FOM: What are the FOM issues in this?

Martin Davis martin at
Mon Jan 31 18:33:46 EST 2000

At 01:11 PM 1/31/00 -0500, in reply to a message in which I said in part:

> >For arithmetic operations the IEEE floating point standard is a beautiful
> >accommodation, implemented in most compilers.

Steve Stevenson wrote:

>The IEEE recommendations have have nothing to do with compilers: they're 
>specs. And check William Kahan's website at
>to see how big a joke they really are.

I'm grateful to Professor Stevenson for pointing me to (Turing award 
winner) Kahan's site.  I saw no joke, but I did see the following on that site:

"Programming languages new ( Java ) and old ( Fortran ), and their 
compilers, still lack competent support for features of IEEE 754 so 
painstakingly provided by practically all hardware nowadays. ... 
Programmers seem unaware that IEEE 754 is a standard for their programming 
environment, not just for hardware."

So not everyone agrees that "The IEEE recommendations have nothing to do 
with compilers." In fact, isn't it evident that a hardware specification in 
itself will only be of use to a programmer who writes code at the hardware 
level? On the other hand, I was dismayed to learn that compiler writers 
don't automatically regard incorporation of the IEEE standard as necessary. 
My acquaintance with compilers comes from teaching elementary programming, 
and so I knew that the Borland Pascal and C compilers did incorporate the 
IEEE standard (but not in all the "real" types available to the programmer).


                           Martin Davis
                    Visiting Scholar UC Berkeley
                      Professor Emeritus, NYU
                          martin at
                          (Add 1 and get 0)

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