Sometimes, floating point numbers are the thing that futile hours of programming are made of. Whether they come as 32, 64 or any other precision you want, they can truly give you unnecessary and unexpected work if you do not use them correctly.
The problem I stumbled over yesterday was the problem of

*rounding errors*.
Consider the following C snippet

double pi = 3.1415926535897932384626433832795;
double val = sqrt(pi) * sqrt(pi);
printf("pi = %f\n", pi);
printf("val = %f\n", val);

which yields

pi = 3.141593
val = 3.141593

Which is what we expected!

`val`

is the same as pi (the square is the inverse of the square root as we all know). However, the following C snippet shows the problem we run into:

if (val == pi) {
printf ("pi == val\n");
} else {
printf ("pi != val\n");
}

which yields

pi != val

So two apparently equal values are not equal any more! Where is the problem? It is in the precision of

`printf()`

, of course. We modify the first snippet so the

`printf()`

calls print the floating point values to more significant places

printf("pi = %.16f\n", pi);
printf("val = %.16f\n", val);

and now we get

pi = 3.1415926535897931
val = 3.1415926535897927

So how do we resolve this? Instead of comparing floating point values directly, we calculate their difference and make sure it is below a small value, for example

`1e-9`

:

if (abs(val - pi) < 1e-9) {
printf ("pi == val\n");
} else {
printf ("pi != val\n");
}

which now gives us

pi == val

I guess most programmers are aware about the problems with floating point numbers and I have also known about the problem for a long time. What made me stumble, however, was that I trusted the printed value - which was inaccurate.
As far as I know, there is no generic solution to the problem with floating point inaccuracies. You will get away with comparing whether the difference between two floating point values is smaller than a given value for comparing.
In Ruby, you could hack the built in

`Float`

class with the following:

class Float
def ==(value)
self - value < 0.01
end
end

This allows us to compare floating point values “fuzzily”:

>> Math.sqrt(2) ** 2 == 2.0
=> **false**
>> require 'floathack'
=> true
>> Math.sqrt(2) ** 2 == 2.0
=> **true**

However, I do

**not** think that this is a good idea! Overwriting the

`==`

operator of the

`Float`

as above breaks its

*transitivity*, i.e. we get the following (in-)equalities
1.99 == 2.00 == 2.01 but 1.99 != 2.01
Another idea would be only to compare the first

*n* numbers after the point, e.g. consider

*3.1415926535897931* to be

*3.141* for

*n = 2*. However, this does not help us if a floating point error gives us two values just next to a “boundary”, i.e. a result of

*1.999* would not be considered correct if

*2.001* was expected and we only cared about the result being “sufficiently close” to the expected value.
So be careful when using floating point values are checking two of them for equality. Trouble will strike and most probably find some way to trick you into wasting time.
An extensive, academic - and arguably dry - discussion of the implications of floating point arithmetics can be found in

What Every Computer Scientist Should Know About Floating-Point Arithmetic, by David Goldberg.