Computers store data as binary (base 2). Programmers like to read and write binary as hexadecimal (base 16). And humans use decimal (base 10). Therefore, as a human programmer who needs to talk to computers, you need to know a little bit about all three systems.
First, I’ll walk you through how to convert between binary and decimal. Here’s a table of each place in base 2 for one byte of data:
To convert from binary to decimal by hand, simply write the powers of 2 beneath and add the numbers from right to left.
1 + 2 + 16 + 32 + 128 = 179
Let’s say we have a binary string in Python code. How could we write a loop that will go through the string from right to left and add powers of 2?
def bin_to_dec(bin_string): decimal = 0 # Initialize our rightmost power of 2 (2^0) power_of_2 = pow(2, 0); # Iterate through the reversed binary string (R -> L) for b in bin_string[::-1]: # If the digit is 1 if int(b) == 1: # Add the power of 2 to our decimal number decimal += power_of_2 # Double the power of 2 for the next place power_of_2 *= 2 # Output the result return decimal # Prints 179 print(bin_to_dec("10110011"))
There are multiple ways to convert from decimal to binary. I will teach you the way of dividing and taking the remainder. You divide by 2 and prepend the remainder to your binary string until the number you are dividing is 0.
179 / 2 = 89R1 _______1 89 / 2 = 44R1 ______11 44 / 2 = 22R0 _____011 22 / 2 = 11R0 ____0011 11 / 2 = 5R1 ___10011 5 / 2 = 2R1 __110011 2 / 2 = 1R0 _0110011 1 / 2 = 0R1 10110011
Here’s the python code for that:
def dec_to_bin(decimal): bin_string = "" power_of_2 = pow(2, 0) while decimal > 0: # The remainder of dividing by 2 is the next bin digit bin_digit = decimal % 2 # Divide the decimal by two (floor division) decimal //= 2 # Prepend digit to string w/string concatenation bin_string = str(bin_digit) + bin_string # Double the power of 2 for the next place power_of_2 *= 2 # Output the result return bin_string # Prints "10110111" print(dec_to_bin(179))
By the way, these approaches of converting bases works for any base system, including hexadecimal.
The code below uses Python’s
chr()functions which are used to convert ASCII letters to numbers and back.
def n_to_dec(n_string, n): decimal = 0 power_of_n = pow(n, 0); for b in n_string[::-1]: # A = 10, B = 11, C = 12 ... b = ord(b) - 65 + 10 if not b.isdigit() else int(b) if int(b) != 0: decimal += int(b) * power_of_n power_of_n *= n return decimal # Prints 255 print(n_to_dec("FF", 16))
def dec_to_n(decimal, n): n_string = "" power_of_n = pow(n, 0) while decimal > 0: n_digit = decimal % n # 10 = A, 11 = B, 12 = C ... n_digit = chr(65 - 10 + n_digit) if n_digit >= 10 else n_digit decimal //= n n_string = str(n_digit) + n_string power_of_n *= n return n_string # Prints FF print(dec_to_n(255, 16))
Sometimes, it is more useful to communicate in binary than decimal because you are talking about bytes of data. For example, a color’s RGB values are each limited to a range of 0 to 255 because they each use a byte of data. However, writing out all of those 1’s and 0’s is tedious, so hexadecimal is used as a shorthand, where each nybble (half a byte, or 4 bits) is represented with a character from the set
0123456789ABCDEF. For example:
0011 = 3 0110 = 6 1100 = C (12)
You can take any binary number and convert it to hexadecimal by taking each section of 4 bits right to left and converting those.
Of course, there are built in functions in languages like Python’s
hex() that will do these conversions, but it’s useful to know how the process works yourself so you can do a quick conversion when needed. Now, the next time you see a color written as
#FFFFFF, you will know that each RGB value is 255 and the lights are all on (making white). Hope you found this helpful!