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BSON Decimal128 Type Handling in Drivers

Spec Title:BSON Decimal128 Type Handling In Drivers
Spec Version:1.0
Author: Hannes Magnusson
Advisory Group:Emily Stolfo and Craig Wilson
Kernel Advisory:Geert Bosch
Original Work:David Hatch and Raymond Jacobson
Status: Approved
Minimum Server Version:3.4
Last Modified:2016-06-06


MongoDB 3.4 introduces a new BSON type representing high precision decimal ("\x13"), known as Decimal128. 3.4 compatible drivers must support this type by creating a Value Object for it, possibly with accessor functions for retrieving its value in data types supported by the respective languages.

Round-tripping Decimal128 types between driver and server MUST not change its value or representation in any way. Conversion to and from native language types is complicated and there are many pitfalls to represent Decimal128 precisely in all languages

While many languages offer a native decimal type, the precision of these types often does not exactly match that of the MongoDB implementation. To ensure error-free conversion and consistency between official MongoDB drivers, this specification does not allow automatically converting the BSON Decimal128 type into a language-defined decimal type.

Language drivers will wrap their native type in value objects by default and SHOULD offer accessor functions for retrieving its value represented by language-defined types if appropriate. A driver that offers the ability to configure mappings to/from BSON types to native types MAY allow the option to automatically convert the BSON Decimal128 type to a native type. It should however be made abundantly clear to the user that converting to native data types risks incurring data loss.


The keywords "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119.


IEEE 754-2008 128-bit decimal floating point (Decimal128):
The Decimal128 specification supports 34 decimal digits of precision, a max value of approximately 10^6145, and min value of approximately -10^6145. This is the new BSON Decimal128 type ("\x13").
Clamping happens when a value’s exponent is too large for the destination format. This works by adding zeros to the coefficient to reduce the exponent to the largest usable value. An overflow occurs if the number of digits required is more than allowed in the destination format.
Binary Integer Decimal (BID):
MongoDB uses this binary encoding for the coefficient as specified in IEEE 754-2008. The byte order is little-endian, like the rest of the BSON types.
Value Object:
An immutable container type representing a value (e.g. Decimal128). This Value Object MAY provide accessors that retrieve the abstracted value as a different type (e.g. casting it). double x = valueObject.getAsDouble();


BSON Decimal128 implementation details

The BSON Decimal128 data type implements the Decimal Arithmetic Encodings specification, with certain exceptions around value integrity. When a value cannot be represented exactly, the value will be rejected.

The specification defines several statuses which are meant to signal exceptional circumstances, such as when overflowing occurs, and how to handle them.

BSON Decimal128 Value Objects MUST implement these actions for these exceptions:

  • Overflow
    • When overflow occurs, the operation MUST emit an error and result in a failure
  • Underflow
    • When underflow occurs, the operation MUST emit an error and result in a failure
  • Clamping
    • Since clamping does not change the actual value, only the representation of it, clamping MUST occur without emitting an error.
  • Rounding
    • When the coefficient requires more digits then Decimal128 provides, rounding MUST be done without emitting an error, unless it would result in inexact rounding, in which case the operation MUST emit an error and result in a failure.
  • Conversion Syntax
    • Invalid strings MUST emit an error and result in a failure.

It should be noted that the given exponent is a preferred representation. If the value cannot be stored due to the value of the exponent being too large or too small, but can be stored using an alternative representation by clamping and or rounding, a BSON Decimal128 compatible Value Object MUST do so, unless such operation results in an inexact rounding or other underflow or overflow.

Reading from BSON

A BSON type "\x13" MUST be represented by an immutable Value Object by default and MUST NOT be automatically converted into language native numeric type by default. A driver that offers users a way to configure the exact type mapping to and from BSON types MAY allow the BSON Decimal128 type to be converted to the user configured type.

A driver SHOULD provide accessors for this immutable Value Object, which can return a language-specific representation of the Decimal128 value, after converting it into the respective type. For example, Java may choose to provide Decimal128.getBigDecimal().

All drivers MUST provide an accessor for retrieving the value as a string. Drivers MAY provide other accessors, retrieving the value as other types.

