[c++] What is the difference between float and double?


Answers

Here is what the standard C99 (ISO-IEC 9899 6.2.5 §10) or C++2003 (ISO-IEC 14882-2003 3.1.9 §8) standards say:

There are three floating point types: float, double, and long double. The type double provides at least as much precision as float, and the type long double provides at least as much precision as double. The set of values of the type float is a subset of the set of values of the type double; the set of values of the type double is a subset of the set of values of the type long double.

The C++ standard adds:

The value representation of floating-point types is implementation-defined.

I would suggest having a look at the excellent What Every Computer Scientist Should Know About Floating-Point Arithmetic that covers the IEEE floating-point standard in depth. You'll learn about the representation details and you'll realize there is a tradeoff between magnitude and precision. The precision of the floating point representation increases as the magnitude decreases, hence floating point numbers between -1 and 1 are those with the most precision.

Question

I've read about the difference between double precision and single precision. However, in most cases, float and double seem to be interchangeable, i.e. using one or the other does not seem to affect the results. Is this really the case? When are floats and doubles interchangeable? What are the differences between them?







I just ran into a error that took me forever to figure out and potentially can give you a good example of float precision.

#include <iostream>
#include <iomanip>

int main(){
  for(float t=0;t<1;t+=0.01){
     std::cout << std::fixed << std::setprecision(6) << t << std::endl;
  }
}

The output is

0.000000
0.010000
0.020000
0.030000
0.040000
0.050000
0.060000
0.070000
0.080000
0.090000
0.100000
0.110000
0.120000
0.130000
0.140000
0.150000
0.160000
0.170000
0.180000
0.190000
0.200000
0.210000
0.220000
0.230000
0.240000
0.250000
0.260000
0.270000
0.280000
0.290000
0.300000
0.310000
0.320000
0.330000
0.340000
0.350000
0.360000
0.370000
0.380000
0.390000
0.400000
0.410000
0.420000
0.430000
0.440000
0.450000
0.460000
0.470000
0.480000
0.490000
0.500000
0.510000
0.520000
0.530000
0.540000
0.550000
0.560000
0.570000
0.580000
0.590000
0.600000
0.610000
0.620000
0.630000
0.640000
0.650000
0.660000
0.670000
0.680000
0.690000
0.700000
0.710000
0.720000
0.730000
0.740000
0.750000
0.760000
0.770000
0.780000
0.790000
0.800000
0.810000
0.820000
0.830000
0.839999
0.849999
0.859999
0.869999
0.879999
0.889999
0.899999
0.909999
0.919999
0.929999
0.939999
0.949999
0.959999
0.969999
0.979999
0.989999
0.999999

As you can see after 0.83, the precision runs down significantly.

However, if I set up t as double, such an issue won't happen.

It took me five hours to realize this minor error, which ruined my program.




The built-in comparison operations differ as in when you compare 2 numbers with floating point, the difference in data type (i.e. float or double) may result in different outcomes.




  • A double is 64 and single precision (float) is 32 bits.
  • The double has a bigger mantissa (the integer bits of the real number).
  • Any inaccuracies will be smaller in the double.



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