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Python Number Types: The Background On int, float, complex

python number types

Python Number Types: The Background On int, float, complex

Python is known for its versatility, and one of its strengths is its support for a variety of data types. Data types are a fundamental concept in programming, and understanding them is crucial to writing efficient and effective code, regardless of the language. 

Like most programming languages, Python has several built-in data types, including numbers, strings, and booleans. In this article, we’ll be focusing on one particular category of data types in Python: number types. Specifically, we’ll delve into int, float, and complex number types.

We’ll explore what these types are and how they work, how you can better use them in your Python code, as well as some common pitfalls to avoid when working with them. Let’s get into it.

Integer (int) Data Type

The integer (int) data type represents whole numbers without fractional components. They can be positive, negative, or zero. For example, 42, -5, and 0 are all integers. Integers are often used to represent quantities or counts in programming. 

The int data type in Python has specific limits, with a lower limit of -2^31 for 32-bit platforms and -2^63 for 64-bit platforms, and an upper limit of 2^31-1 for 32-bit platforms and 2^63-1 for 64-bit platforms. 

While these limits may seem quite high, if you try to store a value outside of this range in an int, you will encounter an “OverflowError,” which can be problematic in scenarios such as cryptography or scientific calculations. In such cases, you may need to use other data types like long integers or floats to handle very large numbers.

Integers are precise and allow for mathematical operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, just like one would do with pen and paper.

Here is an example of working with integers in Python:

a = 10
b = 20
c = a + b
print(c) #Output: 30

Developers commonly use integers for loops, counters, and array indexing, as well as for bitwise operations and storing binary data.

Floating-Point (float) Number

The floating-point (float) number type in Python represents real numbers that can have fractional parts. Floats are typically used when a higher degree of precision is necessary than what integers can provide, such as in scientific or engineering applications that require next-level accuracy. In Python, floats have a precision of about 15 decimal digits.

The range of values that floats can represent is much larger than that of integers, with a lower limit of approximately 10^-308 and an upper limit of approximately 10^308. However, floats are not as precise as integers, and operations involving floats can sometimes produce rounding errors.

Here is an example of working with floats in Python:

x = 3.14159
y = 1.61803
z = x * y
print(z) #Output: 5.0831868677

The code outputs the number 5.0831868677, which is the result of multiplying 3.14159 (pi) and 1.61803 (the golden ratio) together. Note that the result is a float, even though both operands were floats.

Floats are used to represent numbers with decimal points which are essential for a wide range of applications. This includes everyday use such as measurements and percentages, as well as advanced applications like data analysis.

That’s because they can represent a much larger range of numbers than integers and are, therefore, capable of storing very large or very small values that require accurate manipulation.

Note that floats can be subject to rounding errors and other inaccuracies due to the way they are stored in memory. If not handled correctly, this can lead to unexpected results.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid While Working With Float Number Types in Python

One common pitfall when working with floats is comparing them for equality. Because of the rounding errors mentioned above, two floats that should be equal may not be exactly equal in Python. 

For example, if you try to compare 0.1 + 0.2 to 0.3, you will get False, even though mathematically these values should be equal. To avoid this issue, it is recommended to use the math.isclose() function instead of the == operator when comparing floats.

Another issue to be aware of when working with floats is the concept of NaN, or “Not a Number.” NaN is a special value used to represent undefined or unrepresentable values, such as the result of dividing 0 by 0. If you perform a mathematical operation that results in NaN, any subsequent mathematical operations that involve that value will also result in NaN.

Complex Number Type in Python

The complex data type represents numbers with both a real and an imaginary component. In Python, complex numbers are represented in the form a + bj, where a and b are real numbers and j is the imaginary unit, equal to the square root of -1.

For example, the number 3 + 4i is a complex number. We can assign it to a variable like this:

a = 3 + 4j

You can also access the real and imaginary parts of a complex number in Python using the .real and .imag attributes, or by using the complex() function.