Serializing and writing BSON

Drivers MUST provide a way of constructing the Value Object, as the driver representation of the BSON Decimal128 is an immutable Value Object by default.

A driver MUST have a way to construct this Value Object from a string. For example, Java MUST provide a method similar to Decimal128.valueOf("2.000").

A driver that has accessors for different types SHOULD provide a way to construct the Value Object from those types.

Reading from Extended JSON

The Extended JSON representation of Decimal128 is a document with the key $numberDecimal and a value of the Decimal128 as a string. Drivers that support Extended JSON formatting MUST support the $numberDecimal type specifier.

When an Extended JSON $numberDecimal is parsed, its type should be the same as that of a deserialized BSON Decimal128, as described in Reading from BSON.

The Extended JSON $numberDecimal value follows the same stringification rules as defined in From String Representation.

Writing to Extended JSON

The Extended JSON type identifier is $numberDecimal, while the value itself is a string. Drivers that support converting values to Extended JSON MUST be able to convert its Decimal128 value object to Extended JSON.

Converting a Decimal128 Value Object to Extended JSON MUST follow the conversion rules in To String Representation, and other stringification rules as when converting Decimal128 Value Object to a String.

Operator overloading and math on Decimal128 Value Objects

Drivers MUST NOT allow any mathematical operator overloading for the Decimal128 Value Objects. This includes adding two Decimal128 Value Objects and assigning the result to a new object.

If a user wants to perform mathematical operations on Decimal128 Value Objects, the user must explicitly retrieve the native language value representations of the objects and perform the operations on those native representations. The user will then create a new Decimal128 Value Object and optionally overwrite the original Decimal128 Value Object.

From String Representation

For finite numbers, we will use the definition at It has been modified to account for a different NaN representation and whitespace rules and copied here:

Strings which are acceptable for conversion to the abstract representation of
numbers, or which might result from conversion from the abstract representation
to a string, are called numeric strings.

A numeric string is a character string that describes either a finite
number or a special value.
* If it describes a finite number, it includes one or more decimal digits,
  with an optional decimal point. The decimal point may be embedded in the
  digits, or may be prefixed or suffixed to them. The group of digits (and
  optional point) thus constructed may have an optional sign (‘+’ or ‘-’)
  which must come before any digits or decimal point.
* The string thus described may optionally be followed by an ‘E’
  (indicating an exponential part), an optional sign, and an integer
  following the sign that represents a power of ten that is to be applied.
  The ‘E’ may be in uppercase or lowercase.
* If it describes a special value, it is one of the case-independent names
  ‘Infinity’, ‘Inf’, or ‘NaN’ (where the first two represent infinity and
  the second represent NaN). The name may be preceded by an optional sign,
  as for finite numbers.
* No blanks or other whitespace characters are permitted in a numeric string.


          sign           ::=  ’+’ | ’-’
          digit          ::=  ’0’ | ’1’ | ’2’ | ’3’ | ’4’ | ’5’ | ’6’ | ’7’ |
                              ’8’ | ’9’
          indicator      ::=  ’e’ | ’E’
          digits         ::=  digit [digit]...
          decimal-part   ::=  digits ’.’ [digits] | [’.’] digits
          exponent-part  ::=  indicator [sign] digits
          infinity       ::=  ’Infinity’ | ’Inf’
          nan            ::=  ’NaN’
          numeric-value  ::=  decimal-part [exponent-part] | infinity
          numeric-string ::=  [sign] numeric-value | [sign] nan

where the characters in the strings accepted for ‘infinity’ and ‘nan’ may be in
any case.  If an implementation supports the concept of diagnostic information
on NaNs, the numeric strings for NaNs MAY include one or more digits, as shown
above.[3]  These digits encode the diagnostic information in an
implementation-defined manner; however, conversions to and from string for
diagnostic NaNs should be reversible if possible. If an implementation does not
support diagnostic information on NaNs, these digits should be ignored where
necessary. A plain ‘NaN’ is usually the same as ‘NaN0’.

Drivers MAY choose to support signed NaN (sNaN), along with sNaN with
diagnostic information.

