Bit manipulation is the act of algorithmically manipulating bits or other pieces of data shorter than a word. Computer programming tasks that require bit manipulation include low-level device control, error detection and correction algorithms, data compression, encryption algorithms, and optimization. For most other tasks, modern programming languages allow the programmer to work directly with abstractions instead of bits that represent those abstractions. Source code that does bit manipulation makes use of the bitwise operations: AND, OR, XOR, NOT, and bit shifts.
Bit manipulation, in some cases, can obviate or reduce the need to loop over a data structure and can give many-fold speed ups, as bit manipulations are processed in parallel, but the code can become more difficult to write and maintain.
(information from wikipedia)