2019-08-15 15:17



Go features untyped exact numeric constants with arbitrary size and precision. The spec requires all compilers to support integers to at least 256 bits, and floats to at least 272 bits (256 bits for the mantissa and 16 bits for the exponent). So compilers are required to faithfully and exactly represent expressions like this:

const (
    PI       = 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971
    Prime256 = 84028154888444252871881479176271707868370175636848156449781508641811196133203

This is interesting...and yet I cannot find any way to actually use any such constant that exceeds the maximum precision of the 64 bit concrete types int64, uint64, float64, complex128 (which is just a pair of float64 values). Even the standard library big number types big.Int and big.Float cannot be initialized from large numeric constants -- they must instead be deserialized from string constants or other expressions.

The underlying mechanics are fairly obvious: the constants exist only at compile time, and must be coerced to some value representable at runtime to be used at runtime. They are a language construct that exists only in code and during compilation. You cannot retrieve the raw value of a constant at runtime; it is is not stored at some address in the compiled program itself.

So the question remains: Why does the language make such a point of supporting enormous constants when they cannot be used in practice?

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  • duanpo7796 duanpo7796 2年前

    TLDR; Go's arbitrary precision constants give you the possibility to work with "real" numbers and not with "boxed" numbers, so "artifacts" like overflow, underflow, infinity corner cases are relieved. You have the possibility to work with higher precision, and only the result have to be converted to limited-precision, mitigating the effect of intermediate errors.

    The Go Blog: Constants: (emphasizes are mine answering your question)

    Numeric constants live in an arbitrary-precision numeric space; they are just regular numbers. But when they are assigned to a variable the value must be able to fit in the destination. We can declare a constant with a very large value:

    const Huge = 1e1000

    —that's just a number, after all—but we can't assign it or even print it. This statement won't even compile:


    The error is, "constant 1.00000e+1000 overflows float64", which is true. But Huge might be useful: we can use it in expressions with other constants and use the value of those expressions if the result can be represented in the range of a float64. The statement,

    fmt.Println(Huge / 1e999)

    prints 10, as one would expect.

    In a related way, floating-point constants may have very high precision, so that arithmetic involving them is more accurate. The constants defined in the math package are given with many more digits than are available in a float64. Here is the definition of math.Pi:

    Pi    = 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459

    When that value is assigned to a variable, some of the precision will be lost; the assignment will create the float64 (or float32) value closest to the high-precision value. This snippet

    pi := math.Pi

    prints 3.141592653589793.

    Having so many digits available means that calculations like Pi/2 or other more intricate evaluations can carry more precision until the result is assigned, making calculations involving constants easier to write without losing precision. It also means that there is no occasion in which the floating-point corner cases like infinities, soft underflows, and NaNs arise in constant expressions. (Division by a constant zero is a compile-time error, and when everything is a number there's no such thing as "not a number".)

    See related: How does Go perform arithmetic on constants?

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