Rounding and Overflow in C++

Committee: ISO/IEC JTC1 SC22 WG21 SG6 Numerics
Document Number: P0105R1
Date: 2017-02-05
Authors: Lawrence Crowl
Reply To: Lawrence Crowl,


We propose a set of types and functions for controlling rounding and overflow.


    Current Status
    Current Status
Both Rounding and Overflow
General Conversion
    ?.?.1 Rounding [numbers.round]
    ?.?.2 Overflow [numbers.overflow]
    ?.?.3 Both Rounding and Overflow [numbers.roundover]


C++ currently provides relatively poor facilities for controlling rounding. It has even fewer facilities for controlling overflow. The lack of such facilities often leads programmers to ignore the issue, making software less robust than it could be (and should be).

This paper presents the issues and provides some candidate enumerations and operations. The intent of the paper is to gather feedback on support for and direction of future work.


Rounding is necessary whenever the resolution of a variable is coarser than the resolution of a value to be placed in that variable.

Current Status

The numeric_limits field round_style provides information on the style of rounding employed by a type.

namespace std {
  enum float_round_style {
    round_indeterminate = -1, // indeterminable
    round_toward_zero = 0, // toward zero
    round_to_nearest = 1, // to the nearest representable value
    round_toward_infinity = 2, // toward [positive] infinity
    round_toward_neg_infinity = 3 // toward negative infinity

This specification is incomplete in that it fails to specify what happens when the value is equally far from the two nearest representable values.

The standard also says "Specializations for integer types shall return round_toward_zero." This requirement is somewhat misleading as a right-shift operation on a two's complement representation does not round toward zero.

Headers <cfenv> and <fenv.h> provide functions for setting and getting the floating-point rounding mode, fesetround and fegetround, respectively. The mode is specified via a macro constant:

Constant Explanation
FE_DOWNWARD rounding towards negative infinity
FE_TONEAREST rounding towards nearest integer
FE_TOWARDZERO rounding towards zero
FE_UPWARD rounding towards positive infinity

Again, the specification is incomplete with respect to FE_TONEAREST


The number of rounding modes is perhaps unlimited. However, we can explore the space of reasonably efficient rounding modes with two notions, its direction and its domain.

There are six precisely-defined rounding directions and at least three additional practical directions. They are:

towards negative infinity towards positive infinity
towards zero away from zero
towards even towards odd
fastest execution time smallest generated code
whatever, I'm not picky

Of these directions, only towards even and towards odd are unbiased.

Rounding towards odd has two desirable properties. First, the direction will not induce a carry out of the units position. This property avoids overflow and increased representation size. Second, because most operations tend to preserve zeros in the lowest bit, the towards-even direction carries less information than towards-odd. This effect increases as the number of bits decreases. However, rounding towards even produces numbers that are "nicer" than those produced by rounding towards odd. For example, you are more likely to get 10 than 9.9999999 with rounding towards even.

There are at least two direction domains:

Several of the precise rounding modes are in current use.

towards negative infinity all round_toward_neg_infinity
interval arithmetic lower bound
two's complement right shift
towards positive infinity all round_toward_infinity
interval arithmetic upper bound
tie astronomy and navigation
towards zero all round_toward_zero
C/C++ integer division
signed-magnitude right shift
away from zero all
tie the <cmath> round functions schoolbook rounding
towards nearest even all
tie round_to_nearest
general floating-point computation
towards nearest odd all
tie some accounting rules
best information preservation
fastest low latency
smallest low code space
unspecified round_indeterminate ?

We represent the mode in C++ as an enumeration containing all the above modes. The unmotivated modes are conditionally supported.


We already have rounding functions for converting floating-point numbers to integers. However, we need a facility that extends to different sizes of floating-point and between other numeric types.

A rounding division function has obvious utility.

Division by a power of two has substantial implementation efficiencies, and is used heavily in fixed-point arithmetic as a scaling mechanism. We represent the conjunction of these approaches with a rounding scale down (right shift).

We can add other functions as needed.


Overflow is possible whenever the range of an expression exceeds the range of a variable.

Current Status

Signed integer overflow is undefined behavior. Programmers attempting to detect and handle overflow often get it wrong, in that they end up using overflow to detect overflow. Suffice it to say that present solutions are inadequate.

