Calculating Powers in Unity

For this challenge, I thought it would be fun to share a few different ways of calculating 2^24 in Unity and the reasons why you might choose each option.

So, here are 4 potential options - Some good, others not so much. :

//1. The wrong way
//2. The long way
Debug.Log(2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2);
//3. The usual way
Debug.Log(UnityEngine.Mathf.Pow(2, 24));

//4. The precise way
Debug.Log(System.Math.Pow(2, 24));

And these produce the following results…

So what’s going on?

  1. The wrong way:
    It’s quite common to use the caret (^) when writing super-script in plain text but in C# (and other languages) the caret is used as a binary XOR operator. In this example it basically looks at the binary representation of the two numbers and tells you where they differ, so so 00010 ^ 11000 = 11010, or 26. So this is definitely not the way to go.

  2. The long way:
    This seems like a pretty ridiculous way of doing it but can have it’s advantages under certain conditions.
    For 2^24 the readability and speed will both suffer, but for smaller exponents it can sometimes be a better option to just multiply them out and avoid the POW functions.

  3. The usual way:
    Ok, this how we usually do it but what’s with the weird answer. In this case the answer is being converted into scientific notation. Luckily for us there is no loss of precision in this example (even though it looks like there might be), so we could cast this back to an integer and be just fine.

  4. The precise way:
    Since UnityEngine.Mathf.Pow only accepts floats, we can run into precision problems with larger numbers. When that happens we can always fall back on the trusty System.Math.Pow, which accepts doubles. Since doubles are twice as large as floats, it can give us more precision at the expense of using more memory.

  5. The DIY way:
    Wait, I said 4 examples. Yeah… well… you read this far so here’s a bonus!
    You could also write your own Pow function if you were bored enough.
    There are a few ways of doing it but here’s one example. Just note that it’s almost always better to use the built in functions since they’ve usually been tested and optimised far better than something you write yourself (at least in my case!)

double Pow (double a, double b) {
	double result = 1;
	for (int i = 0; i < b; i++) {
		result *= a;
	return result;

So there you have it. I’m almost certainly missing some other methods, but hopefully this covers the majority of them. Thanks for reading!


OK - interesting
I was wondering why you were defaulting your result to 1 if it’s to the power 0

and that’s because it’s the right answer apparently!!

I kinda expected 0 to be the answer especially 0 to power 0…

I guess Ben needs to expand this video (if he or a colleague is listening) as that wasn’t covered.

When dealing with math operations it apparently helps to check into a couple of things to cover all the bases (rules), as there seem to be some singularities like this.

So look up things like “properties” and “identity” of multiplication, addition, powers, etc., and you’ll see some of these quirks explained.


“When you raise a number to a zero power you’ll always get 1.”

So 0^0 is a bit of a weird one.

On the one hand 0^x is always 0, on the other x^0 is always 1. So technically, the answer is undefined.
However, it’s generally accepted that 0^0 = 1 for most practical purposes.
There are many reasons for this and equally many ways to justify that choice. Needless to say that going through all of them would take some time. Just know that pretty much every calculator and maths API will generally give you the answer of 1.

It’s also worth mentioning that the code snippet is just a short example for reference. It’s formatted for readability rather than being bullet proof to all the weird and wonderful things you might choose to throw at it. :slight_smile:

Edit: I’d also say that covering 0^0=1 is probably a little out of scope of the original video, as were negative exponents. If you can make one of the live calls with Ben then it might be a good topic of discussion for anyone interested.


All interesting but I would say that Ben should mention the quirk (and possibly negatives) so we are aware of it even if he doesn’t do into fine detail as to why…

Though I probably knew this in my school days I’ve certainly forgotten things over the years in between…

I see the current video on indices as more of a brief introduction to the topic. There will certainly be additional ones coming that cover all the questions you still have.

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Debug.Log(2 << (24-1))
Debug.Log(1 << 24);

However this only works when your base is 2.

Have to also be careful when bit shifting not to overflow or attempt it with the wrong numeric type. Especially in the case of trying to emulate raising to the power because you’ll start dealing with large numbers very quickly and overflows can become a real risk.

Bit-shifting is another way to go but as @topdog mentioned, you can run into some issues when doing it that way.
For me, the biggest reason not to do it that way would be because it’s not particularly readable and isn’t immediately clear that you’re trying to calculated powers.

My calculator is special. :wink:


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That’s Interesting. I just tested it on a few different calculators and both my Casio’s return an error but all the others return 1 - lucky I covered myself by saying “pretty much every…” :wink:

I guess Casio just didn’t want to take a stand on whether to calculate x^0 or 0^x :slight_smile:
Either that or there’s an option in there somewhere and you have to explicitly tell it which one you want.

I’d say Texas Instruments is on par with Casio in terms of popularity but the battery died on mine when I went to test it. :frowning: If anyone else has one they can test I’d be interested in the result.

In Germany, we mainly use Casios, I think.

I just posted the picture to point out that 0^0 is actually undefined. While it might be widely accepted to define 0^0 = 1, one still has to test 0^0 on the respective device or log the value of 0^0 into one’s console.

Yep, 0^0 is technically undefined, as I mentioned in that original response. As you say though, it’s always worth double checking things like this on your instrument of choice to see what answer it will actually give you, especially when it can one of several valid answers.

Since I like shaders, I’ve just tested the value of 0^0 in HLSL/Cg in the Unity editor.

fixed4 col = tex2D(_MainTex, i.uv);
col.rgb = pow(0, 0);
return col;



White is (1, 1, 1, 1).

Interestingly, the HLSL API says:

Depends on the particular graphics processor
0 or NAN

In OpenGL, 0^0 is undefined.

So 0 == 0 && y == 0 is definitely a case where I would add a restriction in my shader code no matter what the (current) output might be.

And this is also a good example of why it is important to explicitely define something that is actually undefined. I was not able to find any information on 0^0 in the Unity API regarding Cg.

That’s also very interesting. I’m not much for HLSL, but I’m currently trying to learn it (specifically compute shaders).

Testing in Unity, C#, C++, Java, and JavaScript I get a return value of 1 for each. I’m guessing that they all share a common implementation (similar my example in the OP), which sets a default value, whereas HLSL doesn’t. Probably because GPUs don’t particularly like loops and branching statements.

Yet more reasons to always check the docs! :slight_smile:

Great answer, Gary! Thanks for that, that was interesting.

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This is my calculation:

And this is my result:


Anyone could tell my where i could find the ue4 forum? I am lost. sry for that.

Neat! I especially appreciate the shader and the ‘roll-your-own-pow’ code, very cool.

No shocks here, but I went with something a little interactive in the Inspector…

public int f = 0;
public int p = 0;
public int result;

void Update()
    result = (int)System.Math.Pow(f, p);
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@dajhoony … I had the same idea … :wink: