Numerical Evaluation

To obtain a numerical approximation of the value of an expression, use the ce.N() function.

If ce.N() cannot provide a numerical evaluation, a canonical symbolic representation of the partially evaluated expression is returned.

console.log(ce.N(parse('\\sqrt{5} + 7^3'))
// -> 345.2360679774998

console.log(ce.N(parse('\\sqrt{x} + 7^3'));
// -> ["Add", ["Sqrt", "x"], 343]

Numeric Formats

Three numeric formats may be used to perform numerical evaluations with the Compute Engine: machine decimal and complex.

Machine Numbers

The machine format uses a common representation of numbers in computers: a 64-bit binary floating point format. It is well suited for the CPU to do fast computations. It uses a fixed amount of memory and represent significant digits in base-2. This numeric format has about 15 signficant digits.

Using the machine numeric format some numerical evaluations cannot produce exact results.

For example: \(0.1 + 0.2 = 0.30000000000000004 \).

Indeed, while \(0.1\) and \(0.2\) look like "round numbers" in base-10, they are only represented approximately in base-2.

Decimal Numbers

The decimal numeric format is an arbitrary-precision representation of floating points. In this format, floating point numbers are represented in base-10, and use a variable amount of memory depending on the number of significant digits (precision) desired.

When using Decimal numbers, the return value of ce.N() may be a MathJSON number that looks like this:

  num: "3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592307816406286208998628034825342117067982148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128481117450284102701938521105559644622948954930381964428810975665933446128475648233786783165271201909145648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273724587006606315588174881520920962829254091715364367892590360011330530548820466521384146951941511609433057270365759591953092186117381932611793105118548074462379962749567351885752724891227938183011949129833673362440656643086021394946395224737190702179860943702770539217176293176752384674818467669405132000568127145263560827785771342757789609173637178721468440901224953430146549585371050792279689258923542019956112129021960864034418159813629774771309960518707211349999998372978049951059731732816096318595024459455346908302642522308253344685035261931188171010003137838752886587533208381420617177669147303598253490428755468731159562863882353787593751957781857780532171226806613001927876611195909216420199d"

Note that the string of digits ends with a d indicating this is a decimal number.

Complex Numbers

The complex numeric format can represent complex numbers as a pair of real and imaginary components. The real and imaginary components are stored as 64-bit floating point numbers and have thus the same limitations as the machine format.

The complex number \(1 + 2\imaginaryI\) is represented as ["Complex", 1, 2]. This is a convenient shorthand for ["Add", 1, ["Multiply", 2, "ImaginaryUnit"]].

Choosing the Numeric Format and Precision

To change the numeric format for numeric evaluations, set the numericFormat property of a ComputeEngine instance to one of these values:

Numeric Format
machine 64-bit IEEE floating point number with about 15 digits of precision. Fastest.
complex Two 64-bit floating point numbers. Support provided by the "complex.js" library.
decimal Arbitrary precision floating point. Slower, but more precise, however computations with complex numbers cannot be performed. Support provided by the "decimal.js" library
auto Use number machine or auto based on the desired precision and the content of the expression

To change the number of significant digits for numerical evaluations, set the precision property of a ComputeEngine instance.

A value of 15 or less will automatically be set to 15 and use the machine numeric format.

A value over 1,000 will result in inaccurate results for trigonometric functions. Other arithmetic operations are not affected.

The default numeric format is auto: if the precision is 15 or less the machine numeric format is used, unless the computations requires some calculations with complex numbers. If the precision is greater than 15, the decimal numeric format is used.

Simplifying Before Evaluating

When using ce.N(), no rewriting of the expression is done before it is evaluated.

Because of the limitations of machine numbers, this may produce surprising results.

For example:

const x = ce.N(parse('0.1 + 0.2'));
console.log(N(['Subtract', x, x]));
// -> 2.7755575615628914e-17

However, the result of \( x - x \) from ce.simplify() is \( 0 \) since the simplification is done symbolically, before any floating point calculations are made.

const x = ce.N(parse('0.1 + 0.2'));
console.log(simplify(['Subtract', x, x]));
// -> 0

In some cases, it may be advantageous to invoke ce.simplify() before using ce.N().


Two numbers that are sufficiently close to each other are considered equal.

To control how close two numbers have to be before they are considered equal, set the tolerance property of a ComputeEngine instance.

By default, the tolerance is \( 10^{-10} \).

The tolerance is accounted for by the Chop function to determine when to replace a number of a small magnitude with the exact integer 0.

It is also used when doing some comparison to zero: a number whose absolute value is smaller than the tolerance will be considered equal to 0.

Numeric Functions

The dictionaries below can provide numerical evaluations for their numeric functions:

Arithmetic Add Multiply Sqrt Log Abs Round
Trigonometry Sin Cos Tan Sinh Arcsin
Special Functions Erf Gamma Factorial