Some numeric strings are:
            "0"         -- zero
           "12"         -- a whole number
          "-76"         -- a signed whole number
           "12.70"      -- some decimal places
           "+0.003"     -- a plus sign is allowed, too
          "017."        -- the same as 17
             ".5"       -- the same as 0.5
           "4E+9"       -- exponential notation
            "0.73e-7"   -- exponential notation, negative power
           "Inf"        -- the same as Infinity
           "-infinity"  -- the same as -Infinity
           "NaN"        -- not-a-Number

1. A single period alone or with a sign is not a valid numeric string.
2. A sign alone is not a valid numeric string.
3. Significant (after the decimal point) and insignificant leading zeros
       are permitted.

To String Representation

For finite numbers, we will use the definition at It has been copied here:

The coefficient is first converted to a string in base ten using the characters
0 through 9 with no leading zeros (except if its value is zero, in which case a
single 0 character is used).

Next, the adjusted exponent is calculated; this is the exponent, plus the
number of characters in the converted coefficient, less one. That is,
exponent+(clength-1), where clength is the length of the coefficient in decimal

If the exponent is less than or equal to zero and the adjusted exponent is
greater than or equal to -6, the number will be converted to a character form
without using exponential notation. In this case, if the exponent is zero then
no decimal point is added. Otherwise (the exponent will be negative), a decimal
point will be inserted with the absolute value of the exponent specifying the
number of characters to the right of the decimal point. ‘0’ characters are
added to the left of the converted coefficient as necessary. If no character
precedes the decimal point after this insertion then a conventional ‘0’
character is prefixed.

Otherwise (that is, if the exponent is positive, or the adjusted exponent is
less than -6), the number will be converted to a character form using
exponential notation. In this case, if the converted coefficient has more than
one digit a decimal point is inserted after the first digit. An exponent in
character form is then suffixed to the converted coefficient (perhaps with
inserted decimal point); this comprises the letter ‘E’ followed immediately by
the adjusted exponent converted to a character form. The latter is in base ten,
using the characters 0 through 9 with no leading zeros, always prefixed by a
sign character (‘-’ if the calculated exponent is negative, ‘+’ otherwise).

This corresponds to the following code snippet:

var adjusted_exponent = _exponent + (clength - 1);
if (_exponent > 0 || adjusted_exponent < -6) {
    // exponential notation
} else {
    // character form without using exponential notation

For special numbers such as infinity or the not a number (NaN) variants, the below table is used:

Value String
Positive Infinite Infinity
Negative Infinite -Infinity
Positive NaN NaN
Negative NaN NaN
Signaled NaN NaN
Negative Signaled NaN NaN
NaN with a payload NaN
Signaled NaN with a payload NaN

Finally, there are certain other invalid representations that must be treated as zeros, as per IEEE 754-2008. The tests will verify that each special value has been accounted for.

The server log files as well as the Extended JSON Format for Decimal128 use this format.

Motivation for Change

BSON already contains support for double ("\x01"), but this type is insufficient for certain values that require strict precision and representation, such as money, where it is necessary to perform exact decimal rounding.

The new BSON type is the 128-bit IEEE 754-2008 decimal floating point number, which is specifically designed to cope with these issues.

Design Rationale

For simplicity and consistency between drivers, drivers must not automatically convert this type into a native type by default. This also ensures original data preservation, which is crucial to Decimal128. It is however recommended that drivers offer a way to convert the Value Object to a native type through accessors, and to create a new BSON type from native types. This forces the user to explicitly do the conversion and thus understand the difference between the MongoDB type and possible language precision and representation. Representations via conversions done outside MongoDB are not guaranteed to be identical.

Backwards Compatibility

There should be no backwards compatibility concerns. This specification merely deals with how to encode and decode BSON/Extended JSON Decimal128.

Reference Implementations


See the README for tests.


  • Is it true Decimal128 doesn’t normalize the value?
    • Yes. As a result of non-normalization rules of the Decimal128 data type, precision is represented exactly. For example, ‘2.00’ always remains stored as 200E-2 in Decimal128, and it differs from the representation of ‘2.0’ (20E-1). These two values compare equally, but represent different ideas.
  • How does Decimal128 "2.000" look in the shell?
    • NumberDecimal("2.000")
  • Should a driver avoid sending Decimal128 values to pre-3.4 servers?
    • No
  • Is there a wire version bump or something for Decimal128?
    • No