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RE: Two technical questions on IEEE Std 754-2008

I have not read all of this thread yet, but I did notice in this note that Chuck did not mention that "historically" the COBOL Standard did not have any support for floating-point data items.  In fact, historically, the COBOL Standard didn't even have support for "true binary" data types.   However, in the last (2002) Standard both of these were added.


In the 2002 Standard, COBOL added support for





These usages were TOTALLY "implementor defined" i.e. the implementor could use whatever "encoding" they wanted (if they supported the usages at all). I believe that several implementors provided support for the pre-revision 754 binary encodings with these usages.  At least one other implementor was requested to (but has not yet) implemented them using their own "hardware specific" floating-point encoding.


This is in addition to several implementor extensions for floating point support (for example, USAGE comp-1 and comp-2 for several COBOL implementation) that existed before 2002.


The goal (as I see it) in the NEW 754 decimal floating point support in COBOL is to provide an "industry standard" decimal based (i.e. "business friendly)) data type and arithmetic as an OPTION for both implementors and programmers.  Decisions on what and how to include it has been based on the committees best understanding of how COBOL is used and what its implementors and programmers need and want.


From: stds-754@xxxxxxxx [mailto:stds-754@xxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Charles Stevens
Sent: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 12:34 PM
To: forieee@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Cc: IEEE 754
Subject: RE: Two technical questions on IEEE Std 754-2008


