Domains: Javascript

All numbers in JavaScript are stored in 64-bit format IEEE-754, also known as "double precision".

Let's recap and expand upon what we currently know about them.

More ways to write a number

Imagine we need to write 1 billion. The obvious way is:

let billion = 1000000000;

But in real life we usually avoid writing a long string of zeroes as it's easy to mistype. Also, we are lazy. We will usually write something like "1bn" for a billion or "7.3bn" for 7 billion 300 million. The same is true for most large numbers.

In JavaScript, we shorten a number by appending the letter "e" to the number and specifying the zeroes count:

let billion = 1e9;  // 1 billion, literally: 1 and 9 zeroes
alert( 7.3e9 );  // 7.3 billions (7,300,000,000)

In other words, "e" multiplies the number by 1 with the given zeroes count.

1e3 = 1 * 1000
1.23e6 = 1.23 * 1000000

Now let's write something very small. Say, 1 microsecond (one millionth of a second):

let ms = 0.000001;

Just like before, using "e" can help. If we'd like to avoid writing the zeroes explicitly, we could say:

let ms = 1e-6; // six zeroes to the left from 1

If we count the zeroes in 0.000001, there are 6 of them. So naturally it's 1e-6.

In other words, a negative number after "e" means a division by 1 with the given number of zeroes:

// -3 divides by 1 with 3 zeroes
1e-3 = 1 / 1000 (=0.001)

// -6 divides by 1 with 6 zeroes
1.23e-6 = 1.23 / 1000000 (=0.00000123)

Hex, binary and octal numbers

Hexadecimal numbers are widely used in JavaScript to represent colors, encode characters, and for many other things. So naturally, there exists a shorter way to write them: 0x and then the number.

For instance:

alert( 0xff ); // 255
alert( 0xFF ); // 255 (the same, case doesn't matter)

Binary and octal numeral systems are rarely used, but also supported using the 0b and 0o prefixes:

let a = 0b11111111; // binary form of 255
let b = 0o377; // octal form of 255

alert( a == b ); // true, the same number 255 at both sides

There are only 3 numeral systems with such support. For other numeral systems, we should use the function parseInt (which we will see later in this chapter).


The method num.toString(base) returns a string representation of num in the numeral system with the given base.

For example:

let num = 255;

alert( num.toString(16) );  // ff
alert( num.toString(2) );   // 11111111

The base can vary from 2 to 36. By default it's 10.

Common use cases for this are:

  • base=16 is used for hex colors, character encodings etc, digits can be 0..9 or A..F.

  • base=2 is mostly for debugging bitwise operations, digits can be 0 or 1.

  • base=36 is the maximum, digits can be 0..9 or A..Z. The whole latin alphabet is used to represent a number. A funny, but useful case for 36 is when we need to turn a long numeric identifier into something shorter, for example to make a short url. Can simply represent it in the numeral system with base 36:

    		alert( 123456..toString(36) ); // 2n9c

Please note that two dots in 123456..toString(36) is not a typo. If we want to call a method directly on a number, like toString in the example above, then we need to place two dots .. after it. If we placed a single dot: 123456.toString(36), then there would be an error, because JavaScript syntax implies the decimal part after the first dot. And if we place one more dot, then JavaScript knows that the decimal part is empty and now goes the method. Also could write (123456).toString(36).


One of the most used operations when working with numbers is rounding. There are several built-in functions for rounding:

Math.floor : Rounds down: 3.1 becomes 3, and -1.1 becomes -2.

Math.ceil : Rounds up: 3.1 becomes 4, and -1.1 becomes -1.

Math.round : Rounds to the nearest integer: 3.1 becomes 3, 3.6 becomes 4 and -1.1 becomes -1.

Math.trunc (not supported by Internet Explorer) : Removes anything after the decimal point without rounding: 3.1 becomes 3, -1.1 becomes -1.

Here's the table to summarize the differences between them:

  Math.floor Math.ceil Math.round Math.trunc
3.1 3 4 3 3
3.6 3 4 4 3
-1.1 -2 -1 -1 -1
-1.6 -2 -1 -2 -1

These functions cover all of the possible ways to deal with the decimal part of a number. But what if we'd like to round the number to n-th digit after the decimal?

For instance, we have 1.2345 and want to round it to 2 digits, getting only 1.23.

