MirBSD manpage: 05.dc(USD)

            DC - An Interactive Desk Calculator

                       Robert Morris

                       Lorinda Cherry


          DC is an interactive desk calculator  program
     implemented on the UNIX- time-sharing system to do
     arbitrary-precision  integer  arithmetic.  It  has
     provision  for  manipulating  scaled   fixed-point
     numbers  and  for  input and output in bases other
     than decimal.

          The size of numbers that can  be  manipulated
     is limited only by available core storage. On typ-
     ical implementations of UNIX, the size of  numbers
     that  can  be  handled varies from several hundred
     digits on the smallest systems to several thousand
     on the largest.

     Editor's note: the description  of  the  implementation
details  of  DC in this paper is only valid for the original
version of DC. The current version of DC  uses  a  different

     DC is an arbitrary precision arithmetic package  imple-
mented  on  the  UNIX  time-sharing system in the form of an
interactive desk calculator. It works like a stacking calcu-
lator  using reverse Polish notation. Ordinarily DC operates
on decimal integers, but one may specify an input base, out-
put  base,  and  a  number  of fractional digits to be main-

     A language called  BC  [1]  has  been  developed  which
accepts  programs  written  in the familiar style of higher-
level programming languages and  compiles  output  which  is
interpreted by DC. Some of the commands described below were
designed for the compiler interface and are not easy  for  a
-  UNIX  is a registered trademark of AT&T Bell Labora-
tories in the USA and other countries.

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human user to manipulate.

     Numbers that are typed into DC are put on  a  push-down
stack.  DC commands work by taking the top number or two off
the stack, performing the desired operation, and pushing the
result on the stack. If an argument is given, input is taken
from that file until its end, then from the standard input.


     Here we describe the DC commands that are intended  for
use by people.  The additional commands that are intended to
be invoked by compiled output are described in the  detailed

     Any number of commands are permitted on a line.  Blanks
and  new-line  characters  are ignored except within numbers
and in places where a register name is expected.

     The following constructions are recognized:


     The value of the number is pushed onto the main  stack.
     A  number  is  an unbroken string of the digits 0-9 and
     the capital letters A-F which  are  treated  as  digits
     with  values 10-15 respectively. The number may be pre-
     ceded by an underscore _ to input  a  negative  number.
     Numbers may contain decimal points.

+  -  *  %  ^

     The top two values on the stack  are  added  (+),  sub-
     tracted  (-),  multiplied (*), divided (/), remaindered
     (%), or exponentiated (^). The two entries  are  popped
     off  the  stack;  the  result is pushed on the stack in
     their place. The result of a  division  is  an  integer
     truncated  toward  zero.  See  the detailed description
     below for the treatment of numbers with decimal points.
     An  exponent must not have any digits after the decimal


     The top of the main stack is popped and stored  into  a
     register  named x, where x may be any character. If the
     s is capitalized, x is treated as a stack and the value
     is  pushed  onto  it. Any character, even blank or new-
     line, is a valid register name.


     The value in register x is pushed onto the  stack.  The
     register  x  is  not  altered. If the l is capitalized,

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     register x is treated as a stack and its top  value  is
     popped onto the main stack.

All registers start with empty value which is treated  as  a
zero by the command l and is treated as an error by the com-
mand L.


     The top value on the stack is duplicated.


     The top value on the stack is printed.  The  top  value
     remains unchanged.


     All values on the stack and in registers are printed.


     treats the top element of  the  stack  as  a  character
     string, removes it from the stack, and executes it as a
     string of DC commands.

[ ... ]

     puts the bracketed character string onto the top of the


     exits the program. If executing a string, the recursion
     level  is  popped  by two. If q is capitalized, the top
     value on the stack is popped and the  string  execution
     level is popped by that value.

<x  >x  =x  !<x  !>x  !=x

     The top two elements of the stack are popped  and  com-
     pared.  Register  x is executed if they obey the stated
     relation. Exclamation point is negation.


     replaces the top element on the  stack  by  its  square
     root.  The square root of an integer is truncated to an
     integer. For the  treatment  of  numbers  with  decimal
     points, see the detailed description below.


     interprets the rest of the  line  as  a  UNIX  command.