One of the problems with allowing infinities as numeric arguments is that it was made clear to me by the "governing" committee for COBOL (ISO/IEC JTC1/SC22/WG4) back when I started work on this that adding arithmetic support for infinities, even if IEEE 754 allows them, was not appropriate *for COBOL*.  COBOL has never "understood" infinities before now, and even detecting their presence is a "new feaure".  From the COBOL standpoint, an infinity is what results from a division by zero, and that's been a fatal exception at run time forever.  COBOL has never provided for their valid representation.  Adding infinity arithmetic support is not something anyone in the COBOL community has asked for to date. 
The next meeting is in May, so this *might* change, but I don't think the international community is going to be happy about direct arithmetic support for non-finite numeric values.  That's not now, nor has it ever been, part of the COBOL mindset. 
Now, as far as the particular exceptions raised, there is no requirement in COBOL that the flag the language specifies map exactly to the flag specified in IEEE 754, just that SOMETHING happen that the user may (if it's a nonfatal exception from COBOL's standpoint), or shall (if it's a fatal exception and he expects the program to continue) deal with. 
Full conformance with IEEE 754, because of time constraints, won't be practical for this revision to the standard.  It's 923 pages long as it stands right now, and our hope is to get it approved and published sometime before the end of the year.  And even if we modified the standard to conform here, COBOL currently (and historically) has had its own rules for exponentiation since the COBOL report of 1960, and the existence and the expected behavior of ACOS, ASIN, ATAN, COS, LOG (natural), LOG10, SIN, SQRT and TAN are fundamentally unchanged from their introduction in the 1989 Intrinsics Amendment.  Making the behavior of these features different for IEEE 754 conformance from what it has been all along is not something we can consider *at this stage in the revision process*. 
ARITHMETIC IS STANDARD-BINARY and ARITHMETIC IS STANDARD-DECIMAL provides features that conform to SOME, but not ALL, of IEEE 754. 
USAGE FLOAT-DECIMAL-16 (=decimal64), FLOAT-DECIMAL-34 (=decimal128), FLOAT-BINARY-7 (=binary32), FLOAT-BINARY-16 (=binary64) and FLOAT-BINARY-34 (=binary128) are intended to conform in format and content (including infinities and NaNs) to IEEE 754. 
The two sets of features are independent -- an implementor can provide either one without the other.  You can have the USAGEs without the ability to do arithmetic in the new (or even the old) standard forms (if you've got big numbers in items with these usages, you're likely to get lots of run time failures!), and you can have the arithmetic mode without having the USAGEs. 
At some point we could consider adding something like ARITHMETIC IS IEEE-754-DECIMAL-ENCODING and ARITHMETIC IS IEEE-754-BINARY-ENCODING, with the specification that EVERYTHING the standard does in terms of data manipulation (including infinities) conforms to IEEE Std 754-2008 (or its successor) with no further details in the COBOL standard. 
If we did this, I'd also think we'd need to have the proviso that FLOAT-BINARY-7, FLOAT-BINARY-16, FLOAT-BINARY-34, FLOAT-DECIMAL-16, FLOAT-DECIMAL-34, and two new FLOAT-somethings that represent decimal64 and decimal128 in binary encoding, shall be supported, together with the implicit mechanisms and explicit functions required to convert from one encoding to another, all in strict conformance with 754. 
BUT that's not practical TODAY.  And it's not something that anyone in the COBOL community, so far as I know, has indicated that the current draft is worthless without such functionality.   Even if we felt it was a Good Idea, we can't justify the effort NOW.  We're getting the final "rough edges" off the FCD, not trying to add new features and new functionality. 
The first draft of my arithmetic paper was submitted to INCITS/J4 (now INCITS/PL22.4) in December 2004, per instructions from ISO/IEC JTC1/SC22/WG4 at their meeting in October 2004, well before IEEE 754-2008 was adopted, and was relative to IEEE 754r draft dated November 2004.  Can't verify that the more complex arithmetics (e.g., SIN) were in 754r at that point -- lost my copy of that draft -- but I seem to remember they came along later in the drafting process. At the point they did come along, it was from a scheduling standpoint too late for us to consider relying on IEEE 754-2008 for that functionality.  Even as it stands now, replacing all references to "IEEE 754r" is a recent editorial change to the draft. 
"The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few".  And this would be a significant change that I believe would delay the adoption of the current draft, perhaps even permanently. 
Would be nice.  Don't think it's a good idea at this point.  Maybe later, as additional "new features". 
    -Chuck Stevens
> To: charles.stevens@xxxxxxxx
> CC: stds-754@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx; forieee@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> From: forieee@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> Subject: Re: Two technical questions on IEEE Std 754-2008
> Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2011 08:47:45 -0800
> > From: Charles Stevens <charles.stevens@xxxxxxxx>
> > To: <forieee@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
> > CC: IEEE 754 <stds-754@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
> > Subject: RE: Two technical questions on IEEE Std 754-2008
> > Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2011 07:35:57 -0700
> >
> >
> >
> > Much history snipped.
> >
> > > Hmm. I'm not quite sure what you mean here
> > > but you WILL have to provide for the values
> > > +infinity & -infinity if you want to conform
> > > to 754-2008.
> > >
> > > Recognising binary encoding is not necessary.
> >
> > Actually=2C we are not=2C strictly speaking=2C claiming "conformance" to 75=
> > 4-2008=2C we are making reference to it for the five formats we support in =
> > data="" the two formats we support as "standard intermediate data items" in=
> > arithmetic and for numeric function return values=2C and for the simple ar=
> > ithmetic operations. For this revision=2C we are sticking with the existin=
> > g definitions for the more complex arithmetic (exponentiation and arithmeti=
