Why is (1.13 * 100) shown as 112.99999999999999?

I’ve been a fan of Khan Academy since its earlier days. Two years ago after I watched Salman Khan’s TED video, I was inspired to leap into action. I went and fixed couple bugs in khan-exercises involving floating point precision on certain browsers on certain OS. One of these days I’d like to walk the walk and do more to directly help people.

Regarding the floating point precision issue, I’m sad to say that I did not fully understand the cause behind it. I knew that it was a problem with floating point number precision problem and I stopped there. I was lucky that the exercises were meant for integer numbers, so my fixes made sure to round to integers. That said I always had this nagging feeling that I don’t have a full grasp of the floating point issue and the solutions. I hate magic in code.

Recently while working on AvidTap Prepaid Card, I ran into this issue again. This time I’m going to dig right in.

(1.13 * 100) = 112.99999999999999 or 0.1 + 0.2 != 0.3

If you try the following code in node.js, you don’t get the expected 113 at the end.

[~] node
> 1.13 * 100

Why is that? Trying the same thing in different browsers and other languages reveal that it’s the same behaviour across the board.

Here’s Haskell:

[~] ghci
Prelude> 1.13 * 100

A quick search online will tell you that this has something to do with how floating point numbers are represented in binary. Other people have similar questions such as why 0.1 + 0.2 != 0.3.

Binary Representation

I know binary integers quite well, but floating point numbers not so much. I knew it’s stored as a number plus the exponent, but not in detail. This is a great website that goes through how things are represented.

According to the ECMAScript spec, number values are double-precision 64-bit binary format IEEE 754 value. So let’s take the 1.13 number as a concrete example, its binary representation on my little-endian machine is: 0x3ff2147ae147ae14 in hex

I got the above representation via a simple C++ program (test.cpp):

#include <iostream>
#include <iomanip>
using namespace std;
int main() {
    double x = 1.13;
    long* px = (long*)&x;

    cout << hex << *px << endl;

// g++ test.cpp
// ./a.out

Disecting the binary, you get the following components:

Sign Exponent Mantissa
0 01111111111 0010000101000111101011100001010001111010111000010100

Now referring to the IEEE 754 double-precision binary floating-point format, one can figure out what those bits represent.

The sign bit is 0, so the number is a positive number. Exponent bits equate to 1023, so the equation above will end up being multiplied by
2e − 1023 = 2(1023 − 1023) = 20 = 1

As for the summation, according to the equation you get:
1 + 2−3 + 2−8 + 2−10 + 2−14 + 2−15 + 2−16 + 2−17 + 2−19 + 2−21 + 2−22 + 2−23 + 2−28 + 2−30 + ... = 1.12999999999999989341858963598

That’s not quite 1.13 but it’s very close. That’s really the issue here. The binary representation cannot store 1.13 perfectly which is why when we try to print the value of (1.13 * 100) it isn’t quite exact.

The issue with 0.1 + 0.2 != 0.3 is of the same cause. Due to 0.1 and 0.2 not being represented exactly in binary, the addition doesn’t exactly equal to 0.3.

To play around with the binary representation more, there’s this online converter that works great.

How does it print 1.13 then?

Now that we know the computer can’t represent 1.13 perfectly, so one question that comes up is how the node.js REPL is able to show certain numbers exactly?

[~] node
> 1.13
> 1.13 * 2
> 1.13 * 3

Shouldn’t it show 1.12999999999999989341858963598?

I started with a bit of experimentation with different values and found that node.js REPL seems to round the result after 15 decimal digits.

[~] node
> 1.13
> 1.129999999999999
> 1.1299999999999999

According to Exploring Binary website, languages typically cap the digits between 15 to 17. Also, 17 digits are needed to represent a double in text and be able it back.


At AvidTap, we used bignumber.js library to deal with this issue with binary floating point representation. Let’s look at the difference when using this library.

[~] node
> var BigNumber = require('bignumber.js');
> var num = BigNumber(1.13);
> num
{ s: 1,
  e: 0,
  c: [ 1, 1, 3 ] }
> a.times(100)
{ s: 1,
  e: 2,
  c: [ 1, 1, 3 ] }
> a.times(100).times(-1)
{ s: -1,
  e: 2,
  c: [ 1, 1, 3 ] }

As you can see above, the way bignumber.js represents number is by storing each digit in an array of integers. Doing so allows it to store the floating point number’s digits exactly, but at the cost of perf and storage size.

How come some browsers/OS don’t show this issue?

The khan-exercises bugs were not fixed prior to me taking a look at it because the issues were only reproducible on certain OSes and certain browser versions. This brings up the question why. If the binary representation is the same, then why would the issue occur for some but not others?

That’s a question to be answered for another day. Currently I don’t have a combination that reproduces the issue.