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Most significant bit

The bit position in a binary number having the greatest value.

In computing, the most significant bit (MSB, also called the high-order bit) is the bit position in a binary number having the greatest value. The MSB is sometimes referred to as the high-order bit or left-most bit due to the convention in positional notation of writing more significant digits further to the left.

The MSB can also correspond to the sign bit of a signed binary number. In one's and two's complement notation, "1" signifies a negative number and "0" signifies a positive number.

It is common to assign each bit a position number ranging from zero to N−1 where N is the number of bits in the binary representation used. Normally, this is simply the exponent for the corresponding bit weight in base-2 (such as in 231..20). Although a few CPU manufacturers assign bit numbers the opposite way (which is not the same as different endianness), the MSB unambiguously remains the most significant bit. This may be one of the reasons why the term MSB is often used instead of a bit number, although the primary reason is probably that different number representations use different numbers of bits.

By extension, the most significant bits (plural) are the bits closest to, and including, the MSB.

Key Terms

binary number
bit position
computing
convention positional notation
high order bit
left bit
msb
significant bit
signifies
value

Additional Resources

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Acronymn

MSB

Synonymns

Most significant bit
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Sources & Credits

Last modified on March 6 2020
Content adapted from Wikipedia
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