In the binary system, all numbers larger than one require more digits to write than they would in the decimal system. The number two is written "10" in binary; the number six requires three digits in binary, "110", and the number 999 (nine-hundred ninety-nine) requires ten digits in binary, "1111100111". This extra length makes binary somewhat cumbersome for humans, but the binary system is used internally by virtually all modern computers, owing to its relatively straightforward implementation in electronic circuitry.

The first known description of a binary numeral system was made by Pingala in his Chhandah-shastra, placed variously in the 5th century BC or the 2nd century BC. Pingala described the binary numeral system in connection with the listing of Vedic meters with short or long syllables. According to one Indian tradition, Pingala was the younger brother of the great grammarian Panini. The modern binary number system was first documented by Gottfried Leibniz. Pingala's system begins with the value one, while Leibniz' begins with zero; the modern binary numeral system begins with zero.

A binary number can be represented by any sequence of bits (binary digits), which in turn may be represented by any mechanism capable of being in two mutually exclusive states. The following sequences of symbols could all be interpreted as binary numbers representing different values:

11010011 on off off on off on - | - | | - | - - | - | o x o o x o o x N Y N N Y N Y Y YThe numeric value represented in each case is dependent upon the value assigned to each symbol. In a computer, the numeric values may be represented by two different voltages; on a magnetic disk, magnetic polarities may be used. A "positive", "yes", or "on" state is not necessarily equivalent to the numerical value of one; it depends on the architecture in use.

In keeping with customary representation of numerals using arabic numerals, binary numbers are commonly written using the symbols **0** and **1**. When written, binary numerals are often subscripted or suffixed in order to indicate their base, or radix. The following notations are equivalent:

- 100101 binary (explicit statement of format)
- 100101b (a suffix indicating binary format)
- 100101
_{2}(a subscript indicating base-2 notation)

When the symbols for the first digit are exhausted, the next-higher digit (to the left) is incremented, and counting starts over at 0. In decimal, counting proceeds like so:

- 00, 01, 02, ... 07, 08, 09 (rightmost digit starts over, and the 0 is incremented)
**1**0, 11, 12, ... 17, 18, 19 (rightmost digit starts over, and the 1 is incremented)**2**0, 21, 22, ...

- 000, 001 (rightmost digit starts over, and the second 0 is incremented)
- 0
**1**0, 011 (middle and rightmost digits start over, and the first 0 is incremented) **1**00, 101 (rightmost digit starts over again, middle 0 is incremented)- 1
**1**0, 111...

Arithmetic in binary is much like arithmetic in other numeral systems. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division can be performed on binary numerals. The simplest arithmetic operation in binary is addition. Adding two single-digit binary numbers is relatively simple:

- 0 + 0 = 0
- 0 + 1 = 1
- 1 + 0 = 1
- 1 + 1 = 10 (the 1 is carried)

- 5 + 5 = 10
- 7 + 9 = 16

1 1 1 1 (carry) 0 1 1 0 1 + 1 0 1 1 1 ------------- = 1 0 0 1 0 0Starting in the rightmost column, 1 + 1 = 10. The 1 is carried to the left, and the 0 is written at the bottom of the rightmost column. The second column from the right is added: 1 + 0 + 1 = 10 again; the 1 is carried, and 0 is written at the bottom. The third column: 1 + 1 + 1 = 11. This time, a 1 is carried, and a 1 is written in the bottom row. Proceeding like this gives the final answer 100100.

Subtraction works in much the same way:

- 0 - 0 = 0
- 0 - 1 = 1 (with borrow)
- 1 - 0 = 1
- 1 - 1 = 0

Binary multiplication and division are also similar to their decimal counterparts, and in some respects are considerably simpler to perform by hand. For additional information, see Binary arithmetic.

Though not directly related to the numerical interpretation of binary symbols, sequences of bits may be manipulated using Boolean logical operators. When a string of binary symbols are manipulated in this way, it is called a bitwise operation; the logical operators AND, OR, and XOR may be performed on corresponding bits in two binary numerals provided as input. The logical NOT operation may be performed on individual bits in a single binary numeral provided as input. Sometimes, such operations may be used as arithmetic short-cuts, and may have other computational benefits as well. See Bitwise operation.

