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Dart Feature Specification: Evaluating integer literals as double values

This document may be obsolete, please double-check against the review containing the current version and, if it exists, the version in the SDK repository.

Feature: Evaluating integer literals as double values

Author: eernst@.

Version: 0.4 (2018-08-14).

Status: Under discussion.

This document is a feature specification of the support in Dart 2 for evaluating integer literals occurring in a context where the expected type is double to a value of type double.

Motivation

In a situation where a value of type double is required, e.g., as an actual argument to a constructor or function invocation, it may be convenient to write an integer literal because it is more concise, and the intention is clear. For instance:

double one = 1; // OK, would have to be `1.0` without this feature.

This mechanism only applies to integer literals, and only when the expected type is a type T such that double is assignable to T and int is not assignable to T; in particular, it applies when the expected type is double.

That is, the result of a computation (say, a + b or even a lone variable like a of type int) will never be converted to a double value implicitly, and it also doesn't happen when the expected type is a type variable declared in an enclosing scope, no matter whether that type variable in a given situation at run time has the value double. The one case where conversion does happen when the expected type is a type variable is when its upper bound is a subtype of double (including double itself). For example:

class C<N extends num, NN extends double> {
  X foo<X>(X x) => x;
  double d1 = foo<double>(42); // OK.
  double d2 = foo(42); // OK, type argument inferred as `double`.
  num n1 = 42 as double; // OK, `42` evaluates to 42.0.
  N n2 = 42; // Error, neither `int` nor `double` assignable to `N`.
  NN n3 = 42; // OK, `int` not assignable, but `double` is.
  FutureOr<double> n4 = 42; // OK, same reason.
  N n5 = n1; // OK statically, dynamic error if `N` is `int`.
}

Syntax

This feature has no effect on the grammar.

Static Analysis

Let i be a lexical token which is syntactically an integer literal (as defined in the language specification section 16.3 Numbers). If i occurs as an expression in a context where the expected type T is such that double is assignable to T and int is not assignable to T then we will say that i is a double valued integer literal.

The static type of a double valued integer literal is double.

The unbounded integer value of an integer literal i is the mathematical integer (that is, unlimited in size and precision) that corresponds to the numeral consisting of the digits of i, using radix 16 when i is prefixed by 0x or 0X, and radix 10 otherwise.

It is a compile-time error if the unbounded integer value of a double valued integer literal is less than -(1−2−53) * 21024 and if it is greater than (1−2−53) * 21024.

It is a compile-time error if the unbounded integer value of a double valued integer literal cannot be represented exactly as an IEEE 754 double-precision value, assuming that the mantissa is extended with zeros until the precision is sufficiently high to unambiguously specify a single integer value.

That is, we consider a IEEE 754 double-precision bit pattern to represent a specific number rather than an interval, namely the number which is obtained by extending the mantissa with zeros. In this case we are only interested in such bit patterns where the exponent part is large enough to make the represented number a whole number, which means that we will need to add a specific, finite number of zeros.

Consequently, double d = 18446744073709551614; has no error and it will initialize d to have the double value represented as 0x43F0000000000000. But int i = 18446744073709551614; is a compile-time error because 18446744073709551614 is too large to be represented as a 64 bit 2's complement number, and double d = 18446744073709551615; is a compile-time error because it cannot be represented exactly using the IEEE 754 double-precision format.

Dynamic Semantics

At run time, evaluation of a double valued integer literal i yields a value of type double which according to the IEEE 754 standard for double-precision numbers represents the unbounded integer value of i.

Signed zeros in IEEE 754 present an ambiguity. It is resolved by evaluating an expression which is a unary minus applied to a double valued integer literal whose unbounded integer value is zero to the IEEE 754 representation of -0.0, and other occurrences of a double valued integer literal whose unbounded integer value is zero to the representation of 0.0.

We need not specify that the representation is extended with zeros as needed, because there is in any case only one IEEE 754 double-precision bit pattern that can be said to represent the given unbounded integer value: It would belong to the interval under any meaningful interpretation of such a bit pattern as an interval.

Discussion

We have chosen to make it an error when a double valued integer literal cannot be represented exactly by an IEEE 754 double-precision encoding. We could have chosen to allow for a certain deviation from that, such that it would be allowed to have a double valued integer literal whose unbounded integer value would differ "somewhat" from the nearest representable value.

However, we felt that it would be misleading for developers to read a large double valued integer literal, probably assuming that every digit is contributing to the resulting double value, if in fact many of the digits are ignored, in the sense that they must be replaced by different digits in order to express the nearest representable IEEE double-precision value.

For instance, 11692013098647223344361828061502034755750757138432 is represented as 0x4A20000000000000, but so is 11692013098647223344638182605120307455757075314823, which means that the 29 least significant digits are replaced by completely different digits. The former corresponds to an extension of the IEEE representation with a suitable number of zeros in the mantissa which will translate back to exactly that number, and the latter is just some other number which is close enough to have the same IEEE representation as the nearest representable value.

We expect such large double valued integer literals to occur very rarely, which means that such a situation will not arise very frequently. However, when it does arise it may be quite frustrating for developers to find a representable number, assuming that they start out with something like 11692013098647223344638182605120307455757075314823. It is hence recommended that tools emit an error message where the nearest representable value is mentioned, such that a developer may copy it into the code in order to eliminate the error.

Another alternative would be to accept only those double valued integer literals whose unbounded integer value can be represented as a 2's complement bit pattern in 64 bits or in an unsigned 64 bit representation, that is, only those which are also accepted as integer literals of type int. This would ensure that developers avoid the situation where a large number of digits are incorrectly taken to imply a very high precision. This is especially relevant with decimal double valued integer literals, because they do not end in a large number of zeros, which make them "look" like a high-precision number where every digit means something. However, we felt that this reduction of the expressive power brings so few benefits that we preferred the approach where also "large numbers" could be expressed using a double valued integer literal.

Updates

  • Version 0.4 (2018-08-14), adjusted rules to allow more expected types, such as FutureOr<double>, for double valued integer literals.

  • Version 0.3 (2018-08-09), changed error rules such that it is now an error for a double valued integer literal to have an unbounded integer value which is not precisely representable.

  • Version 0.2 (2018-08-08), added short discussion section.

  • Version 0.1 (2018-08-07), initial version of this feature specification.

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