In a recent question for which the correct output for 1 is zero, an answer output ; i.e, nothing. Is this an acceptable base-10 representation for zero?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Corollary: the infinite loop, printing nothing is a valid representation for 0. \$\endgroup\$ – nimi Feb 12 '16 at 22:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nimi Except programs need to terminate unless specified otherwise. \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Ender Feb 14 '16 at 13:37

No, besides exceptions.

The challenge linked obviously requires the output to be a number for valid inputs.

The empty string is not a number. The fact that empty strings evaluate to 0 in some languages doesn't justify its use as the number 0. Otherwise I could argue that "a" is valid to represent 97 in outputs because it's the corresponding ASCII code.

The only case I can think of where outputting "" for 0 is OK is when your output is in unary.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While I don't necessarily disagree with your conclusion, saying that the empty string is not a number is simply false. Bijective numerations do not have a zero symbol, and an empty string is the only way to represent the number zero. \$\endgroup\$ – Dennis Feb 12 '16 at 22:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's why I said that there can be exceptions, if there are no more natural ways of writing 0. In standard base 10 that's definately not the case. \$\endgroup\$ – Fatalize Feb 12 '16 at 22:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ About the 97 part... link \$\endgroup\$ – Sp3000 Feb 14 '16 at 3:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sp3000 Due to that policy (which I agree with), I only halfway agree with this answer. a is a valid representation of 97, so 0x00 (the null byte) would be an acceptable representation of 0. A null byte is not the same as an empty string, so an empty string would not be acceptable (unary notwithstanding). \$\endgroup\$ – user45941 Feb 15 '16 at 0:41


The mathematical definition of a base-10 representation is:

enter image description here

Where an...a1a0 is the base-10 representation. The value of the empty string is well-defined as the empty sum, 0.

The empty string can be considered a more consistent representation than 0, since it follows the convention that numbers have no leading zeroes.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The empty string is not a legitimate representation of 0. The number with no digits`` is a legitimate representation of 0 (This is actually how 0 was historically written(i.e. not written)). The empty string is a string that contains the empty number but is not itself a number. You can't input the empty string into your formula since it is composed of delimiters that are not digits. Finally, everyone has agreed for hundreds of years now that 0 is a more convenient representation than the number with no digits. \$\endgroup\$ – Fatalize Feb 12 '16 at 22:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't follow. How is the empty string different from the number with no digits? \$\endgroup\$ – lirtosiast Feb 12 '16 at 22:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's different just as "[]" is different from []. The string that contains the empty list is not itself a list. Similarly, a string that contains a number with no digits is not itself a number. \$\endgroup\$ – Fatalize Feb 12 '16 at 22:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't we allow programs that output the number 3.14 to output the string "3.14"? This doesn't seem different. \$\endgroup\$ – lirtosiast Feb 12 '16 at 22:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't matter that you manipulate a string as long as the output is formatted as a number, namely 3.14 and not "3.14". If you language prints 0 when you ask it to print the empty string then it's perfectly fine, since the final output is a number. But if it outputs "" when you ask to print "" then your output is not a number. \$\endgroup\$ – Fatalize Feb 12 '16 at 22:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ You said earlier that the number with no digits is a number. How is "" (without quotes) not a number, but "3.14" a number? \$\endgroup\$ – lirtosiast Feb 12 '16 at 22:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ "" without quotes, as you say, is a number, namely the number with no digits, which has now been for hundreds of years written 0. But "" without quotes is not "", which is the empty string. Therefore an output of nothing (and not an output of "") would be valid as the number 0, but I guess wouldn't be valid overall because then it's debatable that you would have outputed anything. \$\endgroup\$ – Fatalize Feb 12 '16 at 22:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't feel like people are on the same page with all of the "" "" "0" and "0". Which quotes are included in the output? For example, would System.out.print("") qualify, since there aren't any quotes in the output? \$\endgroup\$ – PhiNotPi Feb 12 '16 at 23:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ To add to PhiNotPi: what about returning the empty string from a function, which is considered output, too. \$\endgroup\$ – nimi Feb 12 '16 at 23:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nimi That doesn't apply here; we allow programs to print the string 3.14 for a number, because there's no way to print an integer. I don't think we allow functions to return the string 3.14 for the number 3.14. \$\endgroup\$ – lirtosiast Feb 12 '16 at 23:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasKwa: it does apply. Functions may output via return value. If the empty string is a valid representation for 0, then I'm allowed to return it from a function. \$\endgroup\$ – nimi Feb 12 '16 at 23:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PhiNotPi Yes, just like System.out.print("3.14"). \$\endgroup\$ – lirtosiast Feb 13 '16 at 1:46


In both the mathematical base conversion algorithm:

def frombase(array,base):
    ret = 0
    for digit in array:
        ret = ret * base + digit
    return ret

and in many languages interpretation (e.g., [int]""), the empty string evaluates to zero.

Thus, for a challenge requesting decimal output, an empty string is acceptable to output for zero.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would say that it should only count in languages where that is the case, personally. If your language does something different or throws an error, then it shouldn't be allowed. This would be in line with our general position on truthy/falsey: It needs to work as a conditional in the chosen language. \$\endgroup\$ – Geobits Feb 12 '16 at 18:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Geobits I was going to suggest the same thing, until I realized that it would not determine the validity of this particular answer. Jelly has no way to cast to int. (That's a problem with the truthy/falsy definiton as well. What if the language doesn't have conditionals?) \$\endgroup\$ – Dennis Feb 12 '16 at 18:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have mixed feelings. I'd like to say "no", but the empty string is the only way to output zero for unary output, which is allowed... \$\endgroup\$ – mbomb007 Feb 12 '16 at 19:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Here I see "" as an expression which evaluates to zero, which seems invalid for the same reason that any other expression is, like outputting "1-1", when a number was required. \$\endgroup\$ – trichoplax May 27 '16 at 1:29

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