# Numerical Precision

As discussed in "Exact and Approximate Results", the Wolfram Language can handle approximate real numbers with any number of digits. In general, the *precision* of an approximate real number is the effective number of decimal digits in it which are treated as significant for computations. The *accuracy* is the effective number of these digits which appear to the right of the decimal point. Note that to achieve full consistency in the treatment of numbers, precision and accuracy often have values that do not correspond to integer numbers of digits.

Precision[x] | the total number of significant decimal digits in x |

Accuracy[x] | the number of significant decimal digits to the right of the decimal point in x |

Precision and accuracy of real numbers.

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An approximate real number always has some uncertainty in its value, associated with digits beyond those known. One can think of precision as providing a measure of the relative size of this uncertainty. Accuracy gives a measure of the absolute size of the uncertainty.

The Wolfram Language is set up so that if a number has uncertainty , then its true value can lie anywhere in an interval of size from to . An approximate number with accuracy is defined to have uncertainty , while a nonzero approximate number with precision is defined to have uncertainty .

Definitions of precision and accuracy in terms of uncertainty.

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N[expr,n] | evaluate expr to n‐digit precision using arbitrary‐precision numbers |

N[expr] | evaluate expr numerically using machine‐precision numbers |

Numerical evaluation with arbitrary‐precision and machine‐precision numbers.

The Wolfram Language distinguishes two kinds of approximate real numbers: *arbitrary‐precision* numbers, and *machine‐precision* numbers or *machine numbers*. Arbitrary‐precision numbers can contain any number of digits, and maintain information on their precision. Machine numbers, on the other hand, always contain the same number of digits, and maintain no information on their precision.

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As discussed in more detail below, machine numbers work by making direct use of the numerical capabilities of your underlying computer system. As a result, computations with them can often be done more quickly. They are however much less flexible than arbitrary‐precision numbers, and difficult numerical analysis can be needed to determine whether results obtained with them are correct.

MachinePrecision | the precision specification used to indicate machine numbers |

$MachinePrecision | the effective precision for machine numbers on your computer system |

MachineNumberQ[x] | test whether x is a machine number |

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When you enter an approximate real number, the Wolfram Language has to decide whether to treat it as a machine number or an arbitrary‐precision number. Unless you specify otherwise, if you give less than $MachinePrecision digits, the Wolfram Language will treat the number as machine precision, and if you give more digits, it will treat the number as arbitrary precision.

123.4 | a machine‐precision number |

123.45678901234567890 | an arbitrary‐precision number on some computer systems |

123.45678901234567890` | a machine‐precision number on all computer systems |

123.456`200 | an arbitrary‐precision number with 200 digits of precision |

123.456``200 | an arbitrary‐precision number with 200 digits of accuracy |

1.234*^6 | a machine‐precision number in scientific notation () |

1.234`200*^6 | a number in scientific notation with 200 digits of precision |

2^^101.111`200 | a number in base 2 with 200 binary digits of precision |

2^^101.111`200*^6 | a number in base 2 scientific notation () |

When the Wolfram Language prints out numbers, it usually tries to give them in a form that will be as easy as possible to read. But if you want to take numbers that are printed out by the Wolfram Language, and then later use them as input to the Wolfram Language, you need to make sure that no information gets lost.

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InputForm[expr,NumberMarks->True] | use marks in all approximate numbers |

InputForm[expr,NumberMarks->Automatic] | |

use only in arbitrary‐precision numbers | |

InputForm[expr,NumberMarks->False] | never use marks |

Controlling printing of numbers.

The default setting for the NumberMarks option, both in InputForm and in functions such as ToString and OpenWrite is given by the value of $NumberMarks. By resetting $NumberMarks, therefore, you can globally change the way that numbers are printed in InputForm.

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In doing numerical computations, it is inevitable that you will sometimes end up with results that are less precise than you want. Particularly when you get numerical results that are very close to zero, you may well want to *assume* that the results should be exactly zero. The function Chop allows you to replace approximate real numbers that are close to zero by the exact integer 0.

Chop[expr] | replace all approximate real numbers in expr with magnitude less than by 0 |

Chop[expr,dx] | replace numbers with magnitude less than dx by 0 |

Removing numbers close to zero.

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