Two’s complement and 2-adic number

7 minute read


This posts discusses the relation between two’s complement and 2-adic integer in math. I want to show what operations we can have if we ignore overflow.

p-adic number

The p-adic number system is a different extension to the rational number field $\mathbb{Q}$. Consider the $p$-radix representation of a fraction. Say $\frac{1}{7}$ in decimal:

\[\frac{1}{7} = \frac{142857}{10^6-1} = \frac{0.142857}{1-10^{-6}} = \sum_{j=1}^{\infty} 142857\times 10^{-6j} = 0.\overline{142857}\cdots\]

This is a power series of $10^{-1}$. Here we use $\frac{1}{1-p} = \sum_{j=0}^{\infty}x^j$. If we accept all possible power series:

\[\sum_{j=-m}^{\infty} a_j\times 10^{-j}\]

we get the real number $\mathbb{R}$. (Well, more strictly we need to make $0.\overline{9}=1$)

However, we can also expand the same number in power series of $10^1$:

\[\frac{1}{7} = - \frac{142857}{1-10^{6}} = - \sum_{j=0}^{\infty} 142857\times 10^{6j} = 1+\sum_{j=0}^{\infty} 857142\times 10^{6j} = \cdots\overline{285714}3.0\]

If we accept all possible power series:

\[\sum_{j=-m}^{\infty} a_j\times 10^{j}\]

we get 10-adic numbers. This series does not converge under normal metric, but if we define a new metric $|10^ab| = 10^{-a}$ with $b$ not divisible by $10$, such power series converge. Typically we only use prime $p$, so a $p$-adic number is represented in a reverse $p$-base numeral system, where one can have infinite digits above the decimal point but finitely many after. It is a field of characteristic $0$, denoted by $\mathbb{Q}_p$. If we limit ourselves to those numbers without minus powers of $p$, i.e. without digits after decimal point, we have $p$-adic integer $\mathbb{Z}_p$. Formally, we define it as the inverse limit $\mathbb{Z}_p:= \varprojlim_{n=1}^{\infty}\mathbb{Z}/p^n\mathbb{Z}$, with projection $\mathbb{Z}/p^{n+1}\mathbb{Z}\to \mathbb{Z}/p^n\mathbb{Z}$. That is, the limit of finite ring $\mathbb{Z}/p^n\mathbb{Z}$ when $n\to\infty$. In a computer, we use finitely many bits to store an integer ($\mathbb{Z}/2^n\mathbb{Z}$). Imagine that if we extend it to infinitely many bits, we get $2$-adic number $\mathbb{Z}_2$.

Basic Operations

Addition & Subtraction

The normal integer $\mathbb{Z}$ embeds in $\mathbb{Z}_2$. More specifically, we have

\[-1 = \frac{1}{1-2} = \sum_{j=0}^{\infty} 2^i = \cdots\overline{1}\]

Thus, $-n$ is equal to $\overline{1}-(n-1)$, i.e. the binary complement of $n-1$. This is exactly how we represent negative integers in 2’s complement: take complement and add one. In this sense, we can take 2’s complement representation as the last $n$ bits of 2-adic representation.

2-adic representation works for every number in 2-adic ring. The same bit-by-bit addition and subtraction algorithm works for both positive and negative numbers. Therefore, 2’s complement is in the same situation: signed and unsigned integers are only about how humans interpret it; there is no need to separate them when we perform operations. That’s why in x86 assembly we only have ADD/ADC and SUB/SBB.

But when we convert an integer of a small word size to a wider word, we do need to tell whether it’s negative or not. For negative integers, we fill in higher bits with 1; for positive, 0. Therefore, in x86 we have different instructions to extend an integer: Sign extension CBW/CWDE/CDQE/MOVSX/MOVSXD for signed integers; zero extension MOVZX for unsigned integers.

Multiplication & Euclidean Division

Since 2-adic ring is closed under multiplication, the 2-adic representation works for both positive and negative. Therefore, signed and unsigned multiplication are the same. In x86 assembly we have IMUL vs MUL, but this is simply because x86 multiplication extends the result to a longer word. If we ignore the extended part:

\[(2^na_h +a_l)\times(2^nb_h +b_l) = 2^n(2^na_hb_h + a_hb_l + a_lb_h) + a_lb_l\]

which shows that $a\times b$ modulo $2^n$ is the product of each modulo $2^n$.

However, Euclidean division is a different story, because 2-adic numbers do not support comparison. For example, if we divide $8$-bit $-37(=11011011_{2})$ by $-3(=11111101_2)$, we get $12(=00001100_{2})$ with $-1(=11111111_{2})$. But if we divide $219(=11011011_{2})$ by $253(=11111101_{2})$, we get $0$ with remainder $219$.


In 2-adic number ring, any number not divisible by 2 has a unique multiplicative inverse. For example,

\[\frac{1}{45} = -\frac{91}{1-2^{12}} = - \sum_{j=0}^{\infty} 1011011_{2}\times 2^{12j} = 1+\overline{111110100100}.0_{2} = \overline{011111010010}1.0_{2}\]

This also works in finite word length if we multiply with overflow. For example, in $32$-bit integer, $1/45$ is truncated to $-1527099483(=10100100111110100100111110100101_{2})$, and we have (-1527099483) * 45 == 1 in C++ int.

