Hexadecimal (often abbreviated
hex) is a base
16 numeral system, usually written using the symbols 0-9 and A-F. It is a useful system in
computers because there is an easy mapping from four
bits to a single hex digit. Thus one can represent every
byte as two consecutive hexadecimal digits. Compare the binary, hex and decimal representations:
bin hex dec
0000 = 0 = 0
0001 = 1 = 1
0010 = 2 = 2
0011 = 3 = 3
0100 = 4 = 4
...
1001 = 9 = 9
1010 = A = 10
1011 = B = 11
...
1111 = F = 15
So the decimal numeral 79 whose binary representation is 0100 1111 can be written as 4F in hexadecimal.
There are many ways to denote hexadecimal numerals, used in different programming languages:
- Ada encloses hexadecimal numerals in based "numeric quotes", e.g., 16#5A3#. (Note: Ada accepts this notation for ALL bases from 2 through 16 and for both integer and real types.)
- C and languages with a similar syntax (such as Java) prefix hexadecimal numerals with '0x', e.g., 0x5A3.
- Pascal and some Assemblers indicate hex by an appended 'h' (if the numeral starts with a letter, then also with a preceding 0), e.g., 0A3Ch, 5A3h.
- Other assemblers (AT&T, Motorola) and some versions of BASIC uses a prefixed '$', e.g., $5A3.
- Some versions of BASIC prefix hexadecimal numerals with "&h", e.g., &h5A3.
- When talking about numeral systems other than base-10, or numerals in multiple bases, mathematicians write the base in subscript after the number, e.g., 5A3_{16}.
There is no single agreed-upon standard, so all the above conventions are in use, sometimes even in the same paper. However, as they are quite unambiguous, little difficulty arises from this.
The word "hexadecimal" is strange in that "hexa" is derived from Greek six and "decimal" is derived from Latin ten. The original term was the fully-Latin "sexidecimal", but that was changed because some people thought it to be too racy. The correct Greek would be hexagesimal, which some purists use.
The hexadecimal system is quite good for forming fractions:
- 1/2 = 0.8
- 1/3 = 0.5555 recurring
- 1/4 = 0.4
- 1/5 = 0.3333 recurring
- 1/6 = 0.2AAAA recurring
- 1/8 = 0.2
- 1/A = 0.19999 recurring
- 1/C = 0.15555 recurring
- 1/F = 0.1111 recurring
Because the base is a square, hexadecimal fractions have an odd period much more often than decimal ones.
See numeral system for a list of other special base systems.
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