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     Control returns to DC when the UNIX command terminates.


     All values on the stack are popped; the  stack  becomes


     The top value on the stack is popped and  used  as  the
     number  radix  for  further input. If i is capitalized,
     the value of the input base is pushed onto  the  stack.
     No  mechanism  has been provided for the input of arbi-
     trary numbers in bases less than 1 or greater than 16.


     The top value on the stack is popped and  used  as  the
     number  radix  for further output. If o is capitalized,
     the value of the output base is pushed onto the stack.


     The top of the stack is popped, and that value is  used
     as a scale factor that influences the number of decimal
     places that are maintained during multiplication, divi-
     sion,  and  exponentiation.  The  scale  factor must be
     greater than or equal to zero and less than 100.  If  k
     is capitalized, the value of the scale factor is pushed
     onto the stack.


     The value of the stack level is pushed onto the stack.


     A line of input is taken from the input source (usually
     the console) and executed.


Internal Representation of Numbers

     Numbers are stored internally using a  dynamic  storage
allocator.  Numbers  are  kept  in  the  form of a string of
digits to the base 100 stored one digit per byte (centennial
digits).  The  string  is stored with the low-order digit at
the beginning of the string. For example, the representation
of  157 is 57,1. After any arithmetic operation on a number,
care is taken that all digits are in the range 0-99 and that
the  number  has  no  leading  zeros.  The  number  zero  is
represented by the empty string.

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     Negative numbers are represented in the  100's  comple-
ment  notation, which is analogous to two's complement nota-
tion for binary numbers. The high order digit of a  negative
number  is  always  -1 and all other digits are in the range
0-99. The digit preceding the high order -1 digit is never a
99.  The  representation  of -157 is 43,98,-1. We shall call
this the canonical form of a number. The advantage  of  this
kind  of representation of negative numbers is ease of addi-
tion.  When addition is performed digit by digit, the result
is  formally  correct.  The result need only be modified, if
necessary, to put it into canonical form.

     Because the largest valid digit is 99 and the byte  can
hold  numbers  twice that large, addition can be carried out
and the handling of carries done later  when  that  is  con-
venient, as it sometimes is.

     An additional byte is stored with  each  number  beyond
the  high  order  digit  to  indicate  the number of assumed
decimal digits after the decimal point.  The  representation
of  .001  is  1,3  where  the  scale  has been italicized to
emphasize the fact that it is not the high order digit.  The
value  of  this extra byte is called the scale factor of the

The Allocator

     DC uses a dynamic string storage allocator for  all  of
its  internal  storage.  All  reading and writing of numbers
internally is done through the  allocator.  Associated  with
each  string in the allocator is a four-word header contain-
ing pointers to the beginning of the string, the end of  the
string, the next place to write, and the next place to read.
Communication between the  allocator  and  DC  is  done  via
pointers to these headers.

     The allocator initially has one large string on a  list
of  free  strings.   All  headers except the one pointing to
this string are on a list  of  free  headers.  Requests  for
strings  are  made  by size. The size of the string actually
supplied is the next higher power of 2. When a request for a
string  is made, the allocator first checks the free list to
see if there is a string of the desired  size.  If  none  is
found,  the  allocator finds the next larger free string and
splits it repeatedly until it has  a  string  of  the  right
size.  Left-over  strings are put on the free list. If there
are no larger  strings,  the  allocator  tries  to  coalesce
smaller free strings into larger ones. Since all strings are
the result of splitting large strings,  each  string  has  a
neighbor  that  is  next  to it in core and, if free, can be
combined with it to make a string twice as long. This is  an
implementation of the 'buddy system' of allocation described
in [2].

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     Failing to find a string of  the  proper  length  after
coalescing,  the  allocator  asks the system for more space.
The amount of space on the system is the only limitation  on
the  size and number of strings in DC. If at any time in the
process of trying to allocate a string, the  allocator  runs
out of headers, it also asks the system for more space.