Note that the binary fraction form of $1/45$ is

\[\frac{1}{45} = \frac{91}{2^{12}-1} = \sum_{j=1}^{\infty} 1011011_{2}\times 2^{-12j} = 0.\overline{000001011011}_{2}\]

So the “flip and add one” rule somehow applies here.

Multiplicative Group

An interesting fact is the multiplicative group of $\mathbb{Z}_2$ is $\mathbb{Z}^{\times}_2 \cong \mathbb{Z}_2\times \mathbb{Z}/2\mathbb{Z}$, which contains itself as a component.

To show this, let $U=\mathbb{Z}^{\times}$ and $\varepsilon_n: U\to (\mathbb{Z}/2^n\mathbb{Z})^{\times}$ being the projection modulo $2^n$. The kernal of this projection is $U_n = 1+2^n\mathbb{Z}_2$. Clearly, we have $U_1 = U$ since every odd number is invertible. Also, the map $1+2^nx\mapsto x\mod 2$ defines an isomorphism $U_n/U_{n+1} \cong \mathbb{Z}/2\mathbb{Z}$, because

\[(1+2^nx)(1+2^ny) \equiv 1+2^n(x+y) \mod 2^{n+1}\]

Now, define $\theta_n: \mathbb{Z}/2^{n}\mathbb{Z}\to U_2/U_{n+2}$ be $x\mapsto 5^x$. Note that:

\[5^{2^n} = (1+2^2)^{2^n} = 1 + 2^{n+2} + \cdots \in U_{n+2}\setminus U_{n+3}\]

$U_2/U_{n+2}$ is of order $2^n$. In this group we have $5^{2^{n-1}}\neq 1$ and $5^{2^n} = 1$. Thus, $U_2/U_{n+2}$ is cyclic and generated by $5$. Take the inverse limit and get

\[U_2 = \varprojlim_{n=1}^{\infty}U_2/U_{n+2} \cong \varprojlim_{n=1}^{\infty}\mathbb{Z}/2^{n}\mathbb{Z} = \mathbb{Z}_2\]

On the other hand, $U_1/U_2 \cong \mathbb{Z}/2\mathbb{Z}$ with $1+2(2z+1) = 3\times(1+2^2(z/3))$. Thus, every invertible element $x\in \mathbb{Z}_2^{\times}$ can be written as $x = 5^zt$, where $z\in\mathbb{Z}_2$ and $t\in \{1, 3\}$ or $t\in \{1, -1\}$.

Now let’s move to the finite case $\mathbb{Z}/2^n\mathbb{Z}$. We know that $\mathbb{Z}/p^n\mathbb{Z}$ ($n\geq 3$) has a primitive root if and only if $p$ is an odd prime. From the argument above, we further learn that the multiplicative group of $\mathbb{Z}/p^n\mathbb{Z}$ is actually of form $\{5^z, 3\times 5^z: 0\leq z< 2^{n-2}\}$ or simply $\{\pm 5^z: 0\leq z< 2^{n-2}\}$, when $n\geq 3$.

Square numbers

Every $2^px\in \mathbb{Z}_2$ is a square number if and only if $p$ is even and $x$ is a square number. By the analysis above, the latter one is equivalent to $x\equiv 1\ (\mathrm{mod}\ 8)$. The same condition applies to finite ring $\mathbb{Z}/2^n\mathbb{Z}$.

Note that this shows that every square number in $\mathbb{Z}/2^n\mathbb{Z}$ has four square roots. For example, the square roots of $1$ are $\{\pm 1, \pm 5^{2^{n-3}} = 2^{n-1}\pm 1 \}$, with two of them divisible by $3$. For 32-bit unsigned int, they are $\{1, 2147483647, 2147483649, 4294967295\}$, which is exactly $\{1, 2^{31}-1, -(2^{31}-1), -1\}$ as a signed int.

This does not give any contradiction to the theorem that a polynomial of degree $d$ over a domain (e.g. $\mathbb{Z}_2$) can have at most $d$ distinct roots. Because the two non-trivial roots of $1$ in $\mathbb{Z}/2^n\mathbb{Z}$ are $2^{n-1}\pm 1$, which cannot be lifted to a real solution in $\mathbb{Z}_2$.

Hilbert symbol

Define the Hilbert symbol $(a,b)$ to be $1$ if $ax^2+by^2=z^2$ has a non-trivial solution, and $-1$ otherwise. Let $(a,b) = (-1)^{ [ a , b ] }$. Then, $[ a , b ]$ is a bilinear form on $\mathbb{Q}_2^{\times}/\mathbb{Q}_2^{\times 2}$. Under basis $\{2, -1, 5\}$, its matrix is $\begin{bmatrix} 0 & 0 & 1 \\ 0 & 1 & 0 \\ 1 & 0 & 0 \end{bmatrix}$. The proof is omitted as it contains a lot of computation.


  • Serre, J.-P. (1973). A course in arithmetic. Springer.