how doest subsets of subsets iteration works?

i read
for ( x = y; x > 0; x = ( y & (x-1) ) )

generates all subsets of bitmask y.

How does this iteration works? Any intuitive explaination?

source :

see suboptimal solution section.

2 answers

  • answered 2018-01-13 17:30 Alex Reinking

    Intuition: Taken as a number, the bitmask y cannot have more than y subsets. So, by counting down x, you are guaranteed to hit every subset of y by bitmasking. But this creates a lot of duplicates. Think about 1101. If you count down from that and mask with y, the sequence will go. 1101, 1100, 1001, 1000, 1001, 1000, and so on. By assigning x the result of the masking operation, you skip to its last occurrence.

    Proof: This leads to a simple proof by induction. Clearly, for bit strings of length 1, this procedure works. The only two subsets, 1, and 0, are emitted in that order.

    Now suppose this procedure works for bitstrings of length N. Suppose Z is a bitstring of length N. If you create the bitstring 0Z, then you follow the same sequence as for Z along, since subtraction does not ever turn on higher order bits. If you create the bitstring 1Z, then the following happens: For the first 2^nnz(Z) steps, the original Z sequence is followed, with 1 prepended. And for the last 2^nnz(Z) steps, the original Z sequence is followed, with 0 prepended. Since the procedure visits every element of the smaller sequence twice, prepending 1 the first time, and 0 the second, we conclude that the procedure emits every subset of 1Z.

    Taken together, we see that the procedure works for all bit strings.

  • answered 2018-01-13 18:43 AnT

    The first simple fact that is used here is that if we, say, take value 7 (111 in binary) and start decrementing it repeatedly (all the way to 0) we'll pass through binary representations

    111, 110, 101, 100, 011, 010, 001, 000

    which in a rather obvious way to represent all possible subsets of an original 3-set.

    The second fact is that in binary "to decrement x" ("to subtract 1 from x") means: to invert all bits of x starting from the least significant (rightmost) one and to the left up to (and including) the first 1 in the representation of x. "To the left" here means "in direction of increasing bit significance".


    00001000 - 1 = 00000111, i.e. we invert the `1000` tail
    01010101 - 1 = 01010100, i.e. we invert just the `1` tail
    10000000 - 1 = 01111111, i.e. we invert the whole thing
    and so on

    The decrement operation "turns off" the least significant 1 bit in the binary representation and "turns on" all zero bits to the right of it.

    Now, the third fact is that in your case 1 bits of x are always a subset of 1 bits of y, since we begin with x = y and do x = (whatever) & y on every iteration.

    When we do x - 1 we "turn off" (set to 0) the lowest 1 in x and "turn on" (set to 1) all 0 in x to the right from that lowest 1.

    When we follow that with & y in x = (x - 1) & y we "turn off" some original bit of y in x and "turn on" all lower original bits of y in x.

    At this point it should already be fairly obvious that this operation is simply a "masked decrement" of x: by doing x = (x - 1) & y we simply decrement the value of x under assumption that only bits masked by y form the value of x, while all other bits are just negligible "padding bits".

    To draw the parallel to the above example with decrementing 7, the initial value of y might look as 10010100. Operation x = (x - 1) & y will see this value as a "distributed 7" of sorts (speaking informally). The x will proceed through the following values

    1..1.1.., 1..1.0.., 1..0.1.., 1..0.0.., 0..1.1.., 0..1.0.., 0..0.1.., 0..0.0..

    where . designates the "pading"bits" of x, which do not really participate in this "masked decrement" operation (in reality they will be 0). Note the similarity with the original example with 7.