Core Java

Double Precision Issue in Java

When working with floating-point numbers, it’s common to come across a rounding discrepancy referred to as the double precision problem. Let us delve into understanding the cause, effects, and possible solutions.

1. Understanding Floating-point numbers

Floating-point numbers are a fundamental concept in computer science and programming. They represent real numbers with a fractional part, allowing for a wide range of values to be expressed with finite precision. are a fundamental concept in computer science and programming. They represent real numbers with a fractional part, allowing for a wide range of values to be expressed with finite precision.

In most programming languages, floating-point numbers are represented using the float or double data types. These types store a numerical value as a fixed number of binary digits, with separate sections for the sign, exponent, and fraction.

However, due to the limitations of binary representation, not all real numbers can be precisely represented as floating-point numbers. This can lead to rounding errors, where the stored value differs slightly from the intended value.

1.1 The Double Precision Issue with Floating-Point Numbers

When working with floating-point numbers in computing, one common problem that arises is the double precision issue. This issue stems from the finite precision used to represent real numbers in binary format.

Floating-point numbers in most programming languages are typically stored using the double data type, which provides higher precision compared to the float type. However, even with double precision, certain calculations can lead to inaccuracies due to rounding errors.

The double precision issue becomes particularly noticeable when dealing with extremely large or small numbers or when performing complex mathematical operations. In these cases, the limited number of bits available for representing the fractional part of the number can result in a loss of precision.

This loss of precision can manifest as discrepancies between the expected and actual results of calculations, which can potentially impact the accuracy of computational tasks.

Below is a sample code that shows the precision issue with floating-point numbers:

public class FloatingPointPrecision {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        double num1 = 0.1;
        double num2 = 0.2;
        double sum = num1 + num2;

        System.out.println("num1: " + num1);
        System.out.println("num2: " + num2);
        System.out.println("sum: " + sum);

        if (sum == 0.3) {
            System.out.println("sum is equal to 0.3");
        } else {
            System.out.println("sum is not equal to 0.3");

In this code, num1 and num2 are assigned the floating-point values 0.1 and 0.2 respectively. Then, their sum is calculated and stored in the variable sum. However, when comparing the sum to 0.3, which would be the expected result of adding 0.1 and 0.2, you might expect the program to print sum is equal to 0.3. However, due to the nature of floating-point arithmetic in different versions of Java, the comparison sum == 0.3 could be evaluated as false due to precision issues.

sum is not equal to 0.3

1.2 Solving the Double Precision Issue in Java

When dealing with floating-point numbers in Java, it’s essential to be aware of the double precision issue, which can lead to inaccuracies in calculations due to limited precision. Fortunately, Java provides several techniques to mitigate the double precision issue and improve the accuracy of numerical computations:

  • BigDecimal: One approach is to use the BigDecimal class, which allows for arbitrary precision decimal arithmetic. Unlike primitive data types like double and float, BigDecimal represents numbers as an arbitrary-precision integer scaled by a power of ten. This eliminates the rounding errors associated with finite precision binary representation.
  • Rounding: Another technique is to round the results of calculations to a specified number of decimal places using methods like setScale() in BigDecimal or Math.round() for primitive data types. Rounding can help reduce the impact of precision errors and improve the accuracy of computations.
  • Scaling: Scaling involves adjusting the range of values being used in calculations to avoid extremely large or small numbers, which are more susceptible to precision issues. By scaling numbers appropriately, you can maintain accuracy while working within the limits of finite precision.
  • Libraries: Additionally, leveraging external libraries such as Apache Commons Math or JScience can provide advanced numerical functionality and higher precision arithmetic operations. These libraries offer specialized classes and methods tailored for scientific computing tasks.

1.3 Code Example

Below is the Java code demonstrating 2 ways to solve the issue –

package com.jcg.example;

import java.math.BigDecimal;
import java.math.RoundingMode;

public class DoublePrecisionExample {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        // Example of using BigDecimal to perform precise arithmetic
        BigDecimal num1 = new BigDecimal("0.1");
        BigDecimal num2 = new BigDecimal("0.2");
        BigDecimal sum = num1.add(num2);
        System.out.println("Sum using BigDecimal: " + sum); // Output: 0.3

        // Example of rounding a double value to a specific number of decimal places
        double value = 1.23456789;
        int decimalPlaces = 3;
        double roundedValue = round(value, decimalPlaces);
        System.out.println("Rounded value: " + roundedValue); // Output: 1.235

    // Method to round a double value to a specific number of decimal places
    public static double round(double value, int decimalPlaces) {
        if (decimalPlaces < 0) throw new IllegalArgumentException();

        BigDecimal bd = BigDecimal.valueOf(value);
        bd = bd.setScale(decimalPlaces, RoundingMode.HALF_UP);
        return bd.doubleValue();

1.3.1 Output

The output of the code is –

Sum using BigDecimal: 0.3

Rounded value: 1.235
  • For the first part of the output, the sum of 0.1 and 0.2 using BigDecimal results in 0.3, demonstrating precise arithmetic without any rounding errors.
  • For the second part of the output, the value 1.23456789 is rounded to 3 decimal places, resulting in 1.235. This demonstrates the rounding functionality implemented in the round() method.

2. Conclusion

In summary, the double precision issue poses a significant challenge when working with floating-point numbers in Java and other programming languages. However, by employing techniques such as using the BigDecimal class for precise arithmetic, rounding values to a specified number of decimal places, scaling numbers to avoid extreme values, and leveraging external libraries for advanced numerical computations, developers can mitigate the impact of precision errors and ensure the accuracy of their calculations.

It’s crucial for Java developers to be aware of the limitations of double-precision arithmetic and to adopt appropriate strategies to address these limitations, especially when working on applications that involve complex mathematical operations or require high precision. By understanding and implementing these techniques effectively, developers can build robust and reliable software systems that deliver accurate numerical results across a wide range of computational tasks.

Overall, tackling the double precision issue requires a combination of knowledge, careful planning, and judicious use of programming techniques. With the right approach, developers can overcome the challenges posed by finite precision arithmetic and confidently develop Java applications that meet the demands of modern computing environments.


An experience full-stack engineer well versed with Core Java, Spring/Springboot, MVC, Security, AOP, Frontend (Angular & React), and cloud technologies (such as AWS, GCP, Jenkins, Docker, K8).
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Back to top button