Unsigned integer overflow is defined to be mod 2bits-in-type. While this definition is exactly right when coding in modular arithmetic, it is counter-productive when one is using unsigned arithmetic to state that the value is non-negative. In the latter environment, undefined behavior on overflow is better, as it enables tools to detect problems.

Floating-point overflow can be detected and altered via fegetexceptflag, fesetexceptflag, feclearexcept, and feraiseexcept with the value FE_OVERFLOW. However, such checking requires additional out-of-band effort. That is, any checking takes place in code separate from the operations themselves.


Several overflow modes are possible. We categorize them based on the choices in the base requirements. Other modes may be possible or desirable as well.

Some error modes are as follows.


Mathematically, overflow cannot occur. This mode is useful when an overflow specification is necessary, but compiler-based range propogation is insufficient to eliminating a check. The mode is an assertion on the part of the programmer. It invites reviewers to examine the accompanying proof. Ignoring overflow and letting the program stray into undefined behavior is a suitable implementation.


The programmer states that overflow is sufficiently rare so that overflow is not a concern. Aborting on overflow is a suitable implementation. So is ignoring the issue and letting the program stray into undefined behavior.


Abort the program on overflow. Detection is required.


Call quick_exit on overflow. Detection is required.


Throw an exception on overflow. Detection is required.

A special substitution mode is as follows. Detection is required.


Return one of possibly several special values indicating overflow.

Some normal substitution modes are as follows. Detection is required.


Return the nearest value within the valid range.

modulo with shifted scale

For unsigned arguments and range from 0 to z, the result is simply x mod (z+1). Shifting the range such that 0 < y ≤ z requires a more complicated expression, y + ((xy) mod (zy+1)). We can also use this expression when y < 0. That is, it is a general purpose definition. However, it may not yield results consistent with division.

Various overflow modes are in current use.

mode uses
impossible well-analyzed programs
undefined C/C++ signed integers
C (TR 18037) unsaturated fixed-point types
most programs
abort several run-time checking systems
exception Ada integers
C# integers in checked context
special IEEE floating-point
saturate C (TR 18037) unsaturated fixed-point types
digital signal processing hardware
modulo with shifted scale two's-complement wrap-around
C/C++ unsigned integers
C# integers in unchecked context
Java signed integers

We represent the mode in C++ as an enumeration: Other modes are possible.


Many C++ conversions already reduce the range of a value, but they do not provide programmer control of that reduction. We can give programmers control.

Being able to specify overflow from a range of values of the same type is also helpful. convenience functions can elide arguments for common ranges, such as [0,upper] and [-upper,upper]. Two's-complement numbers are a slight variant on the above.

For binary representations, we can also specify bits instead. While this specification may seem redundant, it enables faster implementations.

Embedding overflow detection within regular operations can lead to enhanced performance. In particular, left shift is a important candidate operation within fixed-point arithmetic.

As before, finer specification of the limits is reasonable. We can add other functions as needed.

Both Rounding and Overflow

Some operations may reasonably both require rounding and require overflow detection.

First and foremost, conversion from floating-point to integer may require handling a floating-point value that has both a finer resolution and a larger range than the integer can handle. The problem generalizes to arbitrary numeric types.

Consider shifting as multiplication by a power of two. It has an analogy in a bidirectional shift, where a positive power is a left shift and a negative power is a right shift.

General Conversion

Conversion between arbitrary numeric types requires something more practical than implementing the full cross product of conversion possibilities.

To that end, we propose that each numeric type promotes to an unbound type in it same general category. For example, integers of fixed size would promote to an unbound integer. In this promotion, there can be no possibility of overflow or rounding. Each type also demotes from that type. The demotion may have both round and overflow.

The general template conversion algorithm from type S to type T is to:

We expect common conversions to have specialized implementations.


?.?.1 Rounding [numbers.round]

Add a new section:

The base requirements on a round function are:

enum class rounding {
  all_to_neg_inf, all_to_pos_inf,
  all_to_zero, all_away_zero,
  all_to_even, all_to_odd,
  all_fastest, all_smallest,
  tie_to_neg_inf, tie_to_pos_inf,
  tie_to_zero, tie_away_zero,
  tie_to_even, tie_to_odd,
  tie_fastest, tie_smallest,

The enum class rounding identifies the rounding mode with the semantics below.

The modes all_away_zero, all_to_even, all_to_odd, tie_to_neg_inf, and tie_to_zero are conditionally supported.

