[Python-Dev] decimal API

Raymond Hettinger raymond.hettinger at verizon.net
Fri Jul 2 12:11:00 CEST 2004

Currently, calling the Decimal constructor with an invalid literal (such
as Decimal("Fred")) returns a quiet NaN.  This was done because the spec
appeared to require it (in fact, there are IBM test cases to confirm
that behavior). 

I've discussed this with Mike Cowlishaw (author of the spec and test
cases) and he has just clarified that, "... the intent here was not to
disallow an exception.   The analogy, perhaps, is to a divide-by-zero:
the latter raises Invalid Operation and returns a qNaN.  The string
conversion is similar.   (Again, in some implementations/languages, the
result after such an exception is not available.)   I'll see if I can
clarify that, at least making it clear that Invalid Operation is OK at
that point."

So, my question for the group is whether to:

* leave it as-is
* raise a ValueError just like float('abc') or int('abc')
* raise an Invalid Operation and return a quiet NaN.

Either of the last two involves editing the third-party test cases which
I am loathe to do.  The second is the most Pythonic but does not match
Mike's clarification.  The third keeps within context of the spec but
doesn't bode well for Decimal interacting well with the rest of python.
The latter issue is unavoidable to some degree because no other python
numeric type has context sensitive operations, settable traps, and
result flags.

A separate question is determining the default precision.  Currently, it
is set at 9 which conveniently matches the test cases, the docstring
examples, and examples in the spec.  It is also friendly to running

Tim had suggested that 20 or so would handle many user requirements
without needing a context change.

Mike had suggested default single and double precision matching those
proposed in 754R.  The rationale behind those sizes has nothing to do
with use cases; rather, they were chosen so that certain representations
(not the ones we use) fit neatly into byte/word sized multiples (once
again showing the hardware orientation of the spec).

No matter what the default, the precision is easy to change:

    >>> getcontext().prec = 42
    >>> Decimal(1) / Decimal(7)


More information about the Python-Dev mailing list