Caveat Emptor: The cost of software maintenance increases with the square of the programmer's creativity.

桭irst Law of Programmer Creativity, Robert D. Bliss, 1992

This is a collection of small programming tricks that I have come across over many years. Most of them will work only on computers that represent integers in two's-complement form. Although a 32-bit machine is assumed when the register length is relevant, most of the tricks are easily adapted to machines with other register sizes.

This book does not deal with large tricks such as sophisticated sorting and compiler optimization techniques. Rather, it deals with small tricks that usually involve individual computer words or instructions, such as counting the number of 1-bits in a word. Such tricks often use a mixture of arithmetic and logical instructions.

It is assumed throughout that integer overflow interrupts have been masked off, so they cannot occur. C, Fortran, and even Java programs run in this environment, but Pascal and ADA users beware!

The presentation is informal. Proofs are given only when the algorithm is not obvious, and sometimes not even then. The methods use computer arithmetic, "floor" functions, mixtures of arithmetic and logical operations, and so on. Proofs in this domain are often difficult and awkward to express.

To reduce typographical errors and oversights, many of the algorithms have been executed. This is why they are given in a real programming language, even though, like every computer language, it has some ugly features. C is used for the high-level language because it is widely known, it allows the straightforward mixture of integer and bit-string operations, and C compilers that produce high-quality object code are available.

Occasionally, machine language is used. It employs a three-address format, mainly for ease of readability. The assembly language used is that of a fictitious machine that is representative of today's RISC computers.

Branch-free code is favored. This is because on many computers, branches slow down instruction fetching and inhibit executing instructions in parallel. Another problem with branches is that they may inhibit compiler optimizations such as instruction scheduling, commoning, and register allocation. That is, the compiler may be more effective at these optimizations with a program that consists of a few large basic blocks rather than many small ones.

The code sequences also tend to favor small immediate values, comparisons to zero (rather than to some other number), and instruction-level parallelism. Although much of the code would become more concise by using table lookups (from memory), this is not often mentioned. This is because loads are becoming more expensive relative to arithmetic instructions, and the table lookup methods are often not very interesting (although they are often practical). But there are exceptional cases.

Finally, I should mention that the term "hacker" in the title is meant in the original sense of an aficionado of computers梥omeone who enjoys making computers do new things, or do old things in a new and clever way. The hacker is usually quite good at his craft, but may very well not be a professional computer programmer or designer. The hacker's work may be useful or may be just a game. As an example of the latter, more than one determined hacker has written a program which, when executed, writes out an exact copy of itself. [1] This is the sense in which we use the term "hacker." If you're looking for tips on how to break into someone else's computer, you won't find them here.

[1] The shortest such program written in C, known to the present author, is by Vlad Taeerov and Rashit Fakhreyev and is 64 characters in length: