# 0.03: Types and Number Representation

- Page ID
- 81527

## Types and Number Representation

### C Standards

Although a slight divergence, it is important to understand a bit of history about the C language.

C is the common languge of the systems programming world. Every operating system and its associated system libraries in common use is written in C, and every system provides a C compiler. To stop the language diverging across each of these systems where each would be sure to make numerous incompatible changes, a strict standard has been written for the language.

Officially this standard is known as ISO/IEC 9899:1999(E),
but is more commonly referred to by its shortened name
*C99*. The standard is maintained by the
International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the full standard
is available for purchase online. Older standards versions such
as C89 (the predecessor to C99 released in 1989) and ANSI C are
no longer in common usage and are encompassed within the latest
standard. The standard documentation is very technical, and
details most every part of the language. For example it
explains the syntax (in Backus Naur form), standard
`#define`

values and how
operations should behave.

It is also important to note what the C standards does
*not* define. Most importantly the standard
needs to be appropriate for every architecture, both present and
future. Consequently it takes care *not* to
define areas that are architecture dependent. The "glue"
between the C standard and the underlying architecture is the
Application Binary Interface (or ABI) which we discuss below.
In several places the standard will mention that a particular
operation or construct has an unspecified or implementation
dependent result. Obviously the programmer can not depend on
these outcomes if they are to write portable code.

#### GNU C

The GNU C Compiler, more commonly referred to as gcc, almost completely implements the C99 standard. However it also implements a range of extensions to the standard which programmers will often use to gain extra functionality, at the expense of portability to another compiler. These extensions are usually related to very low level code and are much more common in the system programming field; the most common extension being used in this area being inline assembly code. Programmers should read the gcc documentation and understand when they may be using features that diverge from the standard.

gcc can be directed to adhere
strictly to the standard (the
`-std=c99`

flag for example)
and warn or create an error when certain things are done that
are not in the standard. This is obviously appropriate if you
need to ensure that you can move your code easily to another
compiler.

### Types

As programmers, we are familiar with using variables to
represent an area of memory to hold a value. In a
*typed* language, such as C, every variable
must be declared with a *type*. The type
tells the compiler about what we expect to store in a variable;
the compiler can then both allocate sufficient space for this
usage and check that the programmer does not violate the rules
of the type. In the example below, we see an example of the
space allocated for some common types of variables.

The C99 standard purposely only mentions the
*smallest* possible size of each of the types
defined for C. This is because across different processor
architectures and operating systems the best size for
types can be wildly different.

To be completely safe programmers need to never assume the
size of any of their variables, however a functioning system
obviously needs agreements on what sizes types are going to be
used in the system. Each architecture and operating system
conforms to an *Application Binary Interface*
or *ABI*. The ABI for a system fills in the
details between the C standard and the requirements of the
underlying hardware and operating system. An ABI is written for
a specific processor and operating system combination.

Type | C99 minimum size (bits) | Common size (32 bit architecture) |
---|---|---|

`char`
| 8 | 8 |

`short`
| 16 | 16 |

`int`
| 16 | 32 |

`long`
| 32 | 32 |

`long long`
| 64 | 64 |

Pointers | Implementation dependent | 32 |

Above we can see the only divergence from the standard is
that `int`

is commonly a 32 bit
quantity, which is twice the strict minimum 16 bit size that the
C99 requires.

Pointers are really just an address (i.e. their value is an address and thus "points" somewhere else in memory) therefore a pointer needs to be sufficient in size to be able to address any memory in the system.

#### 64 bit

One area that causes confusion is the introduction of 64
bit computing. This means that the processor can handle
addresses 64 bits in length (specifically the registers are 64
bits wide; a topic we discuss in Chapter 3, *Computer Architecture*).

This firstly means that all pointers are required to be a 64 bits wide so they can represent any possible address in the system. However, system implementers must then make decisions about the size of the other types. Two common models are widely used, as shown below.