Written binary numbers often use the symbols **0** and **1**. By way of comparison, the decimal numeral system uses the symbols 0 through 9. In either numeral system, digits in successively lower, or less significant, positions represent successively smaller powers of the radix. The starting exponent is one less than the number of digits in the number. For a three-digit number, we would start with an exponent of two. In the decimal system, the radix is 10, so the left-most digit of a three-digit number represents the 10^{2} (hundreds) position. Consider:

**352**decimal is equal to:**3**times 10^{2}(3 × 100 =**300**) plus**5**times 10^{1}(5 × 10 =**50**) plus**2**times 10^{0}(2 × 1 =**2**)

**10110**binary is equal to**1**times 2^{4}(1 × 16 =**16**) plus**0**times 2^{3}(0 × 8 =**0**) plus**1**times 2^{2}(1 × 4 =**4**) plus**1**times 2^{1}(1 × 2 =**2**) plus**0**times 2^{0}(0 × 1 =**0**)

The procedure for converting from decimal into binary is somewhat different. To convert from an integer decimal numeral to its binary equivalent, divide the number by two and place the remainder in the ones-place. Divide the result by two and place the remainder in the next place to the left. Continue until the result is zero.

An example:

Operation | Remainder |
---|---|

118/2 = 59 | 0 |

59/2 = 29 | 1 |

29/2 = 14 | 1 |

14/2 = 7 | 0 |

7/2 = 3 | 1 |

3/2 = 1 | 1 |

1/2 = 0 | 1 |

Reading the sequence of remainders from the bottom up gives the binary numeral 1110110.

Binary may be converted to and from hexadecimal somewhat more easily. This is due to the fact that the radix of the hexadecimal system (16) is a power of the radix of the binary system (2). More specifically, 16 = 2^{4}, so it takes exactly 4 digits of binary to represent one digit of hexadecimal.

The following table shows each 4-digit binary sequence along with the equivalent hexadecimal digit:

Binary | Hexadecimal |
---|---|

0000 | 0 |

0001 | 1 |

0010 | 2 |

0011 | 3 |

0100 | 4 |

0101 | 5 |

0110 | 6 |

0111 | 7 |

1000 | 8 |

1001 | 9 |

1010 | A |

1011 | B |

1100 | C |

1101 | D |

1110 | E |

1111 | F |

To convert a hexadecimal number into its binary equivalent, simply substitute the corresponding binary digits:

- 3A hexadecimal = 0011 1010 binary
- E7 hexadecimal = 1110 0111 binary

- 1010010 binary = 0101 0010 grouped with padding = 52 hexadecimal
- 11011101 binary = 1101 1101 grouped = DD hexadecimal

Binary is also easily converted to the octal numeral system, since octal uses a radix of 8, which is a power of two (namely, 2^{3}, so it takes exactly three binary digits to represent an octal digit). The correspondence between octal and binary numerals is the same as for the first eight digits of hexadecimal in the table above. Binary 000 is equivalent to the octal digit 0, binary 111 is equivalent to octal 7, and so on. Converting from octal to decimal proceeds in the same fashion as it does for hexadecimal:

- 65 octal = 110 101 binary
- 17 octal = 001 111 binary

- 110100 binary = 101 100 grouped = 54 octal
- 10011 binary = 010 011 grouped with padding = 23 octal

Non-integers can be represented by using negative powers, which are set off from the other digits by means of a radix point (called a decimal point in the decimal system). For example, the binary number 11.01_{2} thus means:

**1**times 2^{1}(1 × 2 =**2**) plus**1**times 2^{0}(1 × 1 =**1**) plus**0**times 2^{-1}(0 × (1/2) =**0**) plus**1**times 2^{-2}(1 × (1/4) =**0.25**)

All Dyadic rational numberss p/2^{a} have a *terminating* binary numeral -- the binary representation has only finitely many terms after the radix point. Other rational numbers have binary representation, but instead of terminating, they *recur*, with a finite sequence of digits repeating indefinitely. For instance

- 1/3
_{10}= 1/11_{2}= 0.0101010101..._{2} - 12
_{10}/17_{10}= 1100_{2}/ 10001_{2}= 0.10110100 10110100 10110100..._{2}

Binary numerals which neither terminate nor recur represent Irrational numbers. For instance,

- 0.10100100010000100000100.... does have a pattern, but it is not a fixed-length recurring pattern, so the number is irrational
- 1.0110101000001001111001100110011111110... is the binary representation of √2, the square root of 2, another irrational. It has no discernible pattern, although a proof that √2 is irrational requires more than this. See irrational number.

Register, Unary numeral system, Ternary, Octal, Decimal, Hexadecimal, Floating point, p-adic numbers, truncated binary encoding.