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Converting Binary Numbers to Any Base with Double Dabble

Interesting article by Mitja Rihtarsic for EDN on converting binary numbers to any base:

Conversion of binary to decimal numbers is often needed in firmware. And it’s done easily enough if multiplication and division by ten are acceptable. However, these operations, especially division, may be too resource-hungry for a low cost microcontroller (MCU).

I was therefore pleased to learn about the double dabble algorithm, which converts binary to decimal efficiently; it went into my bag of tricks immediately. Still, I want to tailor it to my needs – to work with any base. To do that, I needed to know how it actually works.

The double dabble belongs to the second of two groups of algorithms (shift-adjust and adjust-shift). Both can be used to convert binary numbers to other formats. Among them, conversion to the time or angle format of HMS is especially useful. Additionally, there have been ternary (base-3)-related designs & discussions on EDN recently to which this Design Idea is applicable.

Later on the article elaborates,

Conversion of binary to some other system is possible by bit carrying only. The initial binary number A is moved into p0, which must be large enough. Then, bit carrying is repeated until the condition (7) is fulfilled for all p’s. At this point, the number A is converted. Although this method works, it is inefficient. To speed up the conversion, left shifting, which has the same effect as multiplying by two, is introduced. Then, shifting and bit carrying are executed sequentially. The bit carrying is executed after each shift to keep the needed size of p’s as small as possible. At the same time, condition (7) is fulfilled. Because of the sequence, this is called a shift-adjust algorithm.

Read more.


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