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Java low level: Converting between integers and text (part 1)

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As Java has a number of way to convert an integer to a String, its not something you might have considered writing yourself.

However, there may be situations where you want to do this. One of them is when performance is ciritcal. Java libraries tend to create more objects than are required. Usually this doesn't matter but there are times when you need the system to go faster and reading and writing numbers is a big hit for you.

Performance difference

The following is based on a tests of 128K integers in binary and text formats repeatedly to take an average time to write and read an integer.
Source to run all tests
Source for the examples

Unsafe text: Typically took 41.4 ns to write/read per long.
ByteBuffer direct text: Typically took 63.9 ns to write/read per long.
ByteBuffer heap text: Typically took 68.9 ns to write/read per long.
Print text: Typically took 325.7 ns to write/read per long.
DecimalFormat text: Typically took 645.5 ns to write/read per long.

Unsafe binary: Typically took 4.2 ns to write/read per long.
ByteBuffer binary: Typically took 10.3 ns to write/read per long.
DataStream binary: Typically took 72.1 ns to write/read per long.

In this test, reading/writing integers as text using different approaches varies by as much as 14x. If your integer format is needs to be customised you may need to use DecimalFormat, or write your own.

Note: the faster options for writing/reading text were faster than using the binary DataInput/OutputStream. The stream arranges a long as 8 bytes in big-endian order which is more work than converting the number to text in these cases.

Writing an integer to text

For this example, all integers are treated as long type. There is a small performance advantage in having an int type instead but it is relatively small.

Integer representation

All signed integers, byte, short, int and long are represented as twos-complement Encoding/decoding this format doesn't require any bitwise operations like floating point numbers can to.

Extract the sign

Firstly extract the sign. This is simple to do,

Extracting the sign
if (num < 0) {
   num = -num;

There is one edge case here which is Long.MIN_VALUE. Due to two-complement representation, this value is the negative of itself. One way to handle this value is to encode it specially. e.g. have a constant which contains what it should be encoded as. Another appoarch is to treat Long.MIN_VALUE as an unset value or NaN. Most spreadsheet applications treat an empty field as an unset cell. (This is my preference) Another special value is zero. Other numbers do not have a leading zero, but zero needs to have at least one digit.

Handling 0
if (num == 0) {
} else {

Writing the digits

It can be easier to decode a number from the end. This is the approach I have taken here.

Writing each digit in reverse
// find the number of digits
int digits = ParserUtils.digits(num);
// starting from the end, write each digit
for (int i = digits - 1; i >= 0; i--) {
    // write the lowest digit.
    buffer.put(buffer.position() + i, (byte) (num % 10 + '0'));
    // remove that digit.
    num /= 10;
// move the position to after the digits.
buffer.position(buffer.position() + digits);

From http://vanillajava.blogspot.com/2011/07/java-low-level-converting-between.html

The Java Zone is brought to you in partnership with ZeroTurnaround. Check out this 8-step guide to see how you can increase your productivity by skipping slow application redeploys and by implementing application profiling, as you code!


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