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Binary, decimal and computers

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Since computers use binary numbers, how is it possible for them to display decimals?


For instance, the following (C code) will print out 10, and not a binary representation of 10.

int i = 10;



How is that done?

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The compiler knows that what you want to display is a human readable number so it converts the binary into that. If you were to look at the piece of memory that is i it would be:




Assuming that c uses just a single byte binary for integers, and not twos comp or something similar....

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It's rather easy to write a code constructing a string from a natural number, e.g.:

std::string result="";
for (; value!= 0; value /= 10) {

 int last_digit = value - 10*(value/10);
 switch ( last_digit ) {
   case 0: result="0"+result; break;
   case 1: result="1"+result; break;
   case 9: result="9"+result; break;
     std::cout<<"You screwed up the digit "<<last_digit<<std::endl; abort();
if (result == "") result="0";

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Slightly more abstract: It converts the number into a symbol (an ordered collection of digits) that can be displayed on the screen and understood by the reader - though not necessarily in the way I sketched. This is not exclusive to computers: Actually, when you write "10" on a piece of paper you are writing down a symbol for a number. Sidenote: The symbol "[math]\frac{100}{10}[/math]" would be a different symbol for the same number.

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