> > c functions like LOG=2C SIN=2C etc.) to avoid conflict with existing implem=
> > entations and the history of COBOL.
> Well, if you are not going to claim conformance then
> most of these questions are moot but for the practical
> ones of how to implement anything sensible.
> But let's not be too hasty here. There may be some
> wiggle room available to you. Maybe not enough to
> conform. But enough to make your variance much more
> slight than screwing around with the arithmetic.
> >
> > We do recognize infinities and NaN's=2C just not during arithmetic. We rec=
> > ognize them enough to cause an exception condition at run time if one tries=
> > . For either _one_=2C where both arguments are=2C say=2C decimal128=2C
> > works just fine=2C but
> > results in a fatal run-time exception condition (for which the tools exist =
> > in the language to assist in recovery) . The first is a bitwise transfer=
> > =2C the second is treated as arithmetic.
> Now you see, this is quite similar to the conforming
> behavior of 754 in the case where both the overflow
> & divide-by-zero alternate exception attributes are
> enabled.
> Remember that for the moment.
> >
> > Class (numeric=2C infinity=2C NaN) tests are all provided for="" as well as=
> > the extraction of signs from infinity. And=2C by the way=2C we have no in=
> > terest in the payload of NaN's.
> >
> > One of our primary goals is maintaining philosophical continuity with 50+ y=
> > ears of COBOL history=2C and the concept of infinity=2C and the concept of =
> > dealing with infinity arithmetically=2C are foreign to the language. Maybe=
> > in a future revision we can provide yet another mode of arithmetic that is=
> > FULLY conformant to IEEE 754-2008 (or its successors)=2C but as it is in t=
> > he FCD=2C we already support FOUR modes of arithmetic:
> > NATIVE (the original): the implementor does whatever he wants whenever=
> > he wants=2C and gives whatever answers he wants
> > STANDARD (2002): Arithmetic is performed with all operands and the res=
> > ult in a single form=3B unfortunately=2C the ability to specify a data item=
> > in that form wasn't included
> > STANDARD-DECIMAL (FCD): Arithmetic is performed using decimal128=2C co=
> > ntent is always norma from the view of the program
> > STANDARD-BINARY (FCD): Arithmetic is performed using binary128=2C cont=
> > ent is always normal from the view of the program
> > In the FCD=2C we also provide the ability to declare user data items in for="">> > ms defined as equivalent to binary32=2C binary64=2C binary128=2C decimal64 =
> > and decimal128. For the "standard intermediate data item" used when standa=
> > rd arithmetic was in effect=2C there wasn't a corresponding way to declare =
> > a data item as being exactly in that form. That's one of the strengths of =
> > the revisions to the 2002 standard.
> OK, let's all agree that old man Cobol has been working
> well for most of our lives & is loath to change now.
> Still, you may be introducing yet another arithmetic
> mode here & there may be room to accomodate it.
> The old man need not buy a new house but he might get
> along with new double glazed windows & save some money.
> What I am thinking of is contained in clauses 7 & 8.
> The default behavior is to accept NaNs & infinities as
> any other number without anything more serious than a
> flag being raised. But what you are suggesting is
> quite close to some of the alternate behaviors that
> are found in clause 8.
> If you are to be at variance with 754, I think you
> might be better off changing the defaults rather than
> varying the fundamentals of the arithmetic.
> Look at these clauses & see if something can be done
> along these lines.
> >
> > One of the reasons we decided to incorporate features (again=2C not claim c=
> > onformance with) IEEE 754 is that=2C as far as I know for the first time=2C=
> > an industry-standard specification outside of COBOL provided explicit supp=
> > ort for 31-decimal-digit numeric values that COBOL requires.
> Yep. That & merging 854 into 754 was why we put it
> there.
> >
> > > And nothing bad should happen should you
> > > encounter one.
> >
> > Calculations involving infinities are much more meaningful in the scientifi=
> > c world than they are in the business world. In COBOL we need to define th=
> > e EXACT answer as to what happens when you add 1 to +infinity=2C and why th=
> > at's the RIGHT answer from a business (generally speaking=2C financial) sta=
> > ndpoint. While people dealing primarily with dollars and cents do expect t=
> > o do accurate arithmetic on VERY large values=2C they do not expect to do a=
> > ccurate arithmetic on INFINITELY large values.
> I will grant you that the existence of an infinite
> amount of money is bad if only because it infinitely
> dilutes the finite amount of money that I have.
> Still, one does financial calculations on money that
> involve quantities other than drachmas or shekels.
> Much of Wall Street is involved in financial forecasting
> these days. This involves calculating the probablities
> of things, as well as sums, differences, products, &
> ratios of them. As the probablities are often very low,
> a Monte Carlo model may be constructed that both
> overflows & underflows in intermediate results & STILL
> manages to come up with valid investment suggestions.
> (Infinite ratios of probablities end up choosing the
> larger of the two & zero ratios choose the smaller.
> One need never know they are there if they are compared
> by less than.)
> To croak on overflows or underflows would prevent an
> otherwise valid financial program from delivering those
> valid financial results.
> I recently ran into this problem in a finite state
> machine monte carlo model of DNA. It also overflowed
> & underflowed routinely because the probablities of
> any given random string of DNA rapidly become small as
> the string becomes large. The programmer, knowing this,
> chose to represent the log of the probablities rather
> than the probablities themselves. Just fine but
> correct handling of sums of probablities involve the
> use of antilogs which caused both infinities & NaNs
> to kill the results. It was a simple fix to get it
> working again.
> I guess I have digressed a bit. These programs today
> are run in languages other than Cobol for these reasons
> & others. If you are making a standards decision to
> give up on those applications, what you are doing may