We can create a complex number using the complex function like so:

z = complex(3, 4) # 3 + 4i

And we can access the real and imaginary parts using .real and .imag attributes as such:

print(z.real) # 3.0
print(z.imag) # 4.0

Complex numbers can be added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided like other number types in Python. Here is an example of working with complex numbers:

x = 2 + 3j
y = 4 – 5j
z = x * y
print(z) #Output: (23+2j)

The numbers are multiplied together using the standard rules of multiplication that is:

x * y = (2 + 3j) * (4 – 5j)
= 8 – 10j + 12j – 15j^2
= 23 + 2j

Similarly, if you add two complex numbers together, the real and imaginary parts are added separately.

a = 2 + 3j
b = 4 – 5j
c = a + b
print(c) # Output: (6-2j)

Some Pitfalls to Avoid

Something important to keep in mind when working with complex numbers is that not all functions and operations are defined for them. For instance, the abs() function can return the magnitude of a complex number, but it does not apply to other types of numbers.

Similarly, the < and > operators are not defined for complex numbers. If you try to use a function or operation that is not defined for complex numbers, you will get a “TypeError.” Complex numbers are used in scientific and engineering calculations, signal processing, and electronics.

Type Conversion and Coercion

In Python, it’s possible to convert one number type to another (also known as typecasting) using the built-in functions int(), float(), and complex(). Type conversion is useful when you need to convert a value from one data type to another to perform a specific operation or function.

Here’s an illustration of converting numbers from one type to another in Python:

a = 5
b = float(a) #typecasting
print(b) #Output: 5.0

We can now use the output to perform an operation that’s best done using a float value, such as division:

c = b/2 print(c) #Output: 2.5

Type coercion, on the other hand, happens automatically when two different data types appear in an expression. Python will try to convert one of the data types to the other to perform the operation.

Here’s an illustration of type conversion in Python:

x = 3
y = 2.5
z = x * y
print(z) #Output: 7.5

Best Practices While Working with Python Number Types

When working with numerical types, it’s important to follow best practices to avoid errors and ensure efficiency and accuracy. One helpful approach is to use the appropriate data type for the task at hand, such as using integers for counting or floating-point numbers for measurements. 

It is equally essential to be aware of the limitations and precision of each data type to prevent unexpected results, such as loss of precision or overflow errors, so it’s best to avoid using data types beyond their intended function or capability.  

Another recommended best practice is to use parentheses to group operations in expressions and clarify the order of operations. Doing this will help to ensure that the calculations are done in the right order, reducing errors.

The Wrap-Up

The integer, floating-point, and complex number types each have unique properties that render them useful in different circumstances in Python, as well as other languages. Integers are useful for counting and indexing, floating-point numbers are essential for decimal-based calculations, and complex numbers are valuable for scientific and engineering applications.

Mastering the usage of each and every one of them would go a long way in taking your programming chops to the next level. By having a solid grasp, following best practices, and gaining a bit of experience, you should be able to use them to write elegant and efficient code.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between int and float in Python and programming in general?

First, ints and floats are both used to represent numerical values, but they are used in different situations. Ints are used for counting, while floats are used for measuring.

For example, if you wanted to count the number of apples in a basket, you would use an int. But if you wanted to measure the weight of the apples, you would use a float.

What is the difference between float and double in Python?

There’s no difference between float and double in Python unlike languages like C++ or Java, as both data types represent real numbers with decimal points.

Can I store fractions in Python?

Yes, Python has a built-in module called “fractions” that can be used to store and manipulate rational numbers as fractions.

Can I perform bitwise operations on floats in Python?

No, you can’t perform bitwise operations on floats in Python. Bitwise operations only work on integer types like int and bool.

What is the difference between int and long in Python?

In Python 2.x, int and long were two separate data types, with int representing integers up to a certain size and long representing arbitrarily large integers. However, in Python 3.x, int can represent arbitrarily large integers and long is no longer a separate data type.

How can I convert a string to a number in Python?

You can use the int() or float() function to convert a string to an integer or float, respectively. If the string does not represent a valid number, a “ValueError” will be raised.

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