Type | C99 minimum size (bits) | Common size (LP64) | Common size (Windows) |
---|---|---|---|

`char`
| 8 | 8 | 8 |

`short`
| 16 | 16 | 16 |

`int`
| 16 | 32 | 32 |

`long`
| 32 | 64 | 32 |

`long long`
| 64 | 64 | 64 |

Pointers | Implementation dependent | 64 | 64 |

You can see that in the LP64 (long-pointer 64) model
`long`

values are defined to be
64 bits wide. This is different to the 32 bit model we showed
previously. The LP64 model is widely used on UNIX
systems.

In the other model,
`long`

remains a 32 bit value.
This maintains maximum compatibility with 32 code. This model
is in use with 64 bit Windows.

There are good reasons why the size of
`int`

was not increased to 64
bits in either model. Consider that if the size of
`int`

is increased to 64 bits
you leave programmers no way to obtain a 32 bit variable. The
only possibly is redefining
`shorts`

to be a larger 32 bit
type.

A 64 bit variable is so large that it is not generally
required to represent many variables. For example, loops very
rarely repeat more times than would fit in a 32 bit variable
(4294967296 times!). Images usually are usually represented
with 8 bits for each of a red, green and blue value and an
extra 8 bits for extra (alpha channel) information; a total of
32 bits. Consequently for many cases, using a 64 bit variable
will be wasting at least the top 32 bits (if not more). Not
only this, but the size of an integer array has now doubled
too. This means programs take up more system memory (and thus
more cache; discussed in detail in Chapter 3, *Computer Architecture*) for no real improvement. For
the same reason Windows elected to keep their long values as
32 bits; since much of the Windows API was originally written
to use long variables on a 32 bit system and hence does not
require the extra bits this saves considerable wasted space in
the system without having to re-write all the API.

If we consider the proposed alternative where
`short`

was redefined to be a
32 bit variable; programmers working on a 64 bit system could
use it for variables they know are bounded to smaller values.
However, when moving back to a 32 bit system their same
`short`

variable would now be
only 16 bits long, a value which is much more realistically
overflowed (65536).

By making a programmer request larger variables when they know they will be needed strikes a balance with respect to portability concerns and wasting space in binaries.

#### Type qualifiers

The C standard also talks about some qualifiers for
variable types. For example
`const`

means that a variable
will never be modified from its original value and
`volatile`

suggests to the
compiler that this value might change outside program
execution flow so the compiler must be careful not to re-order
access to it in any way.

`signed`

and
`unsigned`

are probably the two
most important qualifiers; and they say if a variable can take
on a negative value or not. We examine this in more detail
below.

Qualifiers are all intended to pass extra information
about how the variable will be used to the compiler. This
means two things; the compiler can check if you are violating
your own rules (e.g. writing to a
`const`

value) and it can make
optimisations based upon the extra knowledge (examined in
later chapters).

#### Standard Types

C99 realises that all these rules, sizes and portability
concerns can become very confusing very quickly. To help, it
provides a series of special types which can specify the exact
properties of a variable. These are defined in
`<stdint.h>`

and have the
form `qtypes_t`

where
`q`

is a qualifier,
`type`

is the base type,
`s`

is the width in bits and
`_t`

is an extension so you
know you are using the C99 defined types.

So for example `uint8_t`

is an unsigned integer exactly 8 bits wide. Many other types
are defined; the complete list is detailed in C99 17.8 or
(more cryptically) in the header file. ^{[3]}

It is up to the system implementing the C99 standard to provide these types for you by mapping them to appropriate sized types on the target system; on Linux these headers are provided by the system libraries.

#### Types in action

Below in Example 2.3, “Example of warnings when types are not matched” we see an
example of how types place restrictions on what operations are
valid for a variable, and how the compiler can use this
information to warn when variables are used in an incorrect
fashion. In this code, we firstly assign an integer value
into a `char`

variable. Since
the `char`

variable is smaller,
we loose the correct value of the integer. Further down, we
attempt to assign a pointer to a
`char`

to memory we designated
as an `integer`

. This
operation can be done; but it is not safe. The first example
is run on a 32-bit Pentium machine, and the correct value is
returned. However, as shown in the second example, on a
64-bit Itanium machine a pointer is 64 bits (8 bytes) long,
but an integer is only 4 bytes long. Clearly, 8 bytes can not
fit into 4! We can attempt to "fool" the compiler by
*casting* the value before assigning it;
note that in this case we have shot ourselves in the foot by
doing this cast and ignoring the compiler warning since the
smaller variable can not hold all the information from the
pointer and we end up with an invalid address.

