Rounding and integer division in PowerShell

The way PowerShell converts floating point numbers to integers makes perfect sense, unless you’ve been exposed to another way first. PowerShell rounds floating point numbers to the nearest integer when casting to int. For example, in PowerShell [int] 1.25 evaluates to 1 but [int] 1.75 evaluates to 2.

When there isn’t a unique nearest integer, i.e. when the decimal part of a number is exactly 0.5, PowerShell rounds to the nearest even integer. This is known as banker’s rounding or round-to-even. So, for example, [int] 1.5 would round to 2 but so would [int] 2.5. The motivation for banker’s rounding is that is unbiased in the sense that numbers of the form n + 0.5 will round up as often as down on average.

Apart from the detail of handing numbers ending in exactly one half, PowerShell does what most people would expect. However, people who program in C and related languages have different expectations. These languages truncate when converting floating point numbers to integers. For example, in C++ both int(1.25) and int(1.75)evaluate to 1. When I learned C, I found it’s behavior surprising. But now that PowerShell does what I once expected C to do, I find PowerShell surprising.

The PowerShell folks make the right decision for a couple reasons. For one, they are being consistent with their decision to break with tradition when necessary to do what they believe is right. Also, their primary audience is system administrators, not programmers steeped in C++ or C#.

Another way PowerShell breaks from C tradition is integer division. For example, 5/4evaluates to 1 in C, but 1.25 in PowerShell. Both language designs make sense in context. C is explicitly typed, and so the ratio of two integers is an integer. PowerShell is implicitly typed, so integers are converted to doubles when necessary.

(As an aside, Python initially followed the C tradition regarding integer division, but future versions of the language will act more like PowerShell. In the future, the / operator will perform floating point division and the new // operator will perform integer division.)

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