[Python-Dev] small floating point number problem
raymond.hettinger at verizon.net
Wed Feb 8 09:08:25 CET 2006
>I just ran into a curious behavior with small floating points, trying to
>find the limits of them on my machine (XP). Does anyone know why the '0.0'
>is showing up for one case below but not for the other? According to my
>tests, the smallest representable float on my machine is much smaller than
>1e-308: it is
> but I can only create it as a product of two numbers, not directly. Here
> is an attempt to create the much larger 1e-308:
The clue is in that the two differ by 17 orders of magnitude (325-308) which
is about 52 bits.
The interpreter builds 1-e308 by using the underlying C library
string-to-float function and it isn't constructing numbers outside the
normal range for floats. When you enter a value outside that range, the
function underflows it to zero.
In contrast, your computed floats (such as 1*1e-307) return a denormal
result (where the significand is stored with fewer bits than normal because
the exponent is already at its outer limit). That denormal result is not
zero and the C library float-to-string conversion successfully generates a
decimal string representation.
The asymmetric handling of denormals by the atof() and ftoa() functions is
why you see a difference. A consequence of that asymmetry is the breakdown
of the expected eval(repr(f))==f invariant:
>>> f = f = .1*1e-307
>>> eval(repr(f)) == f
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