1 /** types.c*/5 #include <stdio.h> #include <stdint.h>intmain(void) { 10chara;char*p =;"hello"inti; 15// moving a larger variable into a smaller onei = 0x12341234; a = i; i = a; printf(, i); 20"i is %d\n"// moving a pointer into an integerprintf(, p); i = p;"p is %p\n"// "fooling" with casts25 i = (int)p; p = (char*)i; printf(, p);"p is %p\n"return0; 30 }

1 $ uname -m i686 $ gcc -Wall -o types types.c 5 types.c: In function 'main': types.c:19: warning: assignment makes integer from pointer without a cast $ ./types i is 52 10 p is 0x80484e8 p is 0x80484e8 $ uname -m ia64 15 $ gcc -Wall -o types types.c types.c: In function 'main': types.c:19: warning: assignment makes integer from pointer without a cast types.c:21: warning: cast from pointer to integer of different size 20 types.c:22: warning: cast to pointer from integer of different size $ ./types i is 52 p is 0x40000000000009e0 25 p is 0x9e0

### Number Representation

#### Negative Values

With our modern base 10 numeral system we indicate a
negative number by placing a minus
(`-`

) sign in front of it.
When using binary we need to use a different system to
indicate negative numbers.

There is only one scheme in common use on modern hardware, but C99 defines three acceptable methods for negative value representation.

##### Sign Bit

The most straight forward method is to simply say that one bit of the number indicates either a negative or positive value depending on it being set or not.

This is analogous to mathematical approach of having a
`+`

and
`-`

. This is fairly logical,
and some of the original computers did represent negative
numbers in this way. But using binary numbers opens up some
other possibilities which make the life of hardware designers
easier.

However, notice that the value
`0`

now has two equivalent
values; one with the sign bit set and one without.
Sometimes these values are referred to as
`+0`

and
`-0`

respectively.

##### One's Complement

One's complement simply applies the
*not* operation to the positive number to
represent the negative number. So, for example the value
-90 (-0x5A) is represented by ```
~01011010 =
10100101
```

^{[4]}

With this scheme the biggest advantage is that to add a negative number to a positive number no special logic is required, except that any additional carry left over must be added back to the final value. Consider

Decimal | Binary | Op |
---|---|---|

-90 | 10100101 | + |

100 | 01100100 | |

--- | -------- | |

10 | ^{1}00001001 | 9 |

00001010 | 10 |

If you add the bits one by one, you find you end up with a carry bit at the end (highlighted above). By adding this back to the original we end up with the correct value, 10

Again we still have the problem with two zeros being represented. Again no modern computer uses one's complement, mostly because there is a better scheme.

##### Two's Complement

Two's complement is just like one's complement, except
the negative representation has *one*
added to it and we discard any left over carry bit. So to
continue with the example from before,
`-90`

would be
```
~01011010+1=10100101+1 =
10100110
```

.

This means there is a slightly odd symmetry in the
numbers that can be represented; for example with an 8 bit
integer we have
`2^`

possible values; with our sign bit
representation we could represent -127 thru 127 but with
two's complement we can represent -127 thru 128. This is
because we have removed the problem of having two zeros;
consider that "negative zero" is ^{8} =
256```
(~00000000
+1)=(11111111+1)=00000000
```

(note
discarded carry bit).

Decimal | Binary | Op |
---|---|---|

-90 | 10100110 | + |

100 | 01100100 | |

--- | -------- | |

10 | 00001010 |

You can see that by implementing two's complement hardware designers need only provide logic for addition circuits; subtraction can be done by two's complement negating the value to be subtracted and then adding the new value.

Similarly you could implement multiplication with repeated addition and division with repeated subtraction. Consequently two's complement can reduce all simple mathematical operations down to addition!

All modern computers use two's complement representation.

###### Sign-extension

Because of two's complement format, when increasing
the size of signed value, it is important that the
additional bits be *sign-extended*;
that is, copied from the top-bit of the existing
value.

