NaN - Floating Point - Signaling NaN

Signaling NaN

Signaling NaNs, or sNaNs, are special forms of a NaN that when consumed by most operations should raise an invalid exception and then, if appropriate, be "quieted" into a qNaN that may then propagate. They were introduced in IEEE 754. There have been several ideas for how these might be used:

  • Filling uninitialized memory with signaling NaNs would produce an invalid exception if the data is used before it is initialized
  • Using an sNaN as a placeholder for a more complicated object, such as:
    • A representation of a number that has underflowed
    • A representation of a number that has overflowed
    • Number in a higher precision format
    • A complex number

When encountered a trap handler could decode the sNaN and return an index to the computed result. In practice this approach is faced with many complications. The treatment of the sign bit of NaNs for some simple operations (such as absolute value) is different from that for arithmetic operations. Traps are not required by the standard. There are other approaches to this sort of problem that would be more portable.

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