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binary coded decimal

Contributor(s): Stan Gibilisco

Binary coded decimal (BCD) is a system of writing numerals that assigns a four-digit binary code to each digit 0 through 9 in a decimal (base-10) numeral. The four-bit BCD code for any particular single base-10 digit is its representation in binary notation, as follows:

0 = 0000
1 = 0001
2 = 0010
3 = 0011
4 = 0100
5 = 0101
6 = 0110
7 = 0111
8 = 1000
9 = 1001

Numbers larger than 9, having two or more digits in the decimal system, are expressed digit by digit. For example, the BCD rendition of the base-10 number 1895 is

0001 1000 1001 0101

The binary equivalents of 1, 8, 9, and 5, always in a four-digit format, go from left to right.

The BCD representation of a number is not the same, in general, as its simple binary representation. In binary form, for example, the decimal quantity 1895 appears as

11101100111

Other bit patterns are sometimes used in BCD format to represent special characters relevant to a particular system, such as sign (positive or negative), error condition, or overflow condition.

The BCD system offers relative ease of conversion between machine-readable and human-readable numerals. As compared to the simple binary system, however, BCD increases the circuit complexity. The BCD system is not as widely used today as it was a few decades ago, although some systems still employ BCD in financial applications.

This was last updated in August 2012

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