For example, the value of an 32-bit
`int`

`-10`

would be represented
in two's complement binary as
`11111111111111111111111111110110`

.
If one were to cast this to a 64-bit ```
long
long int
```

, we would need to ensure that
the additional 32-bits were set to
`1`

to maintain the same
sign as the original.

Thanks to two's complement, it is sufficient to take
the top bit of the exiting value and replace all the added
bits with this value. This processes is referred to as
*sign-extension* and is usually handled
by the compiler in situations as defined by the language
standard, with the processor generally providing special
instructions to take a value and sign-extended it to some
larger value.

#### Floating Point

So far we have only discussed integer or whole numbers;
the class of numbers that can represent decimal values is
called *floating point*.

To create a decimal number, we require some way to
represent the concept of the decimal place in binary. The
most common scheme for this is known as the *IEEE-754
floating point standard* because the standard is
published by the Institute of Electric and Electronics
Engineers. The scheme is conceptually quite simple and is
somewhat analogous to "scientific notation".

In scientific notation the value
`123.45`

might commonly be
represented as
`1.2345x10`

.
We call ^{2}`1.2345`

the
*mantissa* or
*significand*,
`10`

is the
*radix* and
`2`

is the
*exponent*.

In the IEEE floating point model, we break up the
available bits to represent the sign, mantissa and exponent of
a decimal number. A decimal number is represented by
```
sign × significand ×
2^
```

.^{exponent}

The sign bit equates to either
`1`

or
`-1`

. Since we are working in
binary, we always have the implied radix of
`2`

.

There are differing widths for a floating point value -- we examine below at only a 32 bit value. More bits allows greater precision.

Sign | Exponent | Significand/Mantissa |
---|---|---|

S | EEEEEEEE | MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM |

The other important factor is *bias*
of the exponent. The exponent needs to be able to represent
both positive and negative values, thus an implied value of
`127`

is subtracted from the
exponent. For example, an exponent of
`0`

has an exponent field of
`127`

,
`128`

would represent
`1`

and
`126`

would represent
`-1`

.

Each bit of the significand adds a little more precision
to the values we can represent. Consider the scientific
notation representation of the value
`198765`

. We could write this
as
`1.98765x10`

,
which corresponds to a representation below^{6}

10^{0} | . | 10^{-1} | 10^{-2} | 10^{-3} | 10^{-4} | 10^{-5} |
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

1 | . | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 |

Each additional digit allows a greater range of decimal
values we can represent. In base 10, each digit after the
decimal place increases the precision of our number by 10
times. For example, we can represent
`0.0`

through
`0.9`

(10 values) with one
digit of decimal place, `0.00`

through `0.99`

(100 values)
with two digits, and so on. In binary, rather than each
additional digit giving us 10 times the precision, we only get
two times the precision, as illustrated in the table below.
This means that our binary representation does not always map
in a straight-forward manner to a decimal
representation.

2^{0} | . | 2^{-1} | 2^{-2} | 2^{-3} | 2^{-4} | 2^{-5} |
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

1 | . | 1/2 | 1/4 | 1/8 | 1/16 | 1/32 |

1 | . | 0.5 | 0.25 | 0.125 | 0.0625 | 0.03125 |

With only one bit of precision, our fractional precision
is not very big; we can only say that the fraction is either
`0`

or
`0.5`

. If we add another bit
of precision, we can now say that the decimal value is one of
either `0,0.25,0.5,0.75`

. With
another bit of precision we can now represent the values
`0,0.125,0.25,0.375,0.5,0.625,0.75,0.875`

.

Increasing the number of bits therefore allows us
greater and greater precision. However, since the range of
possible numbers is infinite we will never have enough bits to
represent *any* possible value.

For example, if we only have two bits of precision and
need to represent the value
`0.3`

we can only say that it
is closest to `0.25`

; obviously
this is insufficient for most any application. With 22 bits
of significand we have a much finer resolution, but it is
still not enough for most applications. A
`double`

value increases the
number of significand bits to 52 (it also increases the range
of exponent values too). Some hardware has an 84-bit float,
with a full 64 bits of significand. 64 bits allows a
tremendous precision and should be suitable for all but the
most demanding of applications (XXX is this sufficient to
represent a length to less than the size of an atom?)

1 $ cat float.c #include <stdio.h> int main(void) 5 { float a = 0.45; float b = 8.0; double ad = 0.45; 10 double bd = 8.0; printf("float+float, 6dp : %f\n", a+b); printf("double+double, 6dp : %f\n", ad+bd); printf("float+float, 20dp : %10.20f\n", a+b); 15 printf("dobule+double, 20dp : %10.20f\n", ad+bd); return 0; } 20 $ gcc -o float float.c $ ./float float+float, 6dp : 8.450000 double+double, 6dp : 8.450000 25 float+float, 20dp : 8.44999998807907104492 dobule+double, 20dp : 8.44999999999999928946 $ python Python 2.4.4 (#2, Oct 20 2006, 00:23:25) 30 [GCC 4.1.2 20061015 (prerelease) (Debian 4.1.1-16.1)] on linux2 Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information. >>> 8.0 + 0.45 8.4499999999999993 35

A practical example is illustrated above. Notice that
for the default 6 decimal places of precision given by
`printf`

both answers are the
same, since they are rounded up correctly. However, when
asked to give the results to a larger precision, in this case
20 decimal places, we can see the results start to diverge.
The code using `doubles`

has a
more accurate result, but it is still not
*exactly* correct. We can also see that
programmers not explicitly dealing with
`float`

values still have
problems with precision of variables!

##### Normalised Values

In scientific notation, we can represent a value in
many different ways. For example,
`10023x10^`

. We
thus define the ^{0} =
1002.3x10^{1} =
100.23x10^{2}*normalised* version as
the one where ```
1/radix <= significand <
1
```

