MATH(3) BSD Library Functions Manual MATH(3)
math -- introduction to mathematical library functions
Math Library (libm, -lm)
These functions constitute the C Math Library (libm, -lm). Declarations for these functions
may be obtained from the include file <math.h>.
List of Functions
Name Man page Description Error Bound (ULPs)
acos acos(3) inverse trigonometric function 3
acosh acosh(3) inverse hyperbolic function 3
asin asin(3) inverse trigonometric function 3
asinh asinh(3) inverse hyperbolic function 3
atan atan(3) inverse trigonometric function 1
atanh atanh(3) inverse hyperbolic function 3
atan2 atan2(3) inverse trigonometric function 2
cbrt sqrt(3) cube root 1
ceil ceil(3) integer no less than 0
copysign copysign(3) copy sign bit 0
cos cos(3) trigonometric function 1
cosh cosh(3) hyperbolic function 3
erf erf(3) error function ???
erfc erf(3) complementary error function ???
exp exp(3) exponential 1
expm1 exp(3) exp(x)-1 1
fabs fabs(3) absolute value 0
finite finite(3) test for finity 0
floor floor(3) integer no greater than 0
fmod fmod(3) remainder ???
hypot hypot(3) Euclidean distance 1
ilogb ilogb(3) exponent extraction 0
isinf isinf(3) test for infinity 0
isnan isnan(3) test for not-a-number 0
j0 j0(3) Bessel function ???
j1 j0(3) Bessel function ???
jn j0(3) Bessel function ???
lgamma lgamma(3) log gamma function ???
log log(3) natural logarithm 1
log10 log(3) logarithm to base 10 3
log1p log(3) log(1+x) 1
nan nan(3) return quiet NaN 0
nextafter nextafter(3) next representable number 0
pow pow(3) exponential x**y 60-500
remainder remainder(3) remainder 0
rint rint(3) round to nearest integer 0
scalbn scalbn(3) exponent adjustment 0
sin sin(3) trigonometric function 1
sinh sinh(3) hyperbolic function 3
sqrt sqrt(3) square root 1
tan tan(3) trigonometric function 3
tanh tanh(3) hyperbolic function 3
trunc trunc(3) nearest integral value 3
y0 j0(3) Bessel function ???
y1 j0(3) Bessel function ???
yn j0(3) Bessel function ???
List of Defined Values
Name Value Description
M_E 2.7182818284590452354 e
M_LOG2E 1.4426950408889634074 log 2e
M_LOG10E 0.43429448190325182765 log 10e
M_LN2 0.69314718055994530942 log e2
M_LN10 2.30258509299404568402 log e10
M_PI 3.14159265358979323846 pi
M_PI_2 1.57079632679489661923 pi/2
M_PI_4 0.78539816339744830962 pi/4
M_1_PI 0.31830988618379067154 1/pi
M_2_PI 0.63661977236758134308 2/pi
M_2_SQRTPI 1.12837916709551257390 2/sqrt(pi)
M_SQRT2 1.41421356237309504880 sqrt(2)
M_SQRT1_2 0.70710678118654752440 1/sqrt(2)
In 4.3 BSD, distributed from the University of California in late 1985, most of the forego-
ing functions come in two versions, one for the double-precision "D" format in the DEC
VAX-11 family of computers, another for double-precision arithmetic conforming to the IEEE
Standard 754 for Binary Floating-Point Arithmetic. The two versions behave very similarly,
as should be expected from programs more accurate and robust than was the norm when UNIX was
born. For instance, the programs are accurate to within the numbers of ULPs tabulated
above; an ULP is one Unit in the Last Place. And the programs have been cured of anomalies
that afflicted the older math library in which incidents like the following had been
sqrt(-1.0) = 0.0 and log(-1.0) = -1.7e38.
cos(1.0e-11) > cos(0.0) > 1.0.
pow(x,1.0) != x when x = 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, ..., 9.0.
pow(-1.0,1.0e10) trapped on Integer Overflow.
sqrt(1.0e30) and sqrt(1.0e-30) were very slow.
However the two versions do differ in ways that have to be explained, to which end the fol-
lowing notes are provided.
DEC VAX-11 D_floating-point
This is the format for which the original math library was developed, and to which this man-
ual is still principally dedicated. It is the double-precision format for the PDP-11 and
the earlier VAX-11 machines; VAX-11s after 1983 were provided with an optional "G" format
closer to the IEEE double-precision format. The earlier DEC MicroVAXs have no D format,
only G double-precision. (Why? Why not?)
