Signed Binary

Signed Binary Notation

  • It is not possible in PURE binary to signify whether a number is positive or negative.
  • This of course would present a problem in any but the simplest of arithmetic.
  • There are a number of ways in which binary numbers can represent both positive and negative values, 8 bit systems all use one bit of the byte to represent either + or − and the remaining 7 bits to give the value.

One of the simplest of these systems is SIGNED BINARY, also often called ‘Sign and Magnitude’, which exists in several similar versions, but is commonly an 8 bit system that uses the most significant bit (MSB) to indicate a positive or a negative value. By convention, a 0 in this position indicates that the number given by the remaining 7 bits is positive, and a most significant bit of 1 indicates that the number is negative. A comparison between signed binary, pure binary and decimal numbers is shown in Table 1.

Table 1
Binary Decimal Signed Binary
11111111 255 −127
11111110 254 −126
11111101 253 −125
11111100 252 −124
10000011 131 −3
10000010 130 −2
10000001 129 −1
10000000 128 −0
01111111 127 +127  
01111111 126 +126
01111101 125 +125
01111100 124 +124
00000011 3 +3
00000010 2 +2
00000001 1 +1
00000000 0 +0
  • Notice that in the signed binary representation of positive numbers between +010 and +12710, all the positive values are just the same as in pure binary.
  • However the pure binary values equivalents of +12810 to +25510 are now considered to represent negative values −0 to −
  • This also means that 010 can be represented by 000000002 (which is also 0 in pure binary and in decimal) and by 100000002 (which is equivalent to 128 in pure binary and in decimal).

Signed Binary Arithmetic

  • Because the signed binary system now contains both positive and negative values, calculation performed with signed binary arithmetic should be more flexible.
  • Subtraction now becomes possible without the problems of borrow and payback described in Number Systems.
  • However there are still problems.

Figure 1.Adding Positive Numbers in Signed Binary

In Fig.1,

  • Two positive (msb = 0) numbers are added and the correct answer is obtained.
  • This is really no different to adding two numbers in pure binary.

Figure 2.Adding Positive & Negative Numbers in Signed Binary

In Fig. 2, however,

  • The negative number −5 is added to +7, the same action in fact as SUBTRACTING 5 from 7, which means that subtraction should be possible by merely adding a negative number to a positive number.
  • Although this principle works in the decimal version the result using signed binary is 100011002 or −1210 which of course is wrong, the result of 7 − 5 should be +2.
  • Although signed binary can represent positive and negative numbers, if it is used for calculations, some special action would need to be taken, depending on the sign of the numbers used, and how the two values for 0 are handled, to obtain the correct result.
  • Whilst signed binary does solve the problem of REPRESENTING positive and negative numbers in binary, and to some extent carrying out binary arithmetic, there are better sign and magnitude systems for performing binary arithmetic.
  • These systems are the ONES COMPLEMENT and TWOS COMPLEMENT systems.

Ones and Twos Complement
Ones Complement

  • The complement (or opposite) of +5 is − When representing positive and negative numbers in 8-bit ones complement binary form, the positive numbers are the same as in signed binary notation i.e. the numbers 0 to +127 are represented as 000000002 to 011111112.
  • However, the complement of these numbers, that is their negative counterparts from −128 to −1, are represented by ‘complementing’ each 1 bit of the positive binary number to 0 and each 0 to 1.

Figure 3.Adding Positive & Negative Numbers in Ones Complement

Fig. 3, shows the result of adding −4 to +6, using ones complement, this is the same as subtracting +4 from +6, so it is crucial to arithmetic.
The result, 000000012 is 110 instead of 210.
This is better than subtraction in signed binary, but it is still not correct. The result should be +210 but the result is +1 (notice that there has also been a carry into the none existent 9th bit).

Figure 4.Adding Two Negative Numbers in Ones Complement

Fig. 4 shows another example, this time adding two negative numbers −4 and −3.

  • Because both numbers are negative, they are first converted to ones complement notation.
  • +410 is 000001002 in pure 8 bit binary, so complementing gives 11111011.This is −410 in ones complement notation.
  • +3 is 0000001110 in pure 8 bit binary, so complementing gives 11111100. This is −310 in ones complement notation. The result of 111101112 is in its complemented form so the 7 bits after the sign bit (1110111), should be re-complemented and read as 0001000, which gives the value 810.
  • As the most significant bit (msb) of the result is 1 the result must be negative, which is correct, but the remaining seven bits give the value of − This is still wrong by 1, it should be −7.