There are two ways to do so:

  1. Multiply-and-divide.

    For example, to round the number to the 2nd digit after the decimal, we can multiply the number by 100, call the rounding function and then divide it back.

    		let num = 1.23456;
    alert( Math.floor(num * 100) / 100 ); // 1.23456 -> 123.456 -> 123 -> 1.23
  2. The method toFixed(n) rounds the number to n digits after the point and returns a string representation of the result.

    		let num = 12.34;
    alert( num.toFixed(1) ); // "12.3"

    This rounds up or down to the nearest value, similar to Math.round:

    		let num = 12.36;
    alert( num.toFixed(1) ); // "12.4"

    Please note that result of toFixed is a string. If the decimal part is shorter than required, zeroes are appended to the end:

    		let num = 12.34;
    alert( num.toFixed(5) ); // "12.34000", added zeroes to make exactly 5 digits 

    We can convert it to a number using the unary plus or a Number() call: +num.toFixed(5).

Imprecise calculations

Internally, a number is represented in 64-bit format IEEE-754, so there are exactly 64 bits to store a number: 52 of them are used to store the digits, 11 of them store the position of the decimal point (they are zero for integer numbers), and 1 bit is for the sign.

If a number is too big, it would overflow the 64-bit storage, potentially giving an infinity:

alert( 1e500 ); // Infinity 

What may be a little less obvious, but happens quite often, is the loss of precision.

Consider this (falsy!) test:

alert( 0.1 + 0.2 == 0.3 ); // *!*false*/!*

That's right, if we check whether the sum of 0.1 and 0.2 is 0.3, we get false.

Strange! What is it then if not 0.3?

alert( 0.1 + 0.2 ); // 0.30000000000000004

Ouch! There are more consequences than an incorrect comparison here. Imagine you're making an e-shopping site and the visitor puts $0.10 and $0.20 goods into their chart. The order total will be $0.30000000000000004. That would surprise anyone.

But why does this happen?

A number is stored in memory in its binary form, a sequence of ones and zeroes. But fractions like 0.1, 0.2 that look simple in the decimal numeric system are actually unending fractions in their binary form.

In other words, what is 0.1? It is one divided by ten 1/10, one-tenth. In decimal numeral system such numbers are easily representable. Compare it to one-third: 1/3. It becomes an endless fraction 0.33333(3).

So, division by powers 10 is guaranteed to work well in the decimal system, but division by 3 is not. For the same reason, in the binary numeral system, the division by powers of 2 is guaranteed to work, but 1/10 becomes an endless binary fraction.

There's just no way to store exactly 0.1 or exactly 0.2 using the binary system, just like there is no way to store one-third as a decimal fraction.

The numeric format IEEE-754 solves this by rounding to the nearest possible number. These rounding rules normally don't allow us to see that "tiny precision loss", so the number shows up as 0.3. But beware, the loss still exists.

We can see this in action:

alert( 0.1.toFixed(20) ); // 0.10000000000000000555

And when we sum two numbers, their "precision losses" add up.

That's why 0.1 + 0.2 is not exactly 0.3.

 The same issue exists in many other programming languages.
PHP, Java, C, Perl, Ruby give exactly the same result, because they are based on the same numeric format.  

Can we work around the problem? Sure, there're a number of ways:

  1. We can round the result with the help of a method toFixed(n):

    		let sum = 0.1 + 0.2;
    alert( sum.toFixed(2) ); // 0.30

    Please note that toFixed always returns a string. It ensures that it has 2 digits after the decimal point. That's actually convenient if we have an e-shopping and need to show $0.30. For other cases, we can use the unary plus to coerce it into a number:

    		let sum = 0.1 + 0.2;
    alert( +sum.toFixed(2) ); // 0.3
  2. We can temporarily turn numbers into integers for the maths and then revert it back. It works like this:

    		alert( (0.1 * 10 + 0.2 * 10) / 10 ); // 0.3

    This works because when we do 0.1 * 10 = 1 and 0.2 * 10 = 2 then both numbers become integers, and there's no precision loss.

  3. If we were dealing with a shop, then the most radical solution would be to store all prices in cents and use no fractions at all. But what if we apply a discount of 30%? In practice, totally evading fractions is rarely feasible, so the solutions above help avoid this pitfall.

Try running this:

// Hello! I'm a self-increasing number! 
alert( 9999999999999999 ); // shows 10000000000000000

This suffers from the same issue: a loss of precision. There are 64 bits for the number, 52 of them can be used to store digits, but that's not enough. So the least significant digits disappear. JavaScript doesn't trigger an error in such events. It does its best to fit the number into the desired format, but unfortunately, this format is not big enough.

 Another funny consequence of the internal representation of numbers is the existence of two zeroes: and -0. That's because a sign is represented by a single bit, so every number can be positive or negative, including a zero. In most cases the distinction is unnoticeable, because operators are suited to treat them as the same.

Tests: isFinite and isNaN

Remember these two special numeric values?

  • Infinity (and -Infinity) is a special numeric value that is greater (less) than anything.
  • NaN represents an error.

