Tutorial on GMP

GMP stands for the Gnu MultiPrecision Library. It is a popular library that gives us the ability to operate with arbitrary precision integers, rationals and floating point numbers: the add on MPFR library is useful for arbitrary precision floating point.

The tutorial focusses on the C part of the library. There is an extension to C that is much easier to use. But starting off with the C part of the library gives us better control over what can be done and a better understanding of how the library works.

Getting Started

I will assume access to a linux machine with GMP installed. GMP can be downloaded from the gmplib.org website.

The user manual for the latest version is here

What is arbitrary precision? Why do we need it?

Computers process numbers 32 or 64 bits at a time. If you write a program in C and declare int x, the int is a 32 bit number or sometimes 64 bits. It all depends on your machine and your compiler.

You can discover all this by writing a little bit of C code as below:

Native int

#include <stdio.h>
#include <assert.h>
#include <limits.h>

int main(){
   int k,x,i;

   /* 1. Print the machine native <span class="builtin">int</span> size and the max/min integer */
   printf ("Size of integers in this computer = %d bits \n", sizeof(int) * 8);
   printf ("The largest int representable is %d \n", INT_MAX);
   printf ("The smallest int representable is %d \n", INT_MIN);

   /* 2. Let us add 1 to INT_MAX */
   k = INT_MAX;

   printf (" %d + 1 = %d \n", k,k+1);

   /* 3. Input a number x and print its binary representation out */

   printf ("Enter x:");
   printf ("The binary reprentation LSB --> MSB is: ");
   for (i=0; i < 8 * sizeof(int); ++i){

       if (x %2 == 0)
          printf ("0");

       x = x >> 1; / Shift right by 1


   printf ("\n");


sizeof(int) gives the number of bytes for an integer. INT_MAX is macro defined in limits.h to the largest possible integer. Similarly for INT_MIN.

I compiled this on MAC and got the following output.

Output on a MAC Laptop
Size of integers in this computer = 32 bits
The largest int representable is 2147483647
The smallest int representable is -2147483648
 2147483647 + 1 = -2147483648
Enter x:3091
The binary reprentation LSB --> MSB is: 11001000001100000000000000000000

Notice that the computer can represent numbers in the range -2147483648 to 2137483647. Any attempt to add one to the maximum int wraps around to the minimum integer.

This is fine for most applications that need some addition. For instance, a bank has to worry if someone has 2 billion or more dollars in their account that if they deposit a single dollar, their balance will wrap around.

C also has a type long that supports 64 bit arithmetic. In fact, intel processors manufactured today have 64 bit word sizes. Moving to 64 bits roughly gives us a LONG_MAX with 20 decimal digits. But it is still a limit.

Here is a more fun demonstration of precision limits.

Factorial Computation

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <assert.h>

int fact(int n){
     Function: fact (n)
     Returns: n!

  int i;
  int p = 1;

  for (i=1; i <= n ; ++i){
    p = p * i;
  return p;


int main(int argc, char * argv[]){
  int n;

  if (argc <= 1){
    /* Check if user has a command line argument */
    printf ("Usage: %s <number>", argv[0]);
    return 2;

  n = atoi(argv[1]); /* Extract the command line argument */

  assert( n >= 0);

  /* Print the factorial */
  printf ("%d ! = %d \n", n, fact(n));

  return 1;

We can compile the code above and play with it.

Playing around with factorial
bash-3.2$ gcc -o fact fact.c
bash-3.2$ ./fact
Usage: ./fact <number>
bash-3.2$ ./fact 15
15 ! = 2004310016
bash-3.2$ ./fact 16
16 ! = 2004189184
bash-3.2$ ./fact 17
17 ! = -288522240
bash-3.2$ ./fact 18
18 ! = -898433024
bash-3.2$ ./fact 19
19 ! = 109641728
bash-3.2$ ./fact 20
20 ! = -2102132736
bash-3.2$ ./fact 21
21 ! = -1195114496
bash-3.2$ ./fact 22
22 ! = -522715136
bash-3.2$ ./fact 23
23 ! = 862453760
bash-3.2$ ./fact 24
24 ! = -775946240
bash-3.2$ ./fact 25
25 ! = 2076180480
bash-3.2$ ./fact 26
26 ! = -1853882368
bash-3.2$ ./fact 27
27 ! = 1484783616
bash-3.2$ ./fact 28
28 ! = -1375731712

Why is 17! a negative number? :-)

Arbitrary Precision Arithmetic

GMP allows us to use integers whose sizes can grow dynamically to the required precision. So by putting many words together, it can support 128, 256 or 1024 bits. There is no need for us to specify this. The library will dynamically allocate memory for accomodating extra bits of precision as and when needed.

Installing GMP on your Machine

This is the hardest part, really: (a) install the GMP thingy on your computer and (b) integrate into whatever SDK you are using to compile C or C programs.

I personally have experience with linux machines, windows machines running CYGWIN and MAC OSX with macports.

On a linux machine, the easiest way is to use a package manager apt-get, rpm or yum to install. Redhat machines use RPM whereas apt-get is popular on ubuntu machines. If you are using a basic debian linux install, then you can use dpkg.