> be just fine in your context.
> Still, look at clauses 7 & 8. You may be able to do
> something with them.
> >
> > > As you have observed=2C this is not possible by
> > > looking at the numbers themselves. The two
> > > encodings overlap in their bit values with
> > > each representing different numbers & each
> > > rejecting different bit patterns as senseless.
> > >
> > > In order to do what you want sensibly you will
> > > need the AmIBinary?() or AmIDecimal?() predicates
> > > I mentioned before.
> >
> > We say throughout the draft that we only deal with the decimal encodings=2C=
> > in no uncertain terms. From the user's=2C and the implementor's=2C view=
> > =2C we don't "know about" binary encodings. If a user should manage to pu=
> > t a binary-encoded decimal into a decimal128 item in=2C say=2C a file=2C or=
> > passed into a program across a wire=2C the results of treating the content=
> > as a numeric value are not currently specified. What I'm proposing is tha=
> > t we make the algebraic value in such a case explicitly undefined and leave=
> > it at that.
> Just fine. But, as I mentioned, it does not
> solve the problem of invalid data coming in
> from other sources. In many (or most) cases
> that data will just sail right through entirely
> unnoticed & your programs will offer up what
> amounts to garbage with no error detected at
> all.
> Not a good situation for a language standard
> to explicitly permit.
> Either practically or legally.
> >
> > . . .
> >
> > Moreover=2C even if we did all this=2C there's no way for a COBOL program t=
> > o tell which encoding "somebody out there" used to produce a numeric value =
> > when they sent it to us as a decimal128 item=2C so the dragons are still ou=
> > t there.
> Of course. But as a standards body you can
> demand of such dragons that they inform you
> of the nature of their number encodings.
> Then you can convert or not as is the case.
> But in this case, failure to conform is
> THEIR fault not yours. When the market crash
> occurs the lawyers will have to go after
> THEM not you because you warned them what
> would happen if they misbehaved.
> As a standards body you will not have blessed
> a dangerous product.
> >
> > > While you could support the reencoding operation
> > > in software on your decimal encoded machine=2C you
> > > will find that the Intel folks intend to support
> > > binary encoding in hardware. If they also
> > > support conversion to decimal in hardware=2C you
> > > may find it best to ask the sending machine to
> > > convert its data to decimal before it gets to
> > > you. But it works either way.
> >
> > The Intel plan is nice to know=3B either way=2C the information will have t=
> > o get into decimal encoding before it gets to COBOL (in a fashion invisible=
> > to the user) whether that's directly supported in hardware or software. =
> > COBOL doesn't care. Does that mean that COBOL programs might run less effi=
> > ciently on Intel than one might hope they would? Yeah=2C well ...
> Maybe. Maybe not.
> In your current instantiation, probably yes.
> Given that you will likely be doing the
> decimal encoded arithmetic in software on
> an Intel machine. But you can arrange
> things so that future versions of the
> standard are able to play both ways.
> After all, for almost everything you don't
> need to know. It is only in converting
> from one to the other that you have to ask
> the question: What are we really doing here?
> >
> > > Here there be dragons & undetected bugs will
> > > bash your program on the rocks.
> >
> > Yes. I understand.
> >
> > > The only winning strategy is not to play.
> > > Don't allow such bit patterns onto your
> > > machine until they are both recognised &
> > > converted.
> >
> > We can't prevent users from puttng binary-encoded information into a data i=
> > tem that is documented as requiring the decimal encoding. And we don't mak=
> > e specific reference in the FCD to the individual functions available in 75=
> > 4-2008.
> Well, as I am suggesting, you can document
> a standard way of handling numbers in other
> formats. It gives you (1) a way of doing it,
> (2) the due diligence of having accounted for
> the problem, & (3) someone to blame when they
> don't follow your standard.
> >
> > > The IsDecimalEncoding() predicate is the
> > > answer.
> >
> > I'm unclear as to how to require the inclusion of a "predicate" to a 128-bi=
> > t value coming in from "out there somewhere"=2C say=2C as a field in a reco=
> > rd without requiring the addition of something to the storage requirements=
> > =2C and that doesn't seem to me to be practical. We don't know where the d=
> > ata is coming from=2C and we have no control over how the sender encoded it=
> > =2C or whether he's willing to inform us as to which encoding he used in th=
> > e process.
> It is quite simple.
> You implement the IsDecimalEncoding() predicate.
> For the moment it will always return True for
> your conforming systems.
> You require other (perhaps non-cobol) systems
> to send you their value of IsDecimalEncoding()
> for their system.
> Then you compare those values & only convert
> the incoming data when they differ.
> You also have to convert the outgoing data if
> you want to play nice with them.
> If you write something along these lines into
> the standard then the problem is solved at
> least at the standards level. For failure to
> follow this protocol becomes failure to conform
> to your standard & all bets are off for the
> other guy. Not you.
> >
> > Maybe I don't understand what is meant here by the term "predicate".
> You probably do understand.
> I am probably being obtuse in my explanation.
> I am well known for that.
> >
> > I really appreciate all your help here=2C Dan=2C and I think we're moving i=
> > n the right direction=2C given the time limits we face and the current stat=
> > us of our FCD.
> >
> > Sincerely=2C
> >
> > -Chuck Stevens =
> >
> You are quite welcome.
> Cobol is an interesting case for us.
> Just as 754 is interesting for you.
> But look into clauses 7 & 8.
> You may find a good answer there.
> I'm not sure it will get you up to
> conforming.
> But a variance in the default
> exception attributes will be much
> more slight & therefore much easier
> both to understand & to justify
> than a variance in the fundamental
> behavior of the arithmetic.
> Good luck,
> Dan

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