Properties of D_floating-point:
Wordsize: 64 bits, 8 bytes.
Precision: 56 significant bits, roughly like 17 significant decimals. If x and x' are
consecutive positive D_floating-point numbers (they differ by 1 ULP), then
1.3e-17 < 0.5**56 < (x'-x)/x <= 0.5**55 < 2.8e-17.
Overflow threshold = 2.0**127 = 1.7e38.
Underflow threshold = 0.5**128 = 2.9e-39.
NOTE: THIS RANGE IS COMPARATIVELY NARROW.
Overflow customarily stops computation. Underflow is customarily flushed qui-
etly to zero. CAUTION: It is possible to have x != y and yet x-y = 0 because
of underflow. Similarly x > y > 0 cannot prevent either x*y = 0 or y/x = 0
from happening without warning.
Zero is represented ambiguously: Although 2**55 different representations of zero are
accepted by the hardware, only the obvious representation is ever produced.
There is no -0 on a VAX.
infinity is not part of the VAX architecture.
Reserved operands: of the 2**55 that the hardware recognizes, only one of them is ever
produced. Any floating-point operation upon a reserved operand, even a MOVF
or MOVD, customarily stops computation, so they are not much used.
Exceptions: Divisions by zero and operations that overflow are invalid operations that
customarily stop computation or, in earlier machines, produce reserved oper-
ands that will stop computation.
Rounding: Every rational operation (+, -, *, /) on a VAX (but not necessarily on a
PDP-11), if not an over/underflow nor division by zero, is rounded to within
half an ULP, and when the rounding error is exactly half an ULP then rounding
is away from 0.
Except for its narrow range, D_floating-point is one of the better computer arithmetics
designed in the 1960's. Its properties are reflected fairly faithfully in the elementary
functions for a VAX distributed in 4.3 BSD. They over/underflow only if their results have
to lie out of range or very nearly so, and then they behave much as any rational arithmetic
operation that over/underflowed would behave. Similarly, expressions like log(0) and
atanh(1) behave like 1/0; and sqrt(-3) and acos(3) behave like 0/0; they all produce
reserved operands and/or stop computation! The situation is described in more detail in
This response seems excessively punitive, so it is destined to be replaced at some time in
the foreseeable future by a more flexible but still uniform scheme being developed to handle
all floating-point arithmetic exceptions neatly.
How do the functions in 4.3 BSD's new math library for UNIX compare with their counterparts
in DEC's VAX/VMS library? Some of the VMS functions are a little faster, some are a little
more accurate, some are more puritanical about exceptions (like pow(0.0,0.0) and
atan2(0.0,0.0)), and most occupy much more memory than their counterparts in libm. The VMS
codes interpolate in large table to achieve speed and accuracy; the libm codes use tricky
formulas compact enough that all of them may some day fit into a ROM.
More important, DEC regards the VMS codes as proprietary and guards them zealously against
unauthorized use. But the libm codes in 4.3 BSD are intended for the public domain; they
may be copied freely provided their provenance is always acknowledged, and provided users
assist the authors in their researches by reporting experience with the codes. Therefore no
user of UNIX on a machine whose arithmetic resembles VAX D_floating-point need use anything
worse than the new libm.
IEEE STANDARD 754 Floating-Point Arithmetic
This standard is on its way to becoming more widely adopted than any other design for com-
puter arithmetic. VLSI chips that conform to some version of that standard have been pro-
duced by a host of manufacturers, among them ...
Intel i8087, i80287 National Semiconductor 32081
68881 Weitek WTL-1032, ..., -1165
Zilog Z8070 Western Electric (AT&T) WE32106.
Other implementations range from software, done thoroughly in the Apple Macintosh, through
VLSI in the Hewlett-Packard 9000 series, to the ELXSI 6400 running ECL at 3 Megaflops. Sev-
eral other companies have adopted the formats of IEEE 754 without, alas, adhering to the
standard's way of handling rounding and exceptions like over/underflow. The DEC VAX
G_floating-point format is very similar to the IEEE 754 Double format, so similar that the C
programs for the IEEE versions of most of the elementary functions listed above could easily
be converted to run on a MicroVAX, though nobody has volunteered to do that yet.
