Part 32
Binary and hexadecimal

Subjects covered...

	Number systems
	Bits and bytes

This section describes how computers count, using the binary system.

Most European languages count using a more or less regular pattern of
tens - in English, for example, although it starts off a bit
erratically, if soon settles down into regular groups...

	twenty, twenty one, twenty two... twenty nine
	thirty, thirty one, thirty two... thirty nine
	forty, forty one, forty two... forty nine

...and so on, and this is made even more systematic with the numerals
that we use. However, the only reason for using ten (the decimal
system) is that we happen to have ten digits on our hands (fingers and

Instead of using the decimal system - based on ten, computers use a
form of binary called hexadecimal (or 'hex' for short) which is based
on sixteen. As there are only ten digits available in our number
system we need six extra digits to do the counting. So we use A, B, C,
D, E and F. And what comes after F? Well, just as we, with ten
fingers, write 10 for ten (a hand full), so computers use 10 for
sixteen. Comparing counting in decimal to hex...

	-------		---
	   0		 0
	   1		 1
	   2		 2
	   3		 3
	   4		 4
	   5		 5
	   6		 6
	   7		 7
	   8		 8
	   9		 9
	   10		 A
	   11		 B
	   12		 C
	   13		 D
	   14		 E
	   15		 F
	   16		 10
	   17		 11
	   25		 19
	   26		 1A
	   27		 1B
	   31		 1F
	   32		 20
	   33		 21
	   158		 9E
	   159		 9F
	   160		 A0
	   161		 A1
	   255		 FF
	   256		 100
	    ...and so on...

If you are using hex notation and you want to make the fact quite
plain, then write 'h' at the end of the number, and say 'hex'. For
instance, for one hundred and fifty eight (decimal), write '9Eh' and
say 'nine E hex'.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with computers. In fact,
computers behave as though they had only two digits, represented by a
low voltage (or off) known as 0, and a high voltage (or on) known as
1. This is called the binary system, and the two binary digits are
called bits - so a bit is either 0 or 1.

So to expand the previous table of counting to include binary...

	-------		---		------
	   0		 0		 0
	   1		 1		 1
	   2		 2		 10
	   3		 3		 11
	   4		 4		 100
	   5		 5		 101
	   6		 6		 110
	   7		 7		 111
	   8		 8		 1000
	   9		 9		 1001
	   10		 A		 1010
	   11		 B		 1011
	   12		 C		 1100
	   13		 D		 1101
	   14		 E		 1110
	   15		 F		 1111
	   16		 10		 10000
	   17		 11		 10001

It is customary to 'pad out' binary numbers with leading zeroes so
that they always contain at least four bits - for example, 0000, 0001,
0010, 0011 (representing 0 to 3 decimal).

Converting between binary and hex is very easy (use the previous table
to help you).

To convert a binary number to hex, split the binary number into groups
of four bits (starting at the right of the number) and convert each
group of four bits into is corresponding hex digit. Finally, put the
hex digits together to form the complete hex number. For example, to
convert 10110100 binary into hex, convert the first (right-hand) group
of four bits (0100) to 4 hex, then convert the next group of four bits
(1011) to 8 hex, put them together, and you have the complete hex
number - B4h. If the binary number is longer than eight bits, you can
continue converting each group of four into one hex digit. For
example, 1101011110000 binary corresponds to 3AF0h.

To convert a hex number to binary, change each hex digit into four
bits (again, starting at the right) then put the bits together to form
the complete binary number. For example, to convert F3h to binary,
first convert 3 which corresponds to 0011 binary (remember - you must
use zeroes to make the binary number four bits long), then convert F
which corresponds to 1111 binary, put them together, and you have the
complete binary number - 11110011.

Although computers use a pure binary system, humans often write the
numbers stored inside a computer using hex notations - after all, the
number 3AF0h (for example) is far more likely to be easily and
correctly read than 0011101011110000 in sixteen bit binary notation.

The bits inside the computer are mostly grouped into sets of eight -
these are called bytes. A single byte can represent any number from 0
to 255 decimal (11111111 binary or FFh).

Two bytes can be grouped together to make what is technically called a
word. A word can be expressed using sixteen bits or four hex digits,
and represents a number from 0 to 65535 decimal (1111111111111111
binary or FFFFh).

A byte is always eight bits, but words vary in length from computer to

The BIN notation (used in part 14 of this chapter) provides a means of
entering numbers in binary on the +3, i.e. 'BIN 100' represents 4
decimal, 'BIN 111' represents 7 decimal, 'BIN 11111111' represents 255
decimal, and so on.

You can only use 0s and 1s for this, so the number must be a
non-negative whole number - for instance, you cannot use 'BIN -11' to
represent -3 decimal, but you can use '-BIN 11' instead. The number
must also be no greater than decimal 65535 - i.e. it can't have more
than sixteen bits. If you pad out a binary number with leading zeroes,
for example, 'BIN 00000001', the BIN function will rightly ignore them
and treat the number as if it were 'BIN 1'.
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