The function T round(mode,U value) is a definitional aid and is not directly part of the standard. It has the following properties.

template <typename T, typename U> T convert(rounding mode, U value)


round(mode, value).

template <rounding mode, typename T, typename U> T convert(U value)


round<T>(mode, value).

template <typename T> T divide(rounding mode, T dividend, T divisor)


round(mode, dividend/divisor).

template <rounding mode, typename T> T divide(T dividend, T divisor)


divide(mode, dividend, divisor).

template <typename T> T scale_down(rounding mode, T value, int bits)


round(mode, dividend/2bits).

template <rounding mode, typename T> T scale_down(T value, int bits)


scale_down(mode, dividend, bits).

?.?.2 Overflow [numbers.overflow]

Add a new section:

The base requirements on an overflow function are:

enum class overflow {
  impossible, undefined, abort, quick_exit, exception,
  saturate, modulo_shifted

The enum class overflow identifies the overflow mode with the semantics below.


The programmer asserts that overflow is not possible.


The function behavior is undefined if overflow occurs.


The function calls std::abort on overflow.


The function calls std::quick_exit on overflow.


The function throws std::overflow_error on overflow.


The function returns a type-specific special value.


The function returns the nearest representable value to the true value.


The function returns low +  ((valuelow) mod (highlow+1)) where low is the lowest representable value, high is the highest representable value, and value is the value tested.

The function T overflow(mode,T lower,T upper,U value) is a definitional aid and is not directly part of the standard. It has the following properties.

template <typename T, typename U> T convert(overflow mode, U value)


overflow(mode, numeric_limits<T>::min, numeric_limits<T>::max, value).

template <overflow mode, typename T, typename U> T convert(U value)


convert(mode, value).

template <typename T> T limit(overflow mode, T lower, T upper, T value)


overflow(mode, lower, upper, value).

template <overflow mode, typename T> T limit(T lower, T upper, T value)


limit(mode, lower, upper, value).

template <typename T> T limit_nonnegative(overflow mode, T upper, T value)


limit(mode, 0, upper, value).

template <overflow mode, typename T> T limit_nonnegative(T upper, T value)


limit_nonnegative(mode, upper, value).

template <typename T> T limit_signed(overflow mode, T upper, T value)


limit(mode, -upper, upper, value).

template <overflow mode, typename T> T limit_signed(T upper, T value)


limit_signed(mode, upper, value).

template <typename T> T limit_twoscomp(overflow mode, T upper, T value)


limit(mode, -upper-1, upper, value).

template <overflow mode, typename T> T limit_twoscomp(T upper, T value)


limit_twoscomp(mode, upper, value).

template <typename T> T limit_nonnegative_bits(overflow mode, T upper, T value)


The result is overflow(mode, 0, 2upper-1, value).

template <overflow mode, typename T> T limit_nonnegative_bits(T upper, T value)


limit_nonnegative_bits(mode, upper, value).

template <typename T> T limit_signed_bits(overflow mode, T upper, T value)


overflow(mode, -(2upper-1), 2upper-1, value).

template <overflow mode, typename T> T limit_signed_bits(T upper, T value)


The result is limit_signed_bits(mode, upper, value).

template <typename T> T limit_twoscomp_bits(overflow mode, T upper, T value)


overflow(mode, -2upper, 2upper-1, value).

template <overflow mode, typename T> T limit_twoscomp_bits(T upper, T value)


The result is limit_twoscomp_bits(mode, upper, value).

template <typename T> T scale_up(overflow mode, T value, int count)


The result is overflow(mode, numeric_limits<T>::min, numeric_limits<T>::max, value×2count).

template <overflow mode, typename T> T scale_up(T value, int count)


scale_up(mode, value, count).

?.?.3 Both Rounding and Overflow [numbers.roundover]

Add a new section:

template <typename T, typename U> T convert(overflow omode, rounding rmode, U value)


overflow(omode, numeric_limits<T>::min, numeric_limits<T>::max, round(rmode,value)).

template <overflow omode, rounding rmode, typename T, typename U> T convert(U value)


convert(omode, rmode; value).

template <typename T> T scale(overflow omode, rounding rmode, T value, int count)


count < 0
overflow(omode, numeric_limits<T>::min, numeric_limits<T>::max, value×2count).

template <overflow omode, rounding rmode, typename T> T scale(T value, int count)


scale(omode, rmode value count).


This This paper revises P0105R0 - 2015-09-27.

P0105R0 revised N4448 - 2015-04-12.