They belong to the type number, but are not "normal" numbers, so there are special functions to check for them:

  • isNaN(value) converts its argument to a number and then tests it for being NaN:

    		alert( isNaN(NaN) ); // true
    alert( isNaN("str") ); // true

    But do we need this function? Can't we just use the comparison === NaN? Sorry, but the answer is no. The value NaN is unique in that it does not equal anything, including itself:

    		alert( NaN === NaN ); // false
  • isFinite(value) converts its argument to a number and returns true if it's a regular number, not NaN/Infinity/-Infinity:

    		alert( isFinite("15") ); // true
    alert( isFinite("str") ); // false, because a special value: NaN
    alert( isFinite(Infinity) ); // false, because a special value: Infinity

Sometimes isFinite is used to validate whether a string value is a regular number:

let num = +prompt("Enter a number", '');

// will be true unless you enter Infinity, -Infinity or not a number
alert( isFinite(num) );

Please note that an empty or a space-only string is treated as 0 in all numeric functions including isFinite.

Compare with

There is a special built-in method that compares values like ===, but is more reliable for two edge cases:

  1. It works with NaN:, NaN) === true, that's a good thing.
  2. Values 0 and -0 are different:, -0) === false, it rarely matters, but these values technically are different.

In all other cases,, b) is the same as a === b.

This way of comparison is often used in JavaScript specification. When an internal algorithm needs to compare two values for being exactly the same, it uses (internally called SameValue).

 parseInt and parseFloat

Numeric conversion using a plus + or Number() is strict. If a value is not exactly a number, it fails:

alert( +"100px" ); // NaN

The sole exception is spaces at the beginning or at the end of the string, as they are ignored.

But in real life we often have values in units, like "100px" or "12pt" in CSS. Also in many countries the currency symbol goes after the amount, so we have "19€" and would like to extract a numeric value out of that.

That's what parseInt and parseFloat are for.

They "read" a number from a string until they can't. In case of an error, the gathered number is returned. The function parseInt returns an integer, whilst parseFloat will return a floating-point number:

alert( parseInt('100px') ); // 100
alert( parseFloat('12.5em') ); // 12.5

alert( parseInt('12.3') ); // 12, only the integer part is returned
alert( parseFloat('12.3.4') ); // 12.3, the second point stops the reading

There are situations when parseInt/parseFloat will return NaN. It happens when no digits could be read:

alert( parseInt('a123') ); // NaN, the first symbol stops the process

The second argument of parseInt(str, radix)

The parseInt() function has an optional second parameter. It specifies the base of the numeral system, so parseInt can also parse strings of hex numbers, binary numbers and so on:

alert( parseInt('0xff', 16) ); // 255
alert( parseInt('ff', 16) ); // 255, without 0x also works

alert( parseInt('2n9c', 36) ); // 123456

Other math functions 

JavaScript has a built-in Math object which contains a small library of mathematical functions and constants.

A few examples:

Math.random() : Returns a random number from 0 to 1 (not including 1)

alert( Math.random() ); // 0.1234567894322
alert( Math.random() ); // 0.5435252343232
alert( Math.random() ); // ... (any random numbers)

Math.max(a, b, c...) / Math.min(a, b, c...) : Returns the greatest/smallest from the arbitrary number of arguments.

alert( Math.max(3, 5, -10, 0, 1) ); // 5
alert( Math.min(1, 2) ); // 1

Math.pow(n, power) : Returns n raised the given power

alert( Math.pow(2, 10) ); // 2 in power 10 = 1024

There are more functions and constants in Math object, including trigonometry, which you can find in the docs for the Math object.


To write big numbers:

  • Append "e" with the zeroes count to the number. Like: 123e6 is 123 with 6 zeroes.
  • A negative number after "e" causes the number to be divided by 1 with given zeroes. That's for one-millionth or such.

For different numeral systems:

  • Can write numbers directly in hex (0x), octal (0o) and binary (0b) systems
  • parseInt(str, base) parses an integer from any numeral system with base: 2 ≤ base ≤ 36.
  • num.toString(base) converts a number to a string in the numeral system with the given base.

For converting values like 12pt and 100px to a number:

  • Use parseInt/parseFloat for the "soft" conversion, which reads a number from a string and then returns the value they could read before the error. 

For fractions:

  • Round using Math.floor, Math.ceil, Math.trunc, Math.round or num.toFixed(precision).
  • Make sure to remember there's a loss of precision when working with fractions.

More mathematical functions:

  • See the Math object when you need them. The library is very small, but can cover basic needs.

Similar pages

Page structure





Binary +





Unary +


Operators in JS