How to convert value from scientific notation to decimal in shell? (preferred C shell)

Also I'd want to convert it from e-12 to e-9 and then shell

42.53e-12 to 0.04253. I have to do this for a list.

  • 42.53e-12 can not be presented as 0.04253. Also, this "to do this for a list" requires detailed description/sample Feb 11, 2018 at 21:32

4 Answers 4


printf will do this for you, from shell.

 $ FOO=42.53e-12
 $ BAR=$(printf "%.14f" $FOO)
 $ echo $BAR

In ancient+arcane C-shell, this would be.

$ set FOO=42.53e-12
$ set BAR=`printf "%.14f" $FOO`
$ echo $BAR


Many shells (specially ancient+arcane csh) don't understand floating point arithmetic.

In most shells there is a builtin printf which understands "scientific format".

$ printf '%5.0f\n' '1e3'

But all printf could not do math:

$ printf '%5.0f\n' '1e3+1e3'
printf: ‘1e3+1e3’: value not completely converted

There is a workaround in two steps for csh. - First
Convert the number to a decimal of less than 18 digits (for a 53 bit significant of a 64 bit float)[a]:

    % printf "%.18f\n" "42.53e-12"
  • Second
    Multiply by 1e3 (as you requested) and print again:

    % printf '%.15f\n' "`printf "%.18f" "42.53e-12"`e3"

Of course, printf in csh is an external utility with its own float size (64 bit?) and may be different for a different OS.

Math tools.

To do math (other than the shell) it is natural to think of bc, but bc has its own limitations (doesn't understand the e as exponent, it has to be converted to 10^). Read this.

But awk could do it:

% echo 42.53e-12 | awk '{printf("%.15f\n", $1*1e3)}'

Don't expect more than 15 correct digits as awk use a 53 bit significant. To have more, you need the GNU version of awk with the arbitrary precision module compiled in.

% echo 42.53e-12 | awk -M -v PREC=134 '{printf("%.40g\n", $1*1e3)}'

That is 134 binary bits for (up to) 40 decimal digits. As a decimal:

% echo 42.53e-12 | awk -M -v PREC=134 '{printf("%.40f\n", $1*1e3)}'


In your question, you state:

I have to do this for a list.

But give no details of what kind of list it is. If the list is inside a file (not as a shell variable) you need nothing from csh (or any other shell) except to execute this:

% awk '{printf("%.15f\n", $1*1e3)}' <file

The same precision limitations as above still apply.

[a] Actually, to be technically exact, you should limit the number of digits with the %g printf format first, so the pedantically correct solution is a three level transformation.

In any reasonable shell (ksh,bash,zsh) this will work:

$ bash -c 'printf "%.15f\n" "$(printf "%.18f" "$( printf "%.18g" "42.53e-12")" )e3"'

But quoting a double ` ` is really awkward in csh, and csh use set to assign to vars. In short, this will work for csh:

$ csh -c 'set a=`printf "%.18g" "42.53e-12"`; set a=`printf "%.18f" "$a"`; printf "%.18f\n" "${a}e3"'

But, I really, really! think that you should avoid csh.


You may try the following:

echo "3.0000000000e+02" | awk '{printf("%d",$0);}'

or if you expect to have decimals

echo ""3.676361000e+02" | awk '{printf("%0.2f",$0);}'

Might not be the best solution but I managed to do it with a little hack. You can do something like this -

base=$(echo $scientific | cut -d 'e' -f1)
exp=$(($(echo $scientific | cut -d 'e' -f2)*1))
converted=$(bc -l <<< "$base*(10^$exp)")
>> .00000000004253000000

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