May 20, 2023

Endianness refers to the way in which multi-byte data types are stored in computer memory. It defines the order in which the bytes of a larger piece of data (such as a 16-bit or 32-bit integer) are arranged in memory. It is important because different hardware architectures store data in different ways, and this can cause problems when exchanging data between systems that use different endianness.


Computer memory is organized as a sequence of bytes, each of which can hold a single value between 0 and 255. However, many data types used by computer programs require more than one byte to represent them. For example, integers are typically stored using 4 bytes (32 bits), while floating-point numbers can require 4 or 8 bytes.

When a multi-byte data type is stored in memory, the bytes that make up the data can be arranged in one of two ways: big-endian or little-endian. In big-endian order, the most significant byte of the data is stored in the lowest memory address, while in little-endian order, the least significant byte is stored in the lowest memory address.

For example, consider the 16-bit integer value 0x1234. In big-endian order, this value would be stored as follows:

| 12 | 34 |

Here, the most significant byte (containing the value 0x12) is stored at the lowest memory address. In little-endian order, the same value would be stored as follows:

| 34 | 12 |

Here, the least significant byte (containing the value 0x34) is stored at the lowest memory address.

The choice of endianness is determined by the hardware architecture of the computer. Some architectures, such as the Motorola 68000 and the SPARC, use big-endian order by default, while others, such as the x86 and ARM, use little-endian order.


The purpose of endianness is to define a standard way in which multi-byte data types are stored in memory. This allows different programs and systems to exchange data in a consistent manner, regardless of their hardware architecture.

For example, suppose that two programs running on different systems need to exchange a 32-bit integer value. If one system uses big-endian order and the other uses little-endian order, then the bytes of the integer value will be arranged differently in memory. If the two programs do not take this into account, then the exchanged data will be corrupted, and the programs will not be able to communicate effectively.

To avoid this problem, programs must be aware of the endianness of the systems they are running on and must convert data between different endianness as necessary. This is typically done using byte-swapping algorithms that rearrange the bytes of the data to conform to the desired endianness.


Endianness is an important consideration when working with multi-byte data types in low-level programming languages such as C and assembly language. In these languages, the programmer has direct control over how data is stored in memory, and must explicitly specify the endianness of any data that is exchanged between systems.

In higher-level programming languages such as Java and Python, endianness is typically handled automatically by the language runtime. These languages provide built-in functions for converting data between different endianness as necessary, making it easier for programmers to write portable code.

Endianness is also important in networking, where data is often exchanged between systems over a network connection. The Internet Protocol (IP) uses big-endian order for network byte order, meaning that data sent over a network must be converted to big-endian order before transmission and converted back to the host’s endianness upon receipt. The Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and User Datagram Protocol (UDP) also use big-endian order for certain protocol fields.