While doing a bit of coding for an upcoming post (probably the one following this) I was doing a variable swap. I started with a temporary variable swap but then decided to be cute and implement an XOR swap. As a benefit, I had the chance to remind myself how to do this (without cheating). However, I ran into an issue when I wanted to create a generalize swap function. Researching the issue, I came upon a post about how the XOR swap is not as efficient in modern architecture. Surprising! Dot Net Perls has a page about it with a link to the Wikipedia article.

As a reminder, an XOR swap can be achieved by doing the following on two variables:

int x = 1; int y = 2; x ^= y; y ^= x; x ^= y; Console.WriteLine("x = {0}", x); Console.WriteLine("y = {0}", y);

Output:

x = 2 y = 1

Below is the code I used to check the performance of the two methods.

int[] numbers = { 1, 2 }; int iterations = 100000000; //Number of swap iterations var timer = new Stopwatch(); // XOR Swap Test timer.Start(); for (int i = 0; i < iterations; ++i) { numbers[0] ^= numbers[1]; numbers[1] ^= numbers[0]; numbers[0] ^= numbers[1]; } timer.Stop(); Console.WriteLine("XOR Swap time: {0}", timer.Elapsed); timer.Reset(); // Temporary Variable Swap Test timer.Start(); for (int i = 0; i < iterations; ++i) { int tmp = numbers[0]; numbers[0] = numbers[1]; numbers[1] = tmp; } timer.Stop(); Console.WriteLine("Temp Variable Swap time: {0}", timer.Elapsed);

Here is sample output of a few runs:

XOR Swap time: 00:00:01.1918037 Temp Variable Swap time: 00:00:00.6617117 XOR Swap time: 00:00:01.1561061 Temp Variable Swap time: 00:00:00.6587373 XOR Swap time: 00:00:01.1674577 Temp Variable Swap time: 00:00:00.6651171

Of course these times vary a bit with the number of iterations and what else your computer is doing when it’s run, but I never saw the XOR swap performance beat the temporary variable. Who says bit manipulation is always faster?