Wandering Thoughts archives


In Python, zero is zero regardless of the number type

I recently saw a Fediverse post by Mike Samuel with a Python pop quiz that tripped me up:

@shriramk Since I know you appreciate Python pop quizzes:

my_heterogeneous_map = {
    (  0.0): "positive zero",
    ( -0.0): "negative zero",
    (    0): "integer zero",

print("my_heterogeneous_map=%r\n" % my_heterogeneous_map)

del my_heterogeneous_map[False]

print("my_heterogeneous_map=%r\n" % my_heterogeneous_map)

Before I actually tried it, I expect the dict to start out with either two or three entries and end up with one or two, given that boolean True and False are actually ints with False being the same as zero. In fact the dict starts out with one entry and ends up with none, because in Python all three of these zeros are equal to each other:

>>> 0.0 == -0.0 == 0

(This is sort of the inversion of how NaNs behave as keys in dictionaries.)

In fact this goes further. A complex number zero is equal to plain zero:

>>> complex(0,0) == 0.0
>>> complex(0,-0.0) == 0.0
>>> complex(-0.0,-0.0) == 0.0

(All three of those are different complex numbers, as you can see by printing them all, although they all compare equal to each other.)

However this is simply one instance of a general case with how Python has chosen to treat complex numbers (as well as comparisons between integers and floats):

>>> complex(1,0) == 1
>>> complex(20,0) == 20

This particular behavior for complex numbers doesn't seem to be explicitly described in the specification. Numeric Types — int, float, complex says about arithmetic operators and comparisons on mixed types:

Python fully supports mixed arithmetic: when a binary arithmetic operator has operands of different numeric types, the operand with the “narrower” type is widened to that of the other, where integer is narrower than floating point, which is narrower than complex. A comparison between numbers of different types behaves as though the exact values of those numbers were being compared.

I suppose that Python would say that the 'exact value' of a complex number with a 0 imaginary component is its real component. The equality comparison for complex numbers does at least make sense given that '20 + complex(0,0)' is '(20+0j)', or to put it another way, '20 - complex(20,0)' is (0j) and Python would probably like that to compare equal to the other versions of zero. If 'a - b == 0' but 'a != b', it would feel at least a little bit odd.

(Of course you can get such a situation with floating point numbers, but floating point numbers do odd and counter-intuitive things that regularly trip people up.)

This explanation of comparison, including equality, makes sense for 0.0 being equal to 0 (and in fact for all floating point integral values, like 20.0, being equal to their integer version; the exact value of '20.0' is the same as the exact value of '20'). As for -0.0, it turns out that the IEEE 754 floating point standard says that it should compare equal to 0.0 (positive zero), which by extension means it has the same 'exact value' as 0.0 and thus is equal to 0.

(This comes from Wikipedia's page on Signed zero).)

PS: I think the only way to detect a negative zero in Python may be with math.copysign(); there doesn't appear to be an explicit function for it, the way we have math.isinf() and math.isnan().

ZeroIsZeroAcrossNumberTypes written at 22:19:12; Add Comment

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