. In binary this ensures that the
leftmost bit of the significand is *always
one*. Knowing this, we can gain an extra bit of
precision by having the standard say that the leftmost bit
being one is implied.

2^{0} | . | 2^{-1} | 2^{-2} | 2^{-3} | 2^{-4} | 2^{-5} | Exponent | Calculation |
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

0 | . | 0 | 1 | 1 | 0 | 0 | 2^^{0} | (0.25+0.125) × 1 = 0.375 |

0 | . | 1 | 1 | 0 | 0 | 0 | 2^^{-1} | (0.5+0.25)×.5=0.375 |

1 | . | 1 | 0 | 0 | 0 | 0 | 2^^{-2} | (1+0.5)×0.25=0.375 |

As you can see above, we can make the value normalised by moving the bits upwards as long as we compensate by increasing the exponent.

###### Normalisation Tricks

A common problem programmers face is finding the
first set bit in a bitfield. Consider the bitfield
`0100`

; from the right the
first set bit would be bit
`2`

(starting from zero, as
is conventional).

The standard way to find this value is to shift
right, check if the uppermost bit is a
`1`

and either terminate or
repeat. This is a slow process; if the bitfield is 64
bits long and only the very last bit is set, you must go
through all the preceding 63 bits!

However, if this bitfield value were the signficand of a floating point number and we were to normalise it, the value of the exponent would tell us how many times it was shifted. The process of normalising a number is generally built into the floating point hardware unit on the processor, so operates very fast; usually much faster than the repeated shift and check operations.

The example program below illustrates two methods of
finding the first set bit on an Itanium processor. The
Itanium, like most server processors, has support for an
80-bit *extended* floating point type,
with a 64-bit significand. This means a
`unsigned long`

