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gawk: POSIX Floating Point Problems

 
 15.7 Standards Versus Existing Practice
 =======================================
 
 Historically, 'awk' has converted any nonnumeric-looking string to the
 numeric value zero, when required.  Furthermore, the original definition
 of the language and the original POSIX standards specified that 'awk'
 only understands decimal numbers (base 10), and not octal (base 8) or
 hexadecimal numbers (base 16).
 
    Changes in the language of the 2001 and 2004 POSIX standards can be
 interpreted to imply that 'awk' should support additional features.
 These features are:
 
    * Interpretation of floating-point data values specified in
      hexadecimal notation (e.g., '0xDEADBEEF').  (Note: data values,
      _not_ source code constants.)
 
    * Support for the special IEEE 754 floating-point values "not a
      number" (NaN), positive infinity ("inf"), and negative infinity
      ("-inf").  In particular, the format for these values is as
      specified by the ISO 1999 C standard, which ignores case and can
      allow implementation-dependent additional characters after the
      'nan' and allow either 'inf' or 'infinity'.
 
    The first problem is that both of these are clear changes to
 historical practice:
 
    * The 'gawk' maintainer feels that supporting hexadecimal
      floating-point values, in particular, is ugly, and was never
      intended by the original designers to be part of the language.
 
    * Allowing completely alphabetic strings to have valid numeric values
      is also a very severe departure from historical practice.
 
    The second problem is that the 'gawk' maintainer feels that this
 interpretation of the standard, which required a certain amount of
 "language lawyering" to arrive at in the first place, was not even
 intended by the standard developers.  In other words, "We see how you
 got where you are, but we don't think that that's where you want to be."
 
    Recognizing these issues, but attempting to provide compatibility
 with the earlier versions of the standard, the 2008 POSIX standard added
 explicit wording to allow, but not require, that 'awk' support
 hexadecimal floating-point values and special values for "not a number"
 and infinity.
 
    Although the 'gawk' maintainer continues to feel that providing those
 features is inadvisable, nevertheless, on systems that support IEEE
 floating point, it seems reasonable to provide _some_ way to support NaN
 and infinity values.  The solution implemented in 'gawk' is as follows:
 
    * With the '--posix' command-line option, 'gawk' becomes "hands off."
      String values are passed directly to the system library's
      'strtod()' function, and if it successfully returns a numeric
      value, that is what's used.(1)  By definition, the results are not
      portable across different systems.  They are also a little
      surprising:
 
           $ echo nanny | gawk --posix '{ print $1 + 0 }'
           -| nan
           $ echo 0xDeadBeef | gawk --posix '{ print $1 + 0 }'
           -| 3735928559
 
    * Without '--posix', 'gawk' interprets the four string values '+inf',
      '-inf', '+nan', and '-nan' specially, producing the corresponding
      special numeric values.  The leading sign acts a signal to 'gawk'
      (and the user) that the value is really numeric.  Hexadecimal
      floating point is not supported (unless you also use
      '--non-decimal-data', which is _not_ recommended).  For example:
 
           $ echo nanny | gawk '{ print $1 + 0 }'
           -| 0
           $ echo +nan | gawk '{ print $1 + 0 }'
           -| nan
           $ echo 0xDeadBeef | gawk '{ print $1 + 0 }'
           -| 0
 
      'gawk' ignores case in the four special values.  Thus, '+nan' and
      '+NaN' are the same.
 
    ---------- Footnotes ----------
 
    (1) You asked for it, you got it.
 
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