End Around Carry

  • There is a way to correct this however.
  • Whenever the ones complement system handles negative numbers, the result is 1 less than it should be, e.g. 1 instead of 2 and −8 instead of −7, but another thing that happens in negative number ones complement calculations is that a carry is ‘left over’ after the most significant bits are added.
  • Instead of just disregarding this carry bit, it can be added to the least significant bit of the result to correct the value.
  • This process is called ‘end around carry’ and corrects for the result −1 effect of the ones complement system.
  • There are however, still problems with both ones complement and signed binary notation. The ones complement system still has two ways of writing 010 (000000002 = +0 and 111111112 = −02).
  • Additionally there is a problem with the way positive and negative numbers are written. In any number system, the positive and negative versions of the same number should add to produce zero.
  • As can be seen from Table 2, adding +45 and −45 in decimal produces a result of zero, but this is not the case in either signed binary or ones complement.
Table 2
Decimal Signed Binary Ones Complement
+45 00101101 00101101
−45 10101101 11010010
Binary Sum 11011010 11111111
Decimal Sum 010 −9010 −12710

This is not good enough, however there is a system that overcomes this difficulty and allows correct operation using both positive and negative numbers. This is the Twos Complement system.
Twos Complement Notation

  • Twos complement notation solves the problem of the relationship between positive and negative numbers, and achieves accurate results in subtractions.
  • To perform binary subtraction the twos complement system uses the technique of complementing the number to be subtracted.
  • In the ones complement system this produced a result that was 1 less than the correct answer, but this could be corrected by using the ‘end around carry’ system.
  • This still left the problem that positive and negative versions of the same number did not produce zero when added together.
  • The twos complement system overcomes both of these problems by simply adding one to the ones complement version of the number before addition takes place.
  • The process of producing a negative number in Twos Complement Notation is illustrated in Table 3.
Table 3
Producing a Twos Complement Negative Number
+5 in 8-bit binary (or 8-bit Signed Binary) is 00000101
Complementing to produce the Ones Complement 11111010
With 1 added 1
So -5 in Twos Complement is 11111011

This version of −5 now, not only gives the correct answer when used in subtractions but is also the additive inverse of +5 i.e. when added to +5 produces the correct result of 0, as shown in Fig.5

Figure 5.Adding a Number to its Twos Complement Produces Zero

Note that in twos complement the (1) carry from the most significant bit is diskarded as there is no need for the ‘end around carry’ fix.

  • With numbers electronically stored in their twos complement form, subtractions can be carried out more easily (and faster) as the microprocessor has simply to add two numbers together using nearly the same circuitry as is used for addition.
  • 6 − 2 = 4 is the same as (+6) + (−2) = 4

Figure 6.Adding Positive Numbers in Twos Complement

Fig 6 shows an example of addition using 8 bit twos complement notation. When adding two positive numbers, their sign bits (msb) will both be 0, so the numbers are written and added as a pure 8-bit binary addition.
Twos Complement Subtraction

Figure 7.Subtracting a Positive Number from a Larger Positive Number

  • 7 shows the simplest case of twos complement subtraction where one positive number (the subtrahend) is subtracted from a larger positive number (the minuend).
  • In this case the minuend is 1710 and the subtrahend is 1010.
  • Because the minuend is a positive number its sign bit (msb) is 0 and so it can be written as a pure 8 bit binary number.
  • The subtrahend is to be subtracted from the minuend and so needs to be complemented (simple ones complement) and 1 added to the least significant bit (lsb) to complete the twos complement and turn +10 into −
  • When these three lines of digits, and any carry 1 bits are added, remembering that in  twos complement, any carry from the most significant bit is diskarded. The answer (the difference between 17 and 10) is 000001112 = 710, which is correct. Therefore the twos complement method has provided correct subtraction by using only addition and complementing, both operations that can be simply accomplished by digital electronic circuits.

Subtraction with a negative result
Some subtractions will of course produce an answer with a negative value.

Figure 8.Subtraction Producing a Negative Result

In Fig. 8 the result of subtracting 17 from 10 should be −710 but the twos complement answer of 111110012 certainly doesn’t look like −710.
However the sign bit is indicating correctly that the answer is negative, so in this case the 7 bits indicating the value of the negative answer need to be ‘twos complemented’ once more to see the answer in a recognisable form.
When the 7 value bits are complemented and 1 is added to the least significant bit however, like magic, the answer of 100001112 appears, which confirms that the original answer was in fact −7 in 8 bit twos complement form.
There are some cases where even twos complement will give a wrong answer. In fact there are four conditions where a wrong answer may crop up:

  1. When adding large positive numbers.
  2. When adding large negative numbers.
  3. When subtracting a large negative number from a large positive number.
  4. When subtracting a large positive number from a large negative number.

The problem seems to be with the word ‘large’.  What is large depends on the size of the digital word the microprocessor uses for calculation.

Table 4
Decimal 8-bit Twos Complement
+127 01111111 +
+126 01111110
+125 01111101
+2 00000010
+1 00000001
0 00000000
-1 11111111
-2 11111110
-126 10000010
-127 10000001
-128 10000000

As shown in Table 4, if the microprocessor uses an 8-bit word, the largest positive number that can appear in the problem OR THE RESULT is +12710 and the largest negative number will be -12810. The range of positive values appears to be 1 less than the negative range because 0 is a positive number in twos complement and has only one occurrence (000000002) in the whole With a 16-bit word length the largest positive and negative numbers will be +3276710 and -3276810, but there is still a limit to the largest number that can appear in a single calculation.
Overflow Problems.