     There are routines in the allocator for reading,  writ-
ing,  copying,  rewinding,  forward-spacing, and backspacing
strings. All string manipulation is done  using  these  rou-

     The reading and writing  routines  increment  the  read
pointer  or write pointer so that the characters of a string
are read or written in succession by a  series  of  read  or
write  calls. The write pointer is interpreted as the end of
the information-containing portion of a string and a call to
read  beyond that point returns an end-of-string indication.
An attempt to write beyond the end of a  string  causes  the
allocator  to  allocate a larger space and then copy the old
string into the larger block.

Internal Arithmetic

     All arithmetic operations are  done  on  integers.  The
operands  (or  operand)  needed for the operation are popped
from the main stack and their scale  factors  stripped  off.
Zeros  are  added  or  digits  removed as necessary to get a
properly scaled result from the internal arithmetic routine.
For  example,  if the scale of the operands is different and
decimal alignment is required, as it is for addition,  zeros
are  appended  to  the operand with the smaller scale. After
performing the required  arithmetic  operation,  the  proper
scale  factor is appended to the end of the number before it
is pushed on the stack.

     A register called scale plays a part in the results  of
most arithmetic operations. scale is the bound on the number
of decimal places retained in arithmetic computations. scale
may  be  set to the number on the top of the stack truncated
to an integer with the k command. K may be used to push  the
value  of  scale on the stack. scale must be greater than or
equal to 0 and less than 100. The descriptions of the  indi-
vidual  arithmetic  operations will include the exact effect
of scale on the computations.

Addition and Subtraction

     The scales of the two numbers are compared and trailing
zeros  are  supplied  to  the number with the lower scale to
give both numbers the  same  scale.   The  number  with  the
smaller  scale  is multiplied by 10 if the difference of the
scales is odd. The scale of the result is then  set  to  the
larger of the scales of the two operands.

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     Subtraction is performed by negating the number  to  be
subtracted and proceeding as in addition.

     Finally, the addition is performed digit by digit  from
the low order end of the number.  The carries are propagated
in the usual way.  The  resulting  number  is  brought  into
canonical  form,  which  may  require  stripping  of leading
zeros, or for negative numbers replacing the high-order con-
figuration  99,-1 by the digit -1. In any case, digits which
are not in the range 0-99 must be brought into  that  range,
propagating any carries or borrows that result.


     The scales are removed from the two operands and saved.
The  operands are both made positive. Then multiplication is
performed in a digit by digit manner that exactly mimics the
hand  method  of multiplying. The first number is multiplied
by each digit of the second number, beginning with  its  low
order digit.  The intermediate products are accumulated into
a partial sum which becomes the final product.  The  product
is put into the canonical form and its sign is computed from
the signs of the original operands.

     The scale of the result is set equal to the sum of  the
scales of the two operands. If that scale is larger than the
internal register scale and also larger  than  both  of  the
scales  of the two operands, then the scale of the result is
set equal to the largest of these three last quantities.


     The scales are removed from the two operands. Zeros are
appended  or  digits  removed  from the dividend to make the
scale of the result of the integer  division  equal  to  the
internal quantity scale. The signs are removed and saved.

     Division is performed much as it would be done by hand.
The  difference  of  the  lengths of the two numbers is com-
puted. If the divisor is longer than the dividend,  zero  is
returned.  Otherwise the top digit of the divisor is divided
into the top two digits of the dividend. The result is  used
as the first (high-order) digit of the quotient. It may turn
out be one unit too low, but if it is, the next  trial  quo-
tient  will  be  larger than 99 and this will be adjusted at
the end of the process. The trial digit is multiplied by the
divisor  and the result subtracted from the dividend and the
process is repeated to get additional quotient digits  until
the  remaining  dividend is smaller than the divisor. At the
end, the digits of the quotient are put into  the  canonical
form,  with  propagation of carry as needed. The sign is set
from the sign of the operands.

