple values in a single enum variable using bitwise operations. This is useful when you need to represent a combination of options or preferences.

How do I check if a specific flag is set?

Use the HasFlag method. For instance, myPreferences.HasFlag(Pet.Dog) checks if the dog flag is set in myPreferences.

Is there a SetFlag method in C#/.NET?

No, there isn’t a built-in SetFlag method in C#. However, you can implement one yourself to simplify setting and unsetting flags. The article provides an example implementation.

Are there performance concerns with using the custom SetFlag method?

The custom SetFlag method is nearly as fast as native bitwise operations. Performance metrics are provided in the article for different .NET environments.

Why is there no built-in SetFlag method in C#?

That’s good question. The decision to exclude a SetFlag method from the standard library due to the simplicity of implementing it using existing bitwise operations. However, creating a custom SetFlag method can make the code more readable and maintainable.


It looks like our autocomplete is finally back from its coffee break. That’s a wrap on our fun-filled tour of enum flags in C#! With our nifty SetFlag method, you’re all set to toggle your choices as easily as flipping a switch. No more bitwise headaches – just smooth, straightforward coding. Happy flag-raising (and lowering) adventures!

For those who love a deep dive, check out the unit tests, examples, and benchmarks here.

If you enjoyed this coding caper, don’t forget to share the magic with others! Drop a comment if you’ve got thoughts or tricks of your own to share, and follow me for more fun-filled coding adventures. Let’s keep the flags of creativity and collaboration flying high!

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