Say if i have two floating point numbers

double a = 0.1
double b = 0.1

Then a, and b, after going through the EXACT SAME set of complicated arithmetic operations, on the same computer, then compare. will a==b always return true in this case?

  • 1
    You don't say what processor you are using or what the operations you are applying. Some floating point processors will apply rounding with a "random" value of a least-significant-bit, causing different bit values at different times. You don't supply enough information for us to be able to answer this question. Jun 15, 2020 at 15:50

5 Answers 5


It depends on your compiler, and what exactly you mean by "the exact same operations".

For example, if the compiler is allowed to use fused multiply-add (FMA) then the result of a*b + c*d is not defined - it could be fma (a, b, c*d) or fma (c, d, a*b), or a*b + c*d — all three are equally valid and possibly different.

And one line in your source code can be compiled in different ways. Say this multiplication a*b + c*d is contained in a function that is inlined, then several calls from several places could produce different results. In C, C++, Objective-C that's perfectly legal.

And note that FMA is faster and has only one rounding error instead of two, so it is absolutely preferable. It can make a dramatic difference to the speed of floating-point heavy code. And note that since you start with two different variables, you cannot go through the same operations.

  • "if the compiler is allowed to use fused multiply-add (FMA) then the result of ab + cd is not defined" Even if not defined, its behavior should be consistently used for either variable, no? Why would the compiler see two equal lines of code (barring the specific float variable being used) and decide to approach these two instructions differently? That would imply the compiler itself has some non-deterministic behavior, which is pretty much exactly what you don't want a compiler to behave like.
    – Flater
    Jun 12, 2020 at 8:29
  • @Flater optimizations may depend on context, not only a single line of code. For example, some compilers try to emit a mix of instructions which will allow the processor to run these instructions in parallel automatically. In such case, the compiler may choose between two possibilities depending on previous instructions since it knows instruction A can run in parallel with previous instruction X while B can't. Jun 12, 2020 at 9:27
  • 1
    As an example, if the processor has one unit that can process an fma, one unit that can multiply, and one that can add, then you would issue one fma, one multiply and one add for a = bc+d, e = fg+h. If you have a loop with one such operation, the compiler can unroll the loop and produce different code for the even and odd operations.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 12, 2020 at 13:42

Effectively, yes.

I can imagine some more esoteric hardware might dispatch the operations differently (one to a dedicated floating point processor, one to a general purpose processor which produce slightly different results) but that is so unlikely that I probably wouldn't design for it.

That said, I'd still do some sort of epsilon check rather than the raw equality. Just because they're going through the exact same set of operations today doesn't mean they always will.


Yes, a==b will return true*. People are sometimes surprised by the results of floating point operations and think that there is some element of randomness involved. There's not, unless you call a random number generator. Finite precision floating point arithmetic is completely deterministic, it's just that it doesn't match our expectations for arithmetic with infinite precision integers or reals.

*unless a and b have become NAN (not a number). A value of NAN is not equal to any other value including another NAN. This is one of those elements of floating point math that is completely deterministic, but violates casual expectations.


Yes, if you mean machine instructions.

Getting from your preferred source-language to machine instructions is an arbitrarily involved process balancing time to compile, size of the code, and expected speed of execution, where allowed transformations depend on language semantics and requested/banned optimisations.

Inlining, fast-math, when to store (and potentially discard excess precision), fusing instructions (mostly fused multiply-add) with different context can result in different machine code.

  • I had the great idea of an FPU with non-deterministic rounding. If the correct result x is between a and b, then it would be rounded more likely to the closer value. That would be excellent for code where you don't know how sensitive it is to rounding errors. If you run your code five times and results are the same to 14 decimals, then you can assume the results are correct to 14 decimals. If the results are identical on each run, you have no idea if they are correct or not.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 12, 2020 at 13:46
  • @gnasher729 Something similar can sometimes be done running the same code with different rounding-modes: up, down, to zero, to infinity, to even, to odd. FENV_ACCESS is useful for something. Jun 12, 2020 at 14:02
  • To some degree, yes. What you lose is that the average rounding error is zero. If you add 10,000 numbers with “round down” then you can expect an error around 5,000u.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 12, 2020 at 14:58

As an answer to your question, then yes the floats will effectively be the same. As mentioned by Telastyn you might want check the equality because the future is always unsure and changes happen quite often.

To give some perspective/reference on the matter of floating point you can check:


IBM recommendation to check floating point numbers

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