neatly fits
into the significand of a ```
long
double
```

. When the value is loaded it is
normalised, and and thus by reading the exponent value
(minus the 16 bit bias) we can see how far it was
shifted.

1 #include <stdio.h>intmain(void) { 5// in binary = 1000 0000 0000 0000// bit num 5432 1098 7654 3210inti = 0x8000;intcount = 0;while( !(i & 0x1) ) { 10 count ++; i = i >> 1; } printf(, count); 15"First non-zero (slow) is %d\n"// this value is normalised when it is loadedlongdoubled = 0x8000UL;longexp;// Itanium "get floating point exponent" instruction20 asm (:"getf.exp %0=%1"(exp) :"=r"(d));"f"// note exponent include biasprintf(, exp - 65535); 25 }"The first non-zero (fast) is %d\n"

##### Bringing it together

In the example code below we extract the components of
a floating point number and print out the value it
represents. This will only work for a 32 bit floating point
value in the IEEE format; however this is common for most
architectures with the
`float`

type.

1 #include <stdio.h> #include <string.h> #include <stdlib.h> 5/* return 2^n */inttwo_to_pos(intn) {if(n == 0)return1; 10return2 * two_to_pos(n - 1); }doubletwo_to_neg(intn) { 15if(n == 0)return1;return1.0 / (two_to_pos(abs(n))); } 20doubletwo_to(intn) {if(n >= 0)returntwo_to_pos(n);if(n < 0) 25returntwo_to_neg(n);return0; }/* Go through some memory "m" which is the 24 bit significand of a30floating point number. We work "backwards" from the bitsfurthest on the right, for no particular reason. */doublecalc_float(intm,intbit) {/* 23 bits; this terminates recursion */35if(bit > 23)return0;/* if the bit is set, it represents the value 1/2^bit */if((m >> bit) & 1) 40return1.0L/two_to(23 - bit) + calc_float(m, bit + 1);/* otherwise go to the next bit */returncalc_float(m, bit + 1); } 45intmain(intargc,char*argv[]) {floatf;intm,i,sign,exponent,significand; 50if(argc != 2) { printf(); exit(1); 55 }"usage: float 123.456\n"if(sscanf(argv[1],, &f) != 1) { printf("%f"); 60 exit(1); }"invalid input\n"/* We need to "fool" the compiler, as if we start to use casts(e.g. (int)f) it will actually do a conversion for us. We65want access to the raw bits, so we just copy it into a samesized variable. */memcpy(&m, &f, 4);/* The sign bit is the first bit */70 sign = (m >> 31) & 0x1;/* Exponent is 8 bits following the sign bit */exponent = ((m >> 23) & 0xFF) - 127; 75/* Significand fills out the float, the first bit is impliedto be 1, hence the 24 bit OR value below. */significand = (m & 0x7FFFFF) | 0x800000;/* print out a power representation */80 printf(, f, sign ? -1 : 1);"%f = %d * ("for(i = 23 ; i >= 0 ; i--) {if((significand >> i) & 1) printf(, (i == 23) ?"%s1/2^%d":"", 85 23-i); } printf(" + ", exponent);") * 2^%d\n"/* print out a fractional representation */90 printf(, f, sign ? -1 : 1);"%f = %d * ("for(i = 23 ; i >= 0 ; i--) {if((significand >> i) & 1) printf(, (i == 23) ?"%s1/%d":"", 95 (" + "int)two_to(23-i)); } printf(, exponent);") * 2^%d\n"/* convert this into decimal and print it out */100 printf(, f, (sign ? -1 : 1), calc_float(significand, 0), two_to(exponent)); 105"%f = %d * %.12g * %f\n"/* do the math this time */printf(, f, (sign ? -1 : 1) * 110 calc_float(significand, 0) * two_to(exponent) );"%f = %.12g\n"return0; 115 }

Sample output of the value
`8.45`

, which we previously
examined, is shown below.

`8.45`

$ ./float 8.45 8.450000 = 1 * (1/2^0 + 1/2^5 + 1/2^6 + 1/2^7 + 1/2^10 + 1/2^11 + 1/2^14 + 1/2^15 + 1/2^18 + 1/2^19 + 1/2^22 + 1/2^23) * 2^3 8.450000 = 1 * (1/1 + 1/32 + 1/64 + 1/128 + 1/1024 + 1/2048 + 1/16384 + 1/32768 + 1/262144 + 1/524288 + 1/4194304 + 1/8388608) * 2^3 8.450000 = 1 * 1.05624997616 * 8.000000 8.450000 = 8.44999980927

From this example, we get some idea of how the inaccuracies creep into our floating point numbers.

^{[3] }Note
that C99 also has portability helpers for
`printf`

. The
`PRI`

macros in
`<inttypes.h>`

can be
used as specifiers for types of specified sizes. Again see
the standard or pull apart the headers for full
information.

^{[4] }The
`~`

operator is the C
language operator to apply
`NOT`

to the value. It is
also occasionally called the one's complement operator, for
obvious reasons now!