Set specific precision of a BigDecimal


I have an XSD that requires me to use a BigDecimal for a lat/lon. I currently have the lat/lon as doubles, and convert them to BigDecimal, but I am only required to use about 12 places of precision. I have not been able to figure out how to set that. Can anyone help me with this?

This question is tagged with java bigdecimal floating-point-precision

~ Asked on 2012-02-28 13:35:58

The Best Answer is


The title of the question asks about precision. BigDecimal distinguishes between scale and precision. Scale is the number of decimal places. You can think of precision as the number of significant figures, also known as significant digits.

Some examples in Clojure.

(.scale     0.00123M) ; 5
(.precision 0.00123M) ; 3

(In Clojure, The M designates a BigDecimal literal. You can translate the Clojure to Java if you like, but I find it to be more compact than Java!)

You can easily increase the scale:

(.setScale 0.00123M 7) ; 0.0012300M

But you can't decrease the scale in the exact same way:

(.setScale 0.00123M 3) ; ArithmeticException Rounding necessary

You'll need to pass a rounding mode too:

(.setScale 0.00123M 3 BigDecimal/ROUND_HALF_EVEN) ;
; Note: BigDecimal would prefer that you use the MathContext rounding
; constants, but I don't have them at my fingertips right now.

So, it is easy to change the scale. But what about precision? This is not as easy as you might hope!

It is easy to decrease the precision:

(.round 3.14159M (java.math.MathContext. 3)) ; 3.14M

But it is not obvious how to increase the precision:

(.round 3.14159M (java.math.MathContext. 7)) ; 3.14159M (unexpected)

For the skeptical, this is not just a matter of trailing zeros not being displayed:

(.precision (.round 3.14159M (java.math.MathContext. 7))) ; 6 
; (same as above, still unexpected)

FWIW, Clojure is careful with trailing zeros and will show them:

4.0000M ; 4.0000M
(.precision 4.0000M) ; 5

Back on track... You can try using a BigDecimal constructor, but it does not set the precision any higher than the number of digits you specify:

(BigDecimal. "3" (java.math.MathContext. 5)) ; 3M
(BigDecimal. "3.1" (java.math.MathContext. 5)) ; 3.1M

So, there is no quick way to change the precision. I've spent time fighting this while writing up this question and with a project I'm working on. I consider this, at best, A CRAZYTOWN API, and at worst a bug. People. Seriously?

So, best I can tell, if you want to change precision, you'll need to do these steps:

  1. Lookup the current precision.
  2. Lookup the current scale.
  3. Calculate the scale change.
  4. Set the new scale

These steps, as Clojure code:

(def x 0.000691M) ; the input number
(def p' 1) ; desired precision
(def s' (+ (.scale x) p' (- (.precision x)))) ; desired new scale
(.setScale x s' BigDecimal/ROUND_HALF_EVEN)
; 0.0007M

I know, this is a lot of steps just to change the precision!

Why doesn't BigDecimal already provide this? Did I overlook something?

~ Answered on 2013-12-04 01:43:08


You can use setScale() e.g.

double d = ...
BigDecimal db = new BigDecimal(d).setScale(12, BigDecimal.ROUND_HALF_UP);

~ Answered on 2012-02-28 13:40:43

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