I am using shell scripting and I am using the following expression:

A=`echo "(( (($a / $b) ^ 0.3) -1 ))" |bc -l`

I want to have a real number as an exponent. I noticed that If I place 0.3, it rounds off to an integer and takes the power of zero. Similarly if I use 5.5 or 5.9 in place of 0.3 in the above expression, I get the same answer.

How do I calculate the power of a number with the exponent being a real number and not an integer

  • Do you get a non-zero scale in exponent error? if so, it's a limitation of bc I think: see for example Using fractional exponent with bc – steeldriver Jan 30 '16 at 0:05
  • It just uses the integer value and not the real number. with 5.5 it will take the exponent of 5. Similarly with 0.3 it will take the exponent of 0 – Syed Moez Jan 30 '16 at 0:09
  • 1
    You could try A=`echo "( e(0.3 * l($a / $b)) -1 )" | bc -l` – steeldriver Jan 30 '16 at 0:17

Why can't you use awk or perl one-liner to handle it?

echo "$a $b" | awk '{ print ((($1/$2)^0.3) -1); }'

You cannot directly use the ^ operator to raise to a non-integer exponent, however, you can use the identity

ab = eln(a) × b

with e being the base of the natural logarithm. bc, when called with the -l option, has the functions e and l to compute base-e exponentiation and the natural logarithm respectively, so in order to compute a^b you just write e(l(a)*b).

For example, for 20.5 (square root of 2):

$ echo 'e(l(2)*0.5)' | bc -l

I'm afraid you can't use bc for that. It doesn't support floating point exponents. As explained in man bc:

expr ^ expr

The result of the expression is the value of the first raised to the second. The second expression must be an integer. [ ... ]

So, you'll have to use something else such as awk:

awk -va="$a" -vb="$b" 'BEGIN{print ((a/b)^0.3)-1}'

or, as suggested by Dennis Jacob:

echo "$a $b" | awk '{print ((($1/$2)^0.3) -1);}'

Or perl:

perl -le 'print ((($ARGV[0]/$ARGV[1])**0.3)-1)' "$a" "$b"


echo "$a $b" | perl -lane 'print ((($F[0]/$F[1])**0.3) -1)'

You can use r instead of bc:

A=$(echo "x=( ( ($a / $b) ** .3 ) -1 );print (x)" | r)

but of course more programming languages can solve this.

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