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     The division routine is called  and  division  is  per-
formed  exactly  as described.  The quantity returned is the
remains of the dividend at the end of  the  divide  process.
Since  division  truncates  toward zero, remainders have the
same sign as the dividend. The scale of the remainder is set
to the maximum of the scale of the dividend and the scale of
the quotient plus the scale of the divisor.

Square Root

     The scale is stripped from the operand. Zeros are added
if necessary to make the integer result have a scale that is
the larger of the internal quantity scale and the  scale  of
the operand.

     The method used to compute sqrt(y) is  Newton's  method
with successive approximations by the rule
The initial guess is found=by/takingnthe integer square root
of the top two digits.


     Only exponents with zero scale factor are handled.   If
the exponent is zero, then the result is 1.  If the exponent
is negative, then it  is  made  positive  and  the  base  is
divided into one.  The scale of the base is removed.

     The integer exponent is viewed as a binary number.  The
base  is  repeatedly squared and the result is obtained as a
product of those powers of the base that correspond  to  the
positions  of  the  one-bits in the binary representation of
the exponent. Enough digits of the  result  are  removed  to
make  the  scale  of the result the same as if the indicated
multiplication had been performed.

Input Conversion and Base

     Numbers are converted to the internal representation as
they  are  read in. The scale stored with a number is simply
the number of fractional digits input. Negative numbers  are
indicated  by preceding the number with a _ (an underscore).
The hexadecimal digits A-F correspond to the  numbers  10-15
regardless  of  input  base.  The  i  command can be used to
change the base of the input numbers. This command pops  the
stack,  truncates  the  resulting  number to an integer, and
uses it as the input base for all further input.  The  input
base is initialized to 10 but may, for example be changed to
8 or 16 to do octal or hexadecimal to  decimal  conversions.
The  command  I will push the value of the input base on the

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Output Commands

     The command p  causes  the  top  of  the  stack  to  be
printed. It does not remove the top of the stack. All of the
stack and internal registers can be  output  by  typing  the
command  f.  The  o command can be used to change the output
base. This command uses the top of the stack,  truncated  to
an  integer  as  the base for all further output. The output
base in initialized to 10. It will work  correctly  for  any
base.  The  command O pushes the value of the output base on
the stack.

Output Format and Base

     The input and output bases only affect the  interpreta-
tion  of numbers on input and output; they have no effect on
arithmetic computations. Large numbers are  output  with  70
characters  per  line;  a  \ indicates a continued line. All
choices of input and output bases work  correctly,  although
not  all  are  useful.  A particularly useful output base is
100000, which has the effect of grouping  digits  in  fives.
Bases  of 8 and 16 can be used for decimal-octal or decimal-
hexadecimal conversions.

Internal Registers

     Numbers or strings may be stored in internal  registers
or  loaded  on  the stack from registers with the commands s
and l. The command sx pops the top of the stack  and  stores
the  result  in  register x. x can be any character. lx puts
the contents of register x on the top of the  stack.  The  l
command  has  no effect on the contents of register x. The s
command, however, is destructive.

Stack Commands

     The command c clears the stack. The command d pushes  a
duplicate  of  the  number  on  the  top of the stack on the
stack. The command z pushes the stack size on the stack. The
command  X  replaces the number on the top of the stack with
its scale factor. The command Z  replaces  the  top  of  the
stack with its length.

Subroutine Definitions and Calls

     Enclosing a string in [ ] pushes the  ascii  string  on
the  stack.  The  q  command quits or in executing a string,
pops the recursion levels by two.

