It’s often taken for granted that we can expand a real number in a base of our choosing. For example, $0.1$, can be written in base-2 as:

where $a_0=a_1=1$, $a_2=a_3=0$, etc.

The bases, $b=2,8,16$ are typical in computing. For $b=10$, such an expansion corresponds with the usual base-10 decimal expansion of a number. However, we would like to say, more generally, that we can expand any given real number in any integer base, $b > 1$.

This is what we’ll show.

Theorem Suppose $x \in (0,\infty)$, $b \in \{2, 3, \ldots \}$. Then, there exist both an integer, $e$, and a sequence $( a_n )_{n=0}^\infty$ with $a_n \in \{0,1,\ldots,b-1\}$ such that

Proof The proof is constructive. Set


Loosely, the values arise by successively solving for $a_n$ in the partial sums, and then taking the floor of the resulting value. Denote the partial sums, $s_n = b^e\sum_{k=0}^n a_k b^{-k}$. The proof is completed in 3 parts, by proving

  1. $0 \leq a_n < b$ for all $n$
  2. $x-s_n \geq 0$ for all $n$.
  3. $s_n \to x$.

Before proceeding, note that the inequalties $t-1 < \lfloor t \rfloor \leq t$ hold for all real $t$. These two inequalities will be used extensively.

Proof of 1.

We proceed by induction.

By the inequalities mentioned above, we have $\log_b(x)-1 < e \leq \log_b(x)$ so that $0 \leq a_0 < b$ follows.

Next, supposing that $0 \leq a_n < b$, we have

So that, $a_{n+1} > -1$ or $a_{n+1} \geq 0$. Similarly,

That is, $a_{n+1} < b$. Thus, $0 \leq a_n < b$ for all $n \geq 0$.

Proof of 2.

Observe that for arbitrary $n$,

Proof of 3.

Now we show that $s_n \to x$.

First, fix $\epsilon > 0$. Then, by choosing $n$ such that $b^{e-n} < \epsilon$, we have

Rearranging the final inequality, we have $x-s_n < \epsilon$.

This completes the proof.

Testing the construction numerically

Because the proof is constructive it directly translates to an algorithm for generating the base-b expansion of a given number. Here’s some code to do it. Try it out:

import base_b_expansion as bb

# Returns the value of the truncated sum, and the string representation.
print bb.expand_base_b(x=13.625, b=2, N=10)
=> (13.625, '1101.1010000') 

print bb.expand_base_b(x=0.1, b=2, N=10)
=> (0.0999755859375, '0.00011001100110')

print bb.expand_base_b(x=2**(0.5), b=3, N=13)
=> (1.4142134310299734, '1.1020112212220')