The codes in 4.3 BSD's libm for machines that conform to IEEE 754 are intended primarily for
the National Semiconductor 32081 and WTL 1164/65. To use these codes with the Intel or
Zilog chips, or with the Apple Macintosh or ELXSI 6400, is to forego the use of better codes
provided (perhaps freely) by those companies and designed by some of the authors of the
codes above. Except for atan(), cbrt(), erf(), erfc(), hypot(), j0-jn(), lgamma(), pow(),
and y0-yn(), the Motorola 68881 has all the functions in libm on chip, and faster and more
accurate; it, Apple, the i8087, Z8070 and WE32106 all use 64 significant bits. The main
virtue of 4.3 BSD's libm codes is that they are intended for the public domain; they may be
copied freely provided their provenance is always acknowledged, and provided users assist
the authors in their researches by reporting experience with the codes. Therefore no user
of UNIX on a machine that conforms to IEEE 754 need use anything worse than the new libm.
Properties of IEEE 754 Double-Precision:
Wordsize: 64 bits, 8 bytes.
Precision: 53 significant bits, roughly like 16 significant decimals. If x and x' are
consecutive positive Double-Precision numbers (they differ by 1 ULP), then
1.1e-16 < 0.5**53 < (x'-x)/x <= 0.5**52 < 2.3e-16.
Overflow threshold = 2.0**1024 = 1.8e308
Underflow threshold = 0.5**1022 = 2.2e-308
Overflow goes by default to a signed infinity. Underflow is Gradual, rounding
to the nearest integer multiple of 0.5**1074 = 4.9e-324.
Zero is represented ambiguously as +0 or -0: Its sign transforms correctly through
multiplication or division, and is preserved by addition of zeros with like
signs; but x-x yields +0 for every finite x. The only operations that reveal
zero's sign are division by zero and copysign(x,+-0). In particular, compari-
son (x > y, x >= y, etc.) cannot be affected by the sign of zero; but if
finite x = y then infinity = 1/(x-y) != -1/(y-x) = - infinity .
infinity is signed: it persists when added to itself or to any finite number. Its
sign transforms correctly through multiplication and division, and infinity
(finite)/+- = +-0 (nonzero)/0 = +- infinity. But oo-oo, oo*0 and oo/oo are,
like 0/0 and sqrt(-3), invalid operations that produce NaN.
Reserved operands: there are 2**53-2 of them, all called NaN (Not A Number). Some,
called Signaling NaNs, trap any floating-point operation performed upon them;
they are used to mark missing or uninitialized values, or nonexistent elements
of arrays. The rest are Quiet NaNs; they are the default results of Invalid
Operations, and propagate through subsequent arithmetic operations. If x != x
then x is NaN; every other predicate (x > y, x = y, x < y, ...) is FALSE if
NaN is involved.
NOTE: Trichotomy is violated by NaN. Besides being FALSE, predicates that
entail ordered comparison, rather than mere (in)equality, signal Invalid Oper-
ation when NaN is involved.
Rounding: Every algebraic operation (+, -, *, /, \/) is rounded by default to within
half an ULP, and when the rounding error is exactly half an ULP then the
rounded value's least significant bit is zero. This kind of rounding is usu-
ally the best kind, sometimes provably so; for instance, for every x = 1.0,
2.0, 3.0, 4.0, ..., 2.0**52, we find (x/3.0)*3.0 == x and (x/10.0)*10.0 == x
and ... despite that both the quotients and the products have been rounded.
Only rounding like IEEE 754 can do that. But no single kind of rounding can
be proved best for every circumstance, so IEEE 754 provides rounding towards
zero or towards +infinity or towards -infinity at the programmer's option.
And the same kinds of rounding are specified for Binary-Decimal Conversions,
at least for magnitudes between roughly 1.0e-10 and 1.0e37.
Exceptions: IEEE 754 recognizes five kinds of floating-point exceptions, listed below
in declining order of probable importance.
Exception Default Result
Invalid Operation NaN, or FALSE
Divide by Zero +-oo
Underflow Gradual Underflow
Inexact Rounded value
NOTE: An Exception is not an Error unless handled badly. What makes a class
of exceptions exceptional is that no single default response can be satisfac-
tory in every instance. On the other hand, if a default response will serve
most instances satisfactorily, the unsatisfactory instances cannot justify
aborting computation every time the exception occurs.
