Fifteen Digits Don’t Round-Trip Through SQLite Reals

I’ve discovered that decimal floating-point numbers of 15 significant digits or less don’t always round-trip through SQLite. Consider this example, executed on version 3.7.3 of the pre-compiled SQLite command shell:

sqlite> create table t1(d real);
sqlite> insert into t1 values(9.944932e+31);
sqlite> select * from t1;
9.94493200000001e+31

SQLite represents a decimal floating-point number that has real affinity as a double-precision binary floating-point number — a double. A decimal number of 15 significant digits or less is supposed to be recoverable from its double-precision representation. In SQLite, however, this guarantee is not met; this is because its floating-point to decimal conversion routine is implemented in limited-precision floating-point arithmetic.

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Quick and Dirty Floating-Point to Decimal Conversion

In my article “Quick and Dirty Decimal to Floating-Point Conversion” I presented a small C program that uses double-precision floating-point arithmetic to convert decimal strings to binary floating-point numbers. The program converts some numbers incorrectly, despite using an algorithm that’s mathematically correct; its limited precision calculations are to blame. I dubbed the program “quick and dirty” because it’s simple, and overall converts reasonably accurately.

For this article, I took a similar approach to the conversion in the opposite direction — from binary floating-point to decimal string. I wrote a small C program that combines two mathematically correct algorithms: the classic “repeated division by ten” algorithm to convert integer values, and the classic “repeated multiplication by ten” algorithm to convert fractional values. The program uses double-precision floating-point arithmetic, so like its quick and dirty decimal to floating-point counterpart, its conversions are not always correct — though reasonably accurate. I’ll present the program and analyze some example conversions, both correct and incorrect.

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Incorrect Floating-Point to Decimal Conversions

In my article “Inconsistent Rounding of Printed Floating-Point Numbers” I showed examples of incorrect floating-point to decimal conversions I stumbled upon — in Java, Visual Basic, JavaScript, VBScript, and OpenOffice.org Calc. In this article, I’ll explore floating-point to decimal conversions more deeply, by analyzing conversions done under four C compilers: Visual C++, MinGW GCC, Digital Mars C, and Linux GCC. I found that incorrect conversions occur in three of the four environments — in all but Linux GCC. I’ll show you some examples and explain how I found them.

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Inconsistent Rounding of Printed Floating-Point Numbers

What does this C program print?

#include <stdio.h>
int main (void)
{
 printf ("%.1f\n",0.25);
}

The answer depends on which compiler you use. If you compile the program with Visual C++ and run on it on Windows, it prints 0.3; if you compile it with gcc and run it on Linux, it prints 0.2.

The compilers — actually, their run time libraries — are using different rules to break decimal rounding ties. The two-digit number 0.25, which has an exact binary floating-point representation, is equally near two one-digit decimal numbers: 0.2 and 0.3; either is an acceptable answer. Visual C++ uses the round-half-away-from-zero rule, and gcc (actually, glibc) uses the round-half-to-even rule, also known as bankers’ rounding.

This inconsistency of printed output is not limited to C — it spans many programming environments. In all, I tested fixed-format printing in nineteen environments: in thirteen of them, round-half-away-from-zero was used; in the remaining six, round-half-to-even was used. I also discovered an anomaly in some environments: numbers like 0.15 — which look like halfway cases but are actually not when viewed in binary — may be rounded incorrectly. I’ll report my results in this article.

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Hexadecimal Floating-Point Constants

Hexadecimal floating-point constants, also known as hexadecimal floating-point literals, are an alternative way to represent floating-point numbers in a computer program. A hexadecimal floating-point constant is shorthand for binary scientific notation, which is an abstract — yet direct — representation of a binary floating-point number. As such, hexadecimal floating-point constants have exact representations in binary floating-point, unlike decimal floating-point constants, which in general do not.

Hexadecimal floating-point constants are useful for two reasons: they bypass decimal to floating-point conversions, which are sometimes done incorrectly, and they bypass floating-point to decimal conversions which, even if done correctly, are often limited to a fixed number of decimal digits. In short, their advantage is that they allow for direct control of floating-point variables, letting you read and write their exact contents.

In this article, I’ll show you what hexadecimal floating-point constants look like, and how to use them in C.

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Finding Numbers That Are Palindromic In Multiple Bases

A palindromic number, or number palindrome, is a number like 74347, which is the same written forward and backward.

A number can be palindromic in any base, not just decimal. For example, 101101 is a palindrome in binary. A number can also be palindromic in more than one base, like decimal 719848917, which is 101010111010000000010111010101 in binary and 5272002725 in octal.

An efficient way to find palindromes in a single base is to generate them, iterating through each integer and constructing palindromes from them. An efficient way to find numbers that are palindromic in multiple bases is to take a palindrome in one base and test if it’s a palindrome in one or more additional bases.

In this article, I’ll show you C code I wrote that finds multi-base numeric palindromes. I used this code to generate tables of numbers that are palindromic in decimal and binary, decimal and hexadecimal, and decimal and octal. I also used this code to solve Euler problem 36, which asks for the sum of all numbers, less than one million, that are palindromic in decimal and binary.

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Exploring Binary Numbers With PARI/GP Calculator

PARI/GP is an open source computer algebra system I use frequently in my study of binary numbers. It doesn’t manipulate binary numbers directly — input, and most output, is in decimal — so I use it mainly to do the next best thing: calculate with powers of two. Calculations with powers of two are, indirectly, calculations with binary numbers.

PARI/GP is a sophisticated tool, with several components — yet it’s easy to install and use. I use its command shell in particular, the PARI/GP calculator, or gp for short. I will show you how to use simple gp commands to explore binary numbers.

PARI/GP Calculator (Example Calculations) (My Setup on Windows)
PARI/GP Calculator (Sample of Calculations Used to Explore Binary Numbers)

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Nines in Binary

I discovered a cool property of positive integers of the form 10n-1, that is, integers made up of n digits of 9s: they have binary representations that have exactly n digits of trailing 1s. For example, 9,999,999 in decimal is 100110001001011001111111 in binary.

The property is interesting in and of itself, but what is more interesting is the process I went through to discover it. It’s a small-scale example of experimental mathematics: I observed something interesting, experimented to collect more data, developed a hypothesis, and constructed a proof.

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How I Taught My Mother Binary Numbers

I introduced my mother to binary numbers a few weeks ago when I showed her my One Hundred Cheerios in Binary poster. It shows the decimal number 100 in binary — 1100100. She’s not an engineer but she’s good with numbers, so I knew she would get it — if only I could find the right way to explain it. Two days ago, I found the right way.

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Converting Floating-Point Numbers to Binary Strings in C

If you want to print a floating-point number in binary using C code, you can’t use printf() — it has no format specifier for it. That’s why I wrote a program to do it, a program I describe in this article.

(If you’re wondering why you’d want to print a floating-point number in binary, I’ll tell you that too.)

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Base Conversion in PHP Using BCMath

PHP has a component called BCMath which does arbitrary-precision, decimal arithmetic. I used BCMath in my decimal/binary converter because:

  • Arbitrary-precision lets it operate on very large and very small numbers, numbers that can’t be represented in standard computer word sizes.
  • Decimal arithmetic lets it use the same algorithms I’d use to convert between decimal and binary by hand.

(If you’ve written a conversion routine in standard code, especially one to convert decimal fractions to binary, you’ll see the advantage of the second point.)

This article describes the implementation of my conversion routines with BCMath.

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