Let's define two different numbers.

x = 1.
y = 1. + 2^-52 (* equivalently, 1 + $MachineEpsilon *)

Let's make sure they're different with FullForm:

x // FullForm (* 1.` *)
y // FullForm (* 1.0000000000000002` *)

Those look pretty close... let's make sure they're different. I'm not a wizard with the developer tools, but I can export them as IEEE double-precision floating point numbers (which I'd bet is their internal representation):

StringJoin @@ 
 IntegerString[Reverse@ToCharacterCode[ExportString[x, "Real64"]], 
  16, 2]
(* 3ff0000000000000 *)
StringJoin @@ 
 IntegerString[Reverse@ToCharacterCode[ExportString[y, "Real64"]], 
  16, 2]
(* 3ff0000000000001 *)

We can see that they are indeed different. They represent the two numbers:

$$ \begin{align} x &= (1.){\underbrace{000 \cdots 000}_\text{51 zeros}}0_2 \times 2^{01111111111_2 - 1023} \equiv 1 \\ y &= (1.){\underbrace{000 \cdots 000}_\text{51 zeros}}1_2 \times 2^{01111111111_2 - 1023} \equiv 1 + \frac{1}{2^{52}} \end{align} $$

That is, x is exactly one, and y is the smallest IEEE double greater than one. Ok, so they're different. Hey Mathematica, you know they're diff-

x == y (* True *)

Oh. What if we try-

x === y (* True *)

Hey Python, you use doubles, right? Are you seeing this?

>>> 1. == 1.0000000000000002

Maybe it's because you're using quads?

>>> 1. == 1.0000000000000001

Yeah, I didn't think so. Mathematica, are you sure? I mean, this doesn't seem right...

y - x (* 2.22045*10^-16 *)

Aha! I knew it! Now let's try this:

y - x == 0 (* False *)

Success! Now let's just double-check (pun intended):

1.0000000000000001 - 1. (* 0. *)
% == 0 (* True *)

So you are using double-precision...

My question is, Why do Equal and SameQ return True, even though these numbers are obviously different? SameQ ignores the last bit, and Equal ignores the last seven bits!

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Internal`$EqualTolerance and Internal`$SameQTolerance. You can search the site for explanations $\endgroup$
    – Michael E2
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 0:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MichaelE2 Yep, just found those in the related questions. Should this one be closed? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 0:18
  • $\begingroup$ That's a good question. I didn't find an exact duplicate in my cursory search. But I guess it's in the "Details" of the docs -- e.g., from Equal: "Approximate numbers with machine precision or higher are considered equal if they differ in at most their last seven binary digits (roughly their last two decimal digits)." I would consider that "easily found in the documentation," I guess. Others might think this is a nice clear question about an idiosyncratic behavior of Mathematica. Your choice, or you could wait and see if the community closes it. $\endgroup$
    – Michael E2
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 0:22
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Yeah, there are nearly infinitely many corners of Mathematica and not enough time to explore them all. (Different users have different notions of "easily found", but still, I think if the answer is clearly explained in the details of the docs for the function, I consider it easily found, even if it's a function I never heard of. But I won't vote to close. I think the issue is important and common enough, that a little extra duplication of the documentation is ok.) $\endgroup$
    – Michael E2
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 0:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Related:stackoverflow.com/questions/4983885/… $\endgroup$
    – Michael E2
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 0:40

2 Answers 2


It seems I found my answer in OleksandrR's comment to this question. He says,

Bear in mind Equal applies an extra tolerance in Mathematica. The proper comparison is

Block[{Internal`$EqualTolerance = -Infinity}, 1 == 1 + $MachineEpsilon] (* False *)
Block[{Internal`$EqualTolerance = -Infinity}, 1 == 1 + $MachineEpsilon/2] (* True *)

In fact, the value of Internal`$EqualTolerance * Log2[10] is 7., meaning that it ignores the last seven bits, just as I discovered!

(Analogously, Internal`$SameQTolerance * Log2[10] is 1., i.e. it drops the last bit.)

Note that this is mentioned in the documentation for Equal, under Details:

  • Approximate numbers with machine precision or higher are considered equal if they differ in at most their last seven binary digits (roughly their last two decimal digits).
  • For numbers below machine precision the required tolerance is reduced in proportion to the precision of the numbers.

However, I never thought to look at it, since (thought) I knew what == means! Lesson learned, always check the documentation, especially if you don't think you need to.


You can define your own "precise equal" using Congruent () (entered as Esc===Esc or \[Congruent]):

Congruent[x_, y_] := Equal @@ SetPrecision[{x, y}, Infinity]


x ≡ y

for your example.

  • $\begingroup$ I usually use Rationalize[_, 0], but SetPrecision[_, Infinity] actually makes more sense. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 0:37
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @2012rcampion I would use SetPrecision, too. Rationalize does something different. See the answers and discussion in the comments by Mr.Wizard and me here. $\endgroup$
    – Michael E2
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 0:44
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelE2 Yikes, thanks for clarifying this. You weren't kidding about "nearly infinitely many corners." $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 0:49
  • $\begingroup$ @2012rcampion I liked your syntax style use in your answer more. Hope you don't mind that I adopted it. $\endgroup$
    – Karsten7
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, that's what this site's for! And nice job spotting the impetus for my question. =) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 1:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.