Coming from Maple I do not understand how the precision for numerical computations in Mathematica is specified. I understand that there are various options to commands such as WorkingPrecision and PrecisionGoal. But I would like to use the same precision (above machine precision) for a number of computations including matrix operations and the FindRoot command outside and inside of routines. Also I would like to specify the precision of the output.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You can look at the documentation for the functions listed when you evaluate ?$*Precision. You can do fixed precision calculations with Block[{$MaxPrecision=..., $MinPrecision=...}, ...] or set these globally to affect all functions that rely on it $\endgroup$
    – rm -rf
    Jun 4 '12 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ I tried setting $MinPrecision=20 already. Strangely I still get results with ScientificForm[%, 20] with just 16 digits. Do matrix computations and FindRoot depend on it? $\endgroup$
    – highsciguy
    Jun 4 '12 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ @highsciguy yes, but you have to be careful not to introduce machine-precision numbers at any point, which "poison" the result. That is, all numbers specified as decimals should have a precision annotation, e.g. 1.0`20. Also, you should be aware that some matrix decompositions are done in machine precision using LAPACK. $\endgroup$ Jun 4 '12 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ I see. How do I tell mathematica that all numbers e.g. 1.5 are actually 20 Digits precision? SetPrecision on all numbers or add the `20 everywhere? $\endgroup$
    – highsciguy
    Jun 4 '12 at 20:16
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You can use either approach. SetPrecision will take the machine-precision value and extend it with base-2 zeros up to the required precision, which may not be what you want (since zeros in base 2 are not necessarily so in base 10; e.g. SetPrecision[1.9, 20] gives a result slightly less than 1.9). If you use the annotation, the zeros are taken to be in base 10 instead. Another possible approach is to use Rationalize. $\endgroup$ Jun 4 '12 at 21:53

How do I tell mathematica that all numbers e.g. 1.5 are actually 20 Digits precision? SetPrecision on all numbers or add the `20 everywhere?

You could force this with $PreRead. This naive definition is likely inefficient and probably breaks a number of corner cases I have not considered, but here is a rough demonstration:

$PreRead = (# /. 
     s_String /; 
       StringMatchQ[s, NumberString] && 
        Precision@ToExpression@s == MachinePrecision :> s <> "`20." &);

3/1.5 + Pi/7



As Alexey notes this breaks if the machine number string already has a "NumberMark" after it e.g. 1.23`. One could use a more precise string replacement to avoid this.

A different approach is to process at the expression rather than box level, though this simple first attempt probably fails in some cases as well:

$Pre = Function[Null, 
  Unevaluated[#] /. r_Real?MachineNumberQ :> RuleCondition@SetPrecision[r, 25], 



  • $\begingroup$ Your solution fails when the number entered has the NumberMark after digits, for example 1.5` . $\endgroup$ Dec 1 '13 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexey I never thought it would be robust as written. Let me see if I can improve it some. $\endgroup$
    – Mr.Wizard
    Dec 1 '13 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ Your second solution works in Mathematica 5.2 and 7.0.1 but not in v.8.0.4. Looks like a bug in $Pre in v.8.0.4. $\endgroup$ Dec 1 '13 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Mr.Wizard: Your first solution also doesn't appear to work with numbers with 18 or more significant figures. For example: if you set the precision in your function equal to say, 50, then evaluate z = 1.2345678901234567 and then Precision[z], you get a precision of 50. By contrast, with z = 1.23456789012345678, you get a precision of 17.0915, which is equal to its native precision. $\endgroup$
    – theorist
    Dec 29 '16 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ @theorist This code was designed to work with machine precision numbers only. Numbers entered with additional digits are automatically interpreted as arbitrary precision; I did not wish to override the precision those. If you leave out && Precision@ToExpression@s == MachinePrecision it should force those too. $\endgroup$
    – Mr.Wizard
    Dec 31 '16 at 18:41

There is a quick-n-dirty solution. Set

$MinPrecision = 100

And then enter numbers something like

x = 1.01`2;

You will be getting warnings as

Precision::precsm: Requested precision 2.` is smaller than $MinPrecision.
    Using $MinPrecision instead.

but in this way you if you want to change precision you just change $MinPrecision value.

In[21]:= x

Out[21]= 1.\
  • $\begingroup$ I don't even get the Precision::precsm warning message. However it does not work on machine numbers; the entry form as you rightly noted is critical. +1 for a simple method that may work in a number of applications. $\endgroup$
    – Mr.Wizard
    Feb 10 '16 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ This is 10x easier than the accepted answer. $\endgroup$ May 11 at 12:45

First time posting, but googlers of this issue should know that the "global" precision of machine precision numbers can be set by:

$MachinePrecision = 100;
  • $\begingroup$ Does this setting affect any evaluations? $\endgroup$
    – Shadowray
    Jun 1 '17 at 9:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This does not affect MachinePrecision (no dollar sign) for example. I cannot imagine that it will do anything to change internals when a number like 3.3 is encountered (Try it: In[20]:= Precision[3.3] Out[20]= MachinePrecision). On top of which, it could have unpredictable effects which I would not view as a benefit. $\endgroup$ Jun 1 '17 at 16:04

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