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Core Elixir: Integer.is_even/1 and Integer.is_odd/1
2015-07-02 07:00:27 -0400
coreelixir Elixir elixir integer odd even

Is this number odd or even?

This should be simple, right? Oldest trick in the book: If the modulo (remainder) of the number divided by 2 is 0 (has no remainder), then it's even. Otherwise, it's odd.

In fact, here, I'll give you an example with the Elixir rem command, which returns the remainder after dividing the two arguments you send it:

iex> rem(10, 2)
iex> rem(11,2)

The first one is even. The second one is odd. Done and done. Still simple, right?

Elixir's rem is actually Kernel.rem and calls out to Erlang's :erlang.rem to do the actual work.

But that's not how it works in Elixir. It's much fancier, and much lower-level.

Back to Bits

Elixir reaches into its back pocket and pulls out a macro on this problem.

I'm not going to get into what a macro is or how it works here. Chris McCord wrote a book about it. Since I haven't read it yet, it would be irresponsible of me to attempt to break that down any further.

But the trick it uses to determine whether an integer is odd or even is the Bitwise AND operator. I'll attempt to provide a lesson on that today, instead. It's likely equally irresponsible of me to attempt this, but I have a Computer Science degree, so we should be good, right?

B to the AND

The Bitwise AND operator converts a number to bits, i.e. it turns it into 1s and 0s. This is ridiculously handy for determining when something is even or odd. Why? That last bit will give it away. If the low bit (the one on the far right side) is turned off (0), the number is even. If it's turned on (add 1), the number is odd.

Remember, that all the other bits before that last number are even numbers (2, 4, 8, 16, etc.) Only that last one, 1, is odd. And if there's anything you might remember from second grade math, it's that even + even is even and even + odd is odd. (Odd + odd is also even, but we don't have two odd bits to play with.)

So you AND 1 (that is, "00000001") to the number. 0 AND anything gives you 0, so you effectively zero out all the bits except for maybe that last one.

It comes down to that last bit: 1 AND 1 gives you 1. 0 AND 1 gives you 0. A final value of 1 is odd, 0 is even.

In other words :

{% img %}

So, is_odd returns true when that computation results in 1, and is_even returns true when that computation results in a 0. That's exactly what the source code does:

defmacro is_odd(n) do
  quote do: (unquote(n) &&& 1) == 1

defmacro is_even(n) do
  quote do: (unquote(n) &&& 1) == 0

(Even not knowing much about macros, that code is pretty readable.)

One last example of how Binary AND works:

{% img %}

Now you can feel closer to the metal and, like a smarter and more powerful programmer. You just played with the bits!

The Erlang Connection

One last thing I should mention: The &&& operator runs Erlang's :band function ( B itwise AND, get it?) See the source here.

'&&&' is included in Elixir's Bitwise module, which must be included before you can use it in your modules, as it is in Elixir's Integer library. Otherwise, you get an error that tells you to do just that:

iex> Bitwise.&&&(20, 1)
** (CompileError) iex:22: you must require Bitwise before invoking the macro Bitwise.&&&/2
    (elixir) src/elixir_dispatch.erl:97: :elixir_dispatch.dispatch_require/6

I only point this out because the error message is so helpful. As I delve deeper into the Elixir core, I see more and more of the most helpful and specific error messages I've ever seen in a computer language. That's handy.

So, use the library and compute away:

iex> use Bitwise
iex> Bitwise.&&&(20, 1)  # 20 is even, so should return 0

Note that the return value is the same as if you had done the old divide-by-two trick. No remainder indicates it's even. And if there is a 1 leftover:

iex> Bitwise.&&&(19, 1) # 19 is odd, so should return 1

Boom! Odd.

Including and Requiring

I mentioned before that is_odd and is_even are macros, right? That means that, unlike the Bitwise operator, we can't just use the Integer module. We need to require or import it. That will ensure that the macros are created and ready to go at compilation time. (The Elixir Getting Started Guide explains this fully, and even uses Integer as its example.)

What's the difference between the two? With require, you still need to include the module name in your commands:

iex> require Integer
iex> Integer.is_even(20)

With import, you don't need to use the module name anymore:

iex> import Integer
iex> is_odd(20)

You also have the ability to only import the specific functions you need, or to include only all of the macros in the module.

iex> import Integer, only: :macros
iex> is_even(20)

And Bob's your uncle.

If you have any comments, questions, complaints, criticisms, or corrections, catch me on Twitter, @AugieDB. That handle is the same as my GMail account, if you need to type more characters. I want these articles to be factually correct and will update them as necessary.


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