Unit 4: Types
Learning Outcomes:
After this unit, students should:
 understand the concept of type as a way to interpret the meaning of bits in the memory;
 be able to calculate the number of different possible values that can be represented by a given number of bits;
 understand that different types require a different number of bits for representation;
 be aware that real numbers may not be represented precisely in a computer, and so real numbers should never be used as a type of an integer value;
 be aware that C is a staticallytyped language, in contrast to Python and Javascript, which are dynamically typed;
 be aware that the type for all C variables and functions must be declared;
 be aware that choosing the wrong type could lead to an incorrect implementation of an algorithm.
Bits and Bytes
Recall from Unit 1 that machine code and data manipulated by machine code are all stored as a sequence of binaries, 1s and 0s, in the memory. Each unit of either 1 or 0 is known as a bit. 8 bits form a byte.
Remember from Unit 2 that the value of a variable is stored in a memory location as a sequence of bits. These bits have to be interpreted by the machine code to be given a meaning. Does a sequence of 1s and 0s represent an integer? A pixel of an image? A sound sample in an audio clip? A month? As a programmer, we have to tag the variable with its type, so that the machine code knows how to interpret the sequence of bits. In addition, the type also tells the machine code, how many bits "belong" to this variable. The number of bits of a type is also known as the size of a type.
For instance, consider the following binary sequence stored in memory: 10011111 01101100 00100111 10111000
. If all 32 bits of this binary sequence are interpreted as an integer, it would give the value 111441400. If all 32 bits of this sequence are interpreted as a floating point number, it would give the value 3.1416! If only the first 8 bits of this binary sequence 10011111
are interpreted as an integer, it would give the value 159. You will learn more about how different types are represented in binary in later modules.
The size of a type also determines how many different values a variable of that type can hold. For instance, a type of one bit can only hold two possible values (e.g., 0
or 1
, true
or false
, black
or white
). A type of two bits can hold four values, represented as 00
, 01
, 10
, 11
. In general, a type of \(k\) bits can hold \(2^k\) values.
Integers
To represent integers, a type of 8 bits can represent 256 different values. If the type only represents nonnegative integers (called unsigned
), then it can hold any value between 0 to 255. If it represents both positive and negative integers (called signed
), it can hold any value between 128 to 127. Depending on the needs (how much memory we have, how big is the number we need to represent), programmers have to decide on the size of the type used for a variable in their programs. With 64 bits, a signed integer can store any value between 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to 9,223,372,036,854,775,807. This might look big enough for you  but we can't even fit the results from \(factorial(21)\) here!
Characters
To represent a character (i.e., a symbol representing a letter, number, punctuation, etc), we use 8 bits for English characters. The ASCII standard maps 127 binary sequences to common characters you can type on your keyboard (including 09, AZ, az, all sorts of punctuations: <>?:"{}!@#$%^&*()_+=[]\';/., and special characters like return and escape). The Unicode standard uses up to 32 bits per character, allowing many nonEnglish letter characters (e.g., Emoticons, Braille, Mahjong Tiles) to be represented.
Real Numbers
For real numbers, because we need to represent a huge number of possible values, we normally use 32 bits or 64 bits. In CS1231, you will learn that there are uncountably many possible real numbers. But, no matter how many bits we use, we can only represent a finite number of possible values for real numbers. Here, we run into a limit of digitizing information into 0s and 1s  we can never represent all possible real numbers in a computer! Because of this, programs that manipulate real numbers lead to weird answers (such as 1.1 + 2.2 becomes 3.3000000000000003) and so, we have to take special care when dealing with real numbers when writing programs (not just in C, but in many other languages as well). Hence, if we only expect a variable to hold an integer, we should not choose a type that represents real numbers.
You should have also noticed that in the discussion above, we talk about types that are 8, 16, 32, 64, and 128 bits  all power of twos. We do not have a type of size, say, 41 bits. The reason for this has to do with how memory location is addressed. This will again be explained in CS2100.
Compound Types
In programming, we can represent more complex concepts with compound types (also called composite types or aggregate types) that consist of primitive types such as integers, real numbers, and characters. A sentence, for instance, can be represented as a sequence of characters (called a string). A point, for instance, can be represented by a pair of real numbers \((x,y)\).
It is also possible for a compound type to be made up of different primitive types. For instance, a type that represents a typical address in Singapore consists of a block number (a string), a floor (an integer), a unit number (an integer), and a street address (a string).
Type Declaration
In C, which we will use in CS1010, we have to associate every variable with a type, and once a variable is declared with a type, the type cannot be changed.
This behavior is known as static typing. Some programming languages, such as Javascript and Python, are dynamically typed. The type of a variable may change depending on the value the variable is assigned to.
When we write a function, we have to declare the types of each of the parameters and the return value as well.
Take the function \(mean(L, k)\) as an example. We have said that \(L\) is a list^{1} of integers. So each element in \(L\) should have an integer type (how many bits to use will depend on the range of numbers we want the program to possibly handle and how frugal we are about memory usage). What about \(k\)? \(k\) refers to the number of elements in \(L\), so it has to be an integer. As for the value returned by \(mean(L, k)\), even when the inputs are all integers (and thus, the sum is an integer), the mean value can be a real number. So we should choose a type that represents a real number for the return value.
Importance of Type
Choosing the wrong type to represent a variable can lead to buggy code. Suppose we say that \(mean(L, k)\) returns an integer, then when we call \(mean\) on the input 1 2 3 4
, we will get 2
as the answer, instead of 2.5
as it should.

We have not talked about how to represent a list yet. I will do that in a later unit. ↩