Internal Registers - Programming DC

     The load and store commands together with [ ] to  store
strings,  x  to  execute  and the testing commands '<', '>',
'=', '!<', '!>', '!=' can be  used  to  program  DC.  The  x

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command assumes the top of the stack is an string of DC com-
mands and executes it. The testing commands compare the  top
two elements on the stack and if the relation holds, execute
the register that follows  the  relation.  For  example,  to
print the numbers 0-9,

        [lip1+  si  li10>a]sa
        0si  lax

Push-Down Registers and Arrays

     These commands were designed for used  by  a  compiler,
not  by people. They involve push-down registers and arrays.
In addition to the stack that commands work on,  DC  can  be
thought  of  as  having individual stacks for each register.
These registers are operated on by the commands S and L.  Sx
pushes  the  top  value of the main stack onto the stack for
the register x. Lx pops the stack for register  x  and  puts
the result on the main stack. The commands s and l also work
on registers but not as push-down stacks. l  doesn't  effect
the top of the register stack, and s destroys what was there

     The commands to work on arrays are : and ;. :x pops the
stack  and uses this value as an index into the array x. The
next element on the stack is stored at this index in  x.  An
index must be greater than or equal to 0 and less than 2048.
;x is the command to load the main stack from the  array  x.
The  value  on  the  top  of the stack is the index into the
array x of the value to be loaded.

Miscellaneous Commands

     The command ! interprets the rest of the line as a UNIX
command and passes it to UNIX to execute. One other compiler
command is Q. This command uses the top of the stack as  the
number of levels of recursion to skip.


     The real reason for the use of a dynamic storage  allo-
cator  was  that  a general purpose program could be (and in
fact has been) used for a variety of other tasks. The  allo-
cator  has  some value for input and for compiling (i.e. the
bracket [...] commands) where it cannot be known in  advance
how  long  a string will be. The result was that at a modest
cost in execution time, all considerations of string alloca-
tion and sizes of strings were removed from the remainder of
the program and debugging was made easier.   The  allocation
method used wastes approximately 25% of available space.

     The choice of 100 as a  base  for  internal  arithmetic
seemingly  has no compelling advantage.  Yet the base cannot

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exceed 127 because of hardware limitations and at  the  cost
of  5%  in space, debugging was made a great deal easier and
decimal output was made much faster.

     The reason for a stack-type arithmetic  design  was  to
permit all DC commands from addition to subroutine execution
to be implemented in essentially the same way.   The  result
was a considerable degree of logical separation of the final
program into modules with very little communication  between

     The rationale for the lack of interaction  between  the
scale  and  the bases was to provide an understandable means
of proceeding after a change of base or scale  when  numbers
had  already  been  entered. An earlier implementation which
had global notions of scale and base did not work out  well.
If  the value of scale were to be interpreted in the current
input or output base, then a change of base or scale in  the
midst  of  a  computation would cause great confusion in the
interpretation of the results. The current  scheme  has  the
advantage  that  the value of the input and output bases are
only used for input and output, respectively, and  they  are
ignored  in  all other operations. The value of scale is not
used for any essential purpose by any part  of  the  program
and  it is used only to prevent the number of decimal places
resulting from the arithmetic operations from growing beyond
all bounds.

     The design rationale for the choices for the scales  of
the  results  of  arithmetic were that in no case should any
significant digits be thrown away if,  on  appearances,  the
user  actually  wanted them.  Thus, if the user wants to add
the numbers 1.5 and 3.517, it seemed reasonable to give  him
the  result  5.017  without  requiring  him to unnecessarily
specify his rather obvious requirements for precision.

     On the other hand,  multiplication  and  exponentiation
produce  results  with  many more digits than their operands
and it seemed reasonable to give as a minimum the number  of
decimal  places  in  the  operands but not to give more than
that number of digits unless the  user  asked  for  them  by
specifying  a value for scale. Square root can be handled in
just the same way as multiplication. The operation of  divi-
sion gives arbitrarily many decimal places and there is sim-
ply no way to guess how many places the user wants. In  this
case  only, the user must specify a scale to get any decimal
places at all.

     The scale of remainder was chosen to make  it  possible
to  recreate  the  dividend from the quotient and remainder.
This is easy to implement; no digits are thrown away.

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[1]  L. L. Cherry, R. Morris, BC -  An  Arbitrary  Precision
     Desk-Calculator Language.

[2]  K. C. Knowlton, A Fast Storage Allocator, Comm. ACM  8,
     pp. 623-625 (Oct. 1965).

                     December 24, 2022

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