If your system is managed by some other admin (eg., CSEL lab systems), ask your admin to install gmp. GMP will be installed globally for all users. You can find out by checking

Find out if GMP is installed on my MAC OSX

bash-3.2$ locate libgmp.a

On my office desktop running linux

On my office machine

srirams@turing:~$ locate libgmp.a

GMP Integer Basics

Here is a simple C program that will read in a number, add 1 to it and print the result.

Simple Program Using GMP Integer API

#include <gmp.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <assert.h>

int main(){

  char inputStr[1024];
     mpz_t is the type defined for GMP integers.
     It is a pointer to the internals of the GMP integer data structure
  mpz_t n;
  int flag;

  printf ("Enter your number: ");
  scanf("%1023s" , inputStr); /* NOTE: never every write a call scanf ("%s", inputStr);
                                  You are leaving a security hole in your code. */

  /* 1. Initialize the number */

  /* 2. Parse the input string as a base 10 number */
  flag = mpz_set_str(n,inputStr, 10);
  assert (flag == 0); /* If flag is not 0 then the operation failed */

  /* Print n */
  printf ("n = ");
  printf ("\n");

  /* 3. Add one to the number */

  mpz_add_ui(n,n,1); /* n = n + 1 */

  /* 4. Print the result */

  printf (" n +1 = ");
  printf ("\n");

  /* 5. Square n+1 */

  mpz_mul(n,n,n); /* n = n * n */

  printf (" (n +1)^2 = ");
  printf ("\n");

  /* 6. Clean up the mpz_t handles or else we will leak memory */


Compiling the code (assuming GMP is installed globally in the “standard” path):

$ gcc -o mpz_simple1 mpz_simple1.c -lgmp

If GMP is not installed in the standard path, then you have to compile like this after you find out the location of gmp.h and libgmp.a. Here is what I had to do to get it to install on my laptop.

$ locate "/gmp.h"
$ locate "libgmp.a"
$ gcc -o mpz_simple1 -I /sw/include -L/sw/lib mpz_simple1.c -lgmp

If everything compiles fine, you will get an executable. In this case, mpz_simple1.

$ ./mpz_simple1
Enter your number: 6
n = 6
 n +1 = 7
 (n +1)^2 = 49

If you decide to go beserk on n, then no problem :-)

$ ./mpz_simple1
Enter your number: 1981098309851092850192851029581029581209581092581209581209581029581209581209856120856120958120958120958120958
n = 1981098309851092850192851029581029581209581092581209581209581029581209581209856120856120958120958120958120958
 n +1 = 1981098309851092850192851029581029581209581092581209581209581029581209581209856120856120958120958120958120959
 (n +1)^2 = 39247505132948566943624540368331641284... a really long number...

To understand the code above better you will need to consult the GMP manual on integer functions: GMP Integer Functions.

Here is a skeleton of the code.

#include <gmp.h>

/* la di da di da ... */

  mpz_t n;

      /* blah blah */


      /* blah blah */


mpz_t is a pointer to some complicated data structure that GMP has for storing arbitrary precision integers. We do not care about what mpz_t contains. But remember that it is a pointer. We call it a handle to the int. Examining the value of n will not be very meaningful.

mpz_init(n) calls the init function and tells it to properly initialize n.

mpz_set_ui(n,0) asks GMP to set the number n to 0.

mpz_clear(n) asks GMP to deallocate the memory that it has stored for n.

GMP Factorial Code

Factorial using arbitrary precision

#include "gmp.h"
#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <assert.h>

void fact(int n){
  int i;
  mpz_t p;

  mpz_init_set_ui(p,1); /* p = 1 */
  for (i=1; i <= n ; ++i){
    mpz_mul_ui(p,p,i); /* p = p * i */
  printf ("%d!  =  ", n);


int main(int argc, char * argv[]){
  int n;

  if (argc <= 1){
    printf ("Usage: %s <number> \n", argv[0]);
    return 2;

  n = atoi(argv[1]);
  assert( n >= 0);

  return 1;

The code above fixes the issues we found due to overflow in the original native int factorial function.

$ gcc -I /sw/include/ -L/sw/lib -o mpz_fact mpz_fact.c -lgmp
$ ./mpz_fact
Usage: ./mpz_fact <number>
$ ./mpz_fact 1093
1093!  =  279512617852590467904571737438372389.... and a buzillion more digits ;-)


$ ./mpz_fact 109
109!  =  1443859583202493582204882102462... goes on and on and on.. :-)

$ ./mpz_fact 10
10!  =  3628800
$ ./mpz_fact 15
15!  =  1307674368000
$ ./mpz_fact 16
16!  =  20922789888000
$ ./mpz_fact 17
17!  =  355687428096000
$ ./mpz_fact 19
19!  =  121645100408832000
$ ./mpz_fact 2091
2091!  = 64536472071648725652592612640419881740...and a guzzillion more digits :-)

Useful GMP Integer Functions

GMP provides a lot of useful integer functions: Integer Arithmetic

You will find some number theoretic functions useful: here