For each kind of floating-point exception, IEEE 754 provides a Flag that is raised each time
its exception is signaled, and stays raised until the program resets it. Programs may also
test, save and restore a flag. Thus, IEEE 754 provides three ways by which programs may
cope with exceptions for which the default result might be unsatisfactory:
1. Test for a condition that might cause an exception later, and branch to avoid the
2. Test a flag to see whether an exception has occurred since the program last reset its
3. Test a result to see whether it is a value that only an exception could have produced.
CAUTION: The only reliable ways to discover whether Underflow has occurred are to test
whether products or quotients lie closer to zero than the underflow threshold, or to
test the Underflow flag. (Sums and differences cannot underflow in IEEE 754; if x != y
then x-y is correct to full precision and certainly nonzero regardless of how tiny it
may be.) Products and quotients that underflow gradually can lose accuracy gradually
without vanishing, so comparing them with zero (as one might on a VAX) will not reveal
the loss. Fortunately, if a gradually underflowed value is destined to be added to
something bigger than the underflow threshold, as is almost always the case, digits
lost to gradual underflow will not be missed because they would have been rounded off
anyway. So gradual underflows are usually provably ignorable. The same cannot be said
of underflows flushed to 0.
At the option of an implementor conforming to IEEE 754, other ways to cope with excep-
tions may be provided:
4. ABORT. This mechanism classifies an exception in advance as an incident to be handled
by means traditionally associated with error-handling statements like "ON ERROR GO TO
...". Different languages offer different forms of this statement, but most share the
- No means is provided to substitute a value for the offending operation's result and
resume computation from what may be the middle of an expression. An exceptional
result is abandoned.
- In a subprogram that lacks an error-handling statement, an exception causes the
subprogram to abort within whatever program called it, and so on back up the chain
of calling subprograms until an error-handling statement is encountered or the
whole task is aborted and memory is dumped.
5. STOP. This mechanism, requiring an interactive debugging environment, is more for the
programmer than the program. It classifies an exception in advance as a symptom of a
programmer's error; the exception suspends execution as near as it can to the offending
operation so that the programmer can look around to see how it happened. Quite often
the first several exceptions turn out to be quite unexceptionable, so the programmer
ought ideally to be able to resume execution after each one as if execution had not
6. ... Other ways lie beyond the scope of this document.
The crucial problem for exception handling is the problem of Scope, and the problem's solu-
tion is understood, but not enough manpower was available to implement it fully in time to
be distributed in 4.3 BSD's libm. Ideally, each elementary function should act as if it
were indivisible, or atomic, in the sense that ...
1. No exception should be signaled that is not deserved by the data supplied to that func-
2. Any exception signaled should be identified with that function rather than with one of
3. The internal behavior of an atomic function should not be disrupted when a calling pro-
gram changes from one to another of the five or so ways of handling exceptions listed
above, although the definition of the function may be correlated intentionally with
Ideally, every programmer should be able conveniently to turn a debugged subprogram into one
that appears atomic to its users. But simulating all three characteristics of an atomic
function is still a tedious affair, entailing hosts of tests and saves-restores; work is
under way to ameliorate the inconvenience.
Meanwhile, the functions in libm are only approximately atomic. They signal no inappropri-
ate exception except possibly ...
when a result, if properly computed, might have lain barely within range, and
Inexact in cbrt(), hypot(), log10(and) pow()
when it happens to be exact, thanks to fortuitous cancellation of errors.
Invalid Operation is signaled only when
any result but NaN would probably be misleading.
Overflow is signaled only when
the exact result would be finite but beyond the overflow threshold.
Divide-by-Zero is signaled only when
a function takes exactly infinite values at finite operands.
Underflow is signaled only when
the exact result would be nonzero but tinier than the underflow threshold.
Inexact is signaled only when
greater range or precision would be needed to represent the exact result.
An explanation of IEEE 754 and its proposed extension p854 was published in the IEEE maga-
zine MICRO in August 1984 under the title "A Proposed Radix- and Word-length-independent
Standard for Floating-point Arithmetic" by W. J. Cody et al. The manuals for Pascal, C and
BASIC on the Apple Macintosh document the features of IEEE 754 pretty well. Articles in the
IEEE magazine COMPUTER vol. 14 no. 3 (Mar. 1981), and in the ACM SIGNUM Newsletter Special
Issue of Oct. 1979, may be helpful although they pertain to superseded drafts of the stan-
When signals are appropriate, they are emitted by certain operations within the codes, so a
subroutine-trace may be needed to identify the function with its signal in case method 5)
above is in use. And the codes all take the IEEE 754 defaults for granted; this means that
a decision to trap all divisions by zero could disrupt a code that would otherwise get cor-
rect results despite division by zero.
BSD February 23, 2007 BSD