Representing Whole Numbers
BH: Keep... But with my original wording in TIF A.
MF: lightly clean up to make the text more concise; do we really need to teach width and word??
On this page, you'll learn how computers store nonnegative integers.
As you know, numbers show up everywhere in computer algorithms—even if numbers aren't the topic. For example, the user may be interested in a picture, but that picture is an abstraction over numbers. Numbers are also used to find a specific item in a list. Over the next several pages, you'll look more closely at numbers inside the computer.

They have now built factorial in 2.4.1, so this page should either give them a project with ONLY big nums and ask them to import !
or it should ask them to open their U2 Math project and then download and import bignums. MF, 6/13/19
The factorial of a positive integer n (written "n!") is the product of all the integers from 1 to n. For example:
5! = 1 \times 2 \times 3 \times 4 \times 5 = 120
Project file needs updated Unit and Lab numbers. MF
Try out these inputs:
You might see different results depending on your computer's processor.
This yellowbox had been a stray single line of white text after the FYTD and before the next heading. I think this is better. MF, 5/31/20
The "e+" means "times ten to the power of" so this notation means 2.6525285981219103 × 10^{32} = 265,252,859,812,191,030,000,000,000,000,000.
Fixed Width Computer Hardware
width: the number of bits that a CPU processes at a time
word: a binary sequence of that many bits
So why did Snap! display 20! in ordinary whole number representation but 30! in scientific notation? Every computer model is designed with a certain width, the number of bits that the processor reads from memory or writes into memory at a time. That number of bits is called a word. As of 2016, most new computers are 64 bits wide. The first microcomputer, sold in 1971, was four bits wide!
If you got an answer in scientific notation for 20!, you're using a 32bit computer.
DAT1.B.1
A 64bit word represents 2^{64} different values. We use half for negative numbers, one for zero, and the rest for positives. Half of 2^{64} (which is 2^{63} = 9,223,372,036,854,775,808) is about 9 × 10^{18}. That means that the 19 digits of 20! just barely fit in a 64bit word. But the 33 digits of 30! don't. So the computer hardware reports an overflow error, and Snap! computes an approximation.
Are processor widths always powers of two?
Processor widths don't have to be a power of two. Some old computers—the kind you see in old movies that filled a large room—used 12bit, 36bit, and 60bit words. But modern personal computers started at 8 bits and the widths have been doubling with each new generation.
 Experiment in Snap!. What's the first integer whose factorial doesn't fit in a word?
Bignums
A multipleword integer is called a bignum.
DAT1.B.2
Why can't programming languages just use more than one word to represent an integer? They can. It's just that a single machine language instruction can only add oneword numbers. A programming language must work a little harder to make addition work with multipleword values. Not all languages do this, but the highestlevel languages do.
The design of a programming language isn't just a question of taste; it can be a matter of life and death. Between 1985 and 1987, a therapeutic Xray machine killed four patients and seriously injured two more because of several bugs in its software; one of the bugs was that a counter that was kept in an eightbitwide variable would reach its maximum value of 127 and then overflow to zero instead of 128. When the variable was zero, an important safety check was not performed. This would not have happened if the software had been written in a better programming language.
You can use bignums in any Snap
! project by importing the "Bignums, exact rationals, complex #s" library.
You learned to import libraries on the Libraries page.
They did not. MF, 6/13/19

Click on this block in the scripting area:

Now try
30!
again.
This (exactly correct) value is different from the (rounded off) floating point value above. (More about floating point in a moment.)

Try
200!
. The reported result won't fit on your screen, but you can see it this way:
 Hold down the control key and click the block.
 In the menu that appears, choose "result pic."
 An image will download onto your computer or open in a new tab. You should be able to zoom in on it to read the digits.
Please remind me again why this is worth doing. It feels clunky after a whole page of super abstract and ungrounded (i.e., "I can forget this as soon as the test is over") stuff that I only need to learn "because the teacher said so." MF, 5/31/20
It's much less clunky now. And the point is to demonstrate that there's no good excuse for any programming language to give approximate results to integer computations. bh
 How many digits are there in
200!
? (Don't count by hand; you have a computer.)