  • Steps can be taken to accommodate large numbers, by breaking a long binary word down into byte sized sections and carrying out several separate calculations before assembling the final answer.
  • However this doesn’t solve all the cases where errors can occur.
  • A typical overflow problem that can happen even with single byte numbers is illustrated in Fig. 9.

Figure 9.Carry Overflows into Sign Bit

  • In this example, the two numbers to be added (11510 and 9110) should give a sum of 20610 and converting 110011102 to decimal looks like the correct answer (20610), but remember that in the 8 bit twos complement system the most significant bit is the sign of the number, therefore the answer appears to be a negative value and reading just the lower 7 bits gives 10011102 or -7810.
  • Although twos complement negative answers are not easy to read, this is clearly wrong, as the result of adding two positive numbers must give a positive answer.
  • According to the information in Fig 8, as the answer is negative, complementing the lower 7 bits of 110011102 and adding 1 should reveal the value of the correct answer, but carrying out the complement+1 on these bits and leaving the msb unchanged gives 101100102 which is −5010.
  • The 8 bit twos complement notation has not worked here because adding 115 + 91 gives a total greater than +127, the largest value that can be held in 8-bit twos complement notation.
  • What has happened is that an overflow has occured, due to a 1 being carried from bit 6 to bit 7 (the most significant bit, which is of course the sign bit), this changes the sign of the answer.
  • Additionally it changes the value of the answer by 12810 because that would be the value of the msb in pure binary.
  • So the original answer of 7810 has ‘lost’ 12810 to the sign bit.
  • The addition would have been correct if the sign bit had been part of the value, however the calculation was done in twos complement notation and the sign bit is not part of the value.
  • Of course in real electronic calculations, a single byte overflow situation does not usually cause a problem; computers and calculators can fortunately deal with larger numbers than 12710. They achieve this because the microprocessors used are programmed to carry out the calculation in a number of steps, and although each step must still be carried out in a register having a set word length, e.g. 8 bits, 16 bits etc. corrective action can also be taken if an overflow situation is detected at any stage.

Microprocessors deal with this problem by using a special register called a status register, flag register or conditions code register, which automatically flags up any problem such as an overflow or a change of sign that occurs. It also provides other information useful to the programmer, so that whatever problem occurs; corrective action can be taken by software, or in many cases by firmware permanently embedded within the microprocessor to deal with a range of math problems.
Whatever word length the microprocessor is designed to handle however, there must always be a limit to the word length, and so the programmer must be aware of the danger of errors similar to that described in Fig. 9.

Figure 10.Typical 8-bit Flag Register

A typical flag register is illustrated in Fig. 10 and consists of a single 8-bit storage register located within the microprocessor, in which some bits may be  set  by  software  to  control  the  actions  of  the microprocessor, and some bits are set automatically by the results of arithmetic operations within the microprocessor.
Typical flags for an 8-bit microprocessor are listed below:
Bit 0 (C) (set by arithmetic result) = 1 Carry has been created from result msb. Bit 1 (Z) (set by arithmetic result) = 1 Calculation resulted in 0.
Bit 2 (I) (set by software) 1 = Interrupt disable (Prevents software interrupts). Bit 3 (D) (set by software) 1 = Decimal mode (Calculations are in BCD).
Bit 4 (B) (set by software) 1 = Break (Stops software execution). Bit 5 (X) Not used on this particular microprocessor.
Bit 6 (V) (set by arithmetic result) = 1 Overflow has occurred (result too big for 8 bits). Bit 7 (N) (set by arithmetic result) = 1 Negative result (msb of result is 1).
It seems therefore, that the only math that microprocessors can do is to add together two numbers of a limited value, and to complement binary numbers. Well at a basic level this is true, however there are some additional tricks they can perform, such as shifting all the bits in a binary word left or right, as a partial aid to multiplication or division. However anything more complex must be done by software.
Subtraction and Division

  • Subtraction can be achieved by adding positive and negative numbers as described above, and multiplication in its simplest form can be achieved by adding a number to itself a number of times, for example, starting with a total of 0, if 5 is added to the total three times the new total will be fifteen (or 5 x 3).
  • Division can also be accomplished by repeatedly subtracting (using add) the divisor from the number to be divided until the remainder is zero, or less than the divisor.
  • Counting the number of subtractions then gives the result, for example if 3 (the divisor) is repeatedly subtracted from 15, after 5 subtractions the remainder will be zero and the count will be 5, indicating that 15 divided by 3 is exactly 5.
  • There are more efficient methods for carrying out subtraction and division using software, or extra features within some microprocessors and/or the use of embedded math’s firmware.

1.Bunty B. Bommera
2.Dakshata U. Kamble

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