How are floating point numbers stored? Whats the IEEE format?

IEEE Standard 754 floating point is the most common representation today for real numbers on computers, including Intel-based PC’s, mackintoshes, and most Unix platforms.

IEEE floating point numbers have three basic components: the sign, the exponent, and the mantissa. The mantissa is composed of the fraction and an implicit leading digit (explained below). The exponent base(2) is implicit and need not be stored.

The following figure shows the layout for single (32-bit) and double (64-bit) precision floating-point values. The number of bits for each field are shown (bit ranges are in square brackets):

Sign   Exponent   Fraction   Bias
Single Precision 1 [31] 8 [30-23]  23 [22-00] 127
Double Precision 1 [63] 11 [62-52] 52 [51-00] 1023

The sign bit is as simple as it gets. 0 denotes a positive number; 1 denotes a negative number. Flipping the value of this bit flips the sign of the number.

The exponent field needs to represent both positive and negative exponents. To do this, a bias is added to the actual exponent in order to get the stored exponent. For IEEE single-precision floats, this value is 127. Thus, an exponent of zero means that 127 is stored in the exponent field. A stored value of 200 indicates an exponent of (200-127), or 73.

For reasons discussed later, exponents of -127 (all 0s) and +128 (all 1s) are reserved for special numbers. For double precision, the exponent field is 11 bits, and has a bias of 1023.

The mantissa, also known as the significand, represents the precision bits of the number. It is composed of an implicit leading bit and the fraction bits. To find out the value of the implicit leading bit, consider that any number can be expressed in scientific notation in many different ways. For example, the number five can be represented as any of these:

5.00 � 1.00
0.05 � 10 ^ 2
5000 � 10 ^ -3

In order to maximize the quantity of representable numbers, floating-point numbers are typically stored in normalized form. This basically puts the radix point after the first non-zero digit. In normalized form, five is represented as 5.0 � 1.00. A nice little optimization is available to us in base two, since the only possible non-zero digit is 1. Thus, we can just assume a leading digit of 1, and don’t need to represent it explicitly. As a result, the mantissa has effectively 24 bits of resolution, by way of 23 fraction bits.

So, to sum up:

1. The sign bit is 0 for positive, 1 for negative.
2. The exponent’s base is two.
3. The exponent field contains 127 plus the true exponent for single-precision,
or 1023 plus the true exponent for double precision.
4. The first bit of the mantissa is typically assumed to be 1.f, where f is the
field of fraction bits.


2 Responses to “How are floating point numbers stored? Whats the IEEE format?”

  1. candis Says:

    can u plz give an example, say how will you represent 7.5????

  2. Tablet PCs for Less Says:

    Tablet PCs for Less…

    […]How are floating point numbers stored? Whats the IEEE format? « TheWarrior[…]…

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