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Floating-Point and High-Level Languages

Floating-Point and High-Level Languages. Programming Languages Fall 2003. Floating-Point, the Basics. Floating-point numbers are approximations of real numbers, but they are not real numbers. Typical format in a machine is sign exponent mantissa Exponent determines range available

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Floating-Point and High-Level Languages

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  1. Floating-Pointand High-Level Languages Programming Languages Fall 2003

  2. Floating-Point, the Basics • Floating-point numbers are approximations of real numbers, but they are not real numbers. • Typical format in a machine is sign exponent mantissa • Exponent determines range available • Mantissa determines precision • Base is usually 2 (rarely 16, never 10)

  3. The Notion of Precision • Precision is relative. Large numbers have less absolute precision than small numbers • For example if we have a 24 bit mantissa, then relative precision is 1 in 2**24 • For 1.0, this is an absolute precision of1.0*2**(-24). • For 100, this is an absolute precision of100*2**(-24).

  4. Representing Numbers • Some numbers can typically be represented exactly, e,g. 1.0, 2**(-13),2**(+20) [assume 24 bit mantissa]. • But other numbers are represented only approximately or not at all

  5. Problems in Representation • 2**(-9999999) Too small, underflows to 0.0 • 2**(+9999999) Too large, error or infinity • 0.1 Cannot be represented exactly in binary (repeating fracion in binary) • 145678325785.25 Representable in binary, but 24-bit mantissa too small to represent exactly

  6. Floating-Point Operations • Result may be representable exactly r = 81.0; s = 3.0; x = r / s; • Machines typically have a floating-point division instruction  • But it may not give the exact result 

  7. Floating-Point Operations • Result may not be representable exactly r = 1.0; s = 10.0; t = r / s; • Result cannot be precisely corrrect • Will it be rounded to nearest bit, or perhaps truncated towards zero, or perhaps even more inaccurate, all are possible.

  8. Unexpected Results • Let’s look at this code a = 1.0; b = 10.0; c = a / b; if (c == 0.1) printf (“hello1”); if (c == 1.0/10.0) printf (“goodbye”); if (c == a/b) printf (“what the %$!”); • We may get nothing printed!

  9. Why was Nothing Printed? • if (c == 0.1) … • In this case, we have stored the result of the run-time computation of 0.1, but it’s not quite precise, in c. • The other operand has been converted to a constant by the compiler. • Both are good approximations of 0.1 • But neither are accurate • And perhaps they are a little bit different

  10. Why Was Nothing Printed? • if (c == 1.0 / 10.0) … • The compiler may compute 1.0/10.0 at compile time and treat it as though it had seen 0.1, and get a different result • Really ends up being the same as last case

  11. Why Was Nothing Printed? • if (c == a/b) • Now surely we should get the same computation. • Maybe not, compiler may be clever enough to know that a/b is 0.1 in one case and not in the other.

  12. Now Let’s Get Something Printed! • Read in value of a at run time • Read in value of b at run time • Compiler knows nothing • Now we will get some output or else! c = a / b; if (c == a/b) printf (“This will print!”);

  13. Still Nothing Printed!!! • How can that be • First a bit of background • Typically we have two or more different precisions of floating-point values, with different length mantissas • In registers we use only the higher precision form, expanding on a load, rounding on a store.

  14. What Happened? • c = a / b;if (c == a/b) printf (“This will print!”); • First compute a/b in high precision • Now round to fit in low precision c, loosing significant bits • Compute a/b in high precision into a register, load c into a register, expanding • Comparison does not say equal

  15. Surprises in Precision • Let’s compute x**4 • Two methods: • Result = x*x*x*x; • Result = (x*x)**2 • Second has only two multiplications, instead of 3, must be more accurate. • Nope, first is more accurate!

  16. Subtleties of Rounding • Suppose we insist on floating-point operations being properly rounded. • What does properly rounded mean for 0.5 • Typical rule, round up always if half way • Introduces Bias • Some computations sensitive to this bias • Computation of orbit of pluto significantly off because of this problem

  17. Moral of this Story • Floating-point is full of surprises • If you base your expectations on real arithmetic, you will be surprised • On any given machine, floating-point operations are well defined • But may be more or less peculiar • But the semantics will differ from machine to machine

  18. What to do in High Level Languages • We can punt. We just say that floating-point numbers are some approximation of real numbers, and that the results of floating-point operations are some approximation of the real results. • Nice and simple from a language definition point of view • Fortran and C historically did this • Not so simple for a poor application programmer

  19. Doing a Bit Better • Parametrize the machine model of floating-point. What exponent range does it have, what precision of the mantissa. • Define fpt model in terms of these parameters. • Insist on results being accurate where possible, or one of two end points it not. • This is the approach of Ada

  20. Doing Quite a Bit Better • What if all machines had exactly the same floating-point model? • IEEE floating-point heads in that direction • Precisely defines two floating-point formats (32-bit and 64-bit) and precisely defines operations on them.

  21. More on IEEE • We could define our language to require IEEE semantics for floating-point. • But what if the machine does not efficiently implement IEEE • For example, x86 implements the two formats, but all registers have an 80-bit format, so you get extra precision • Which sounds good, but is as we have seem a possible reason for suprising behavior.

  22. IEEE and High Level Languages • Java and Python both expect/require IEEE semantics for arithmetic. • Java wants high efficiency, which causes a clash if the machine does not support IEEE in the “right” way. • Java is potentially inefficient on x86 machines. Solution: cheat  • Python requires IEEE too, but does not care so much about efficiency.

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