Ruby 2.4 merged
Bignum into the same class (
Integer) so I think this is a good time to review the different number types in Ruby!
That’s what we are going to talk about in this post 🙂
Let’s start by taking a look at the class hierarchy of all the number related classes in Ruby:
Numeric Integer Fixnum Bignum Float Complex Rational BigDecimal (Standard Library)
As you can see, the
Numeric class is the parent for all the number classes. Remember that you can use the
ancestors method to discover the parent classes for any class.
Fixnum.ancestors - Fixnum.included_modules [Fixnum, Integer, Numeric, Object, BasicObject]
Now let’s see these classes in table form:
|Integer||Parent class of
|Fixnum||Whole numbers that fit into the OS integer type (32 or 64 bits)||1|
|Bignum||Used for bigger numbers||111111111111|
|Float||Imprecise decimal numbers||5.0|
|Complex||Used for math stuff with imaginary numbers||(1+0i)|
|Rational||Used to represent fractions||(2/3)|
|BigDecimal||Perfect precision decimal numbers||3.0|
Float class in Ruby is described as “imprecise” in the official Ruby documentation.
Why is that?
Let me show you an example:
0.2 + 0.1 == 0.3 # false
Why is this false?
Let’s look at the result of
0.2 + 0.1:
Exactly! That’s what we mean by imprecision.
This happens because of the way that a float is stored. If you need decimal numbers that are always accurate you can use the
BigDecimal is a class that gives you arbitrary-precision decimal numbers.
require 'bigdecimal' BigDecimal("0.2") + BigDecimal("0.1") == 0.3 # true
Why don’t we always use
BigDecimal then? Because it’s a lot slower!
Here is a benchmark:
Calculating ------------------------------------- bigdecimal 21.559k i/100ms float 79.336k i/100ms ------------------------------------------------- bigdecimal 311.721k (± 7.4%) i/s - 1.552M float 3.817M (±11.7%) i/s - 18.803M Comparison: float: 3817207.2 i/s bigdecimal: 311721.2 i/s - 12.25x slower
BigDecimal is 12 times slower than
Float, and that’s why it’s not the default 🙂
In this section I want to explore the differences between
Bignum before Ruby 2.4.
Let’s start with some code:
1.class # Fixnum 100000000000.class # Bignum
Ruby creates the correct class for us, and it will automatically promote a
Fixnum to a
Bignum when necessary.
Note: You may need a bigger number to get a
Bignumobject if you have a 64-bit Ruby interpreter.
Why do we need different classes? The answer is that to work with bigger numbers you need a different implementation, and working with big numbers is slower, so we end up with a similar situation to
Fixnum class also has some special properties. For example, the object id is calculated using a formula.
1.object_id # 3 20.object_id # 41
The formula is:
(number * 2) + 1.
But there is more to this, when you use a
Fixnum there is no object being created at all. There is no data to store in a
Fixnum, because the value is derived from the object id itself.
This is just an implementation detail, but I think it’s interesting to know 🙂
MRI (Matz’s Ruby Interpreter) uses these two macros to convert between value & object id:
INT2FIX(i) ((VALUE)(((SIGNED_VALUE)(i))<<1 | FIXNUM_FLAG)) FIX2LONG(x) ((long)RSHIFT((SIGNED_VALUE)(x),1))
What happens here is called “bit shifting”, which moves all the bits to the left or the right.
Shifting one position to the left is equivalent to multiplying by 2 & that’s why the formula is
(number * 2) + 1. The +1 comes from the
Bignum works more like a normal class & uses normal object ids:
111111111111111.object_id # 23885808
All this means is that
Fixnum objects are closer to symbols in terms of how they work at the interpreter level, while
Bignum objects are closer to strings.
Since Ruby 2.4 Fixnum & Bignum are deprecated, but behind the scences they still work the same way.
Ruby switches from one type to another automatically.
Without changing the class.
This means that small
Integer numbers still operate in the same way as a
In this post you learned about the different number-related classes that exist in Ruby.
You learned that floats are imprecise, and that you can use
BigDecimal if accuracy is a lot more important than performance. You also learned that
Fixnum objects are special at the interpreter level, but
Bignums are just regular objects.
If you found this post interesting don’t forget to sign-up to my newsletter in the form below 🙂