On Using Integers
While integer types are usually binary and by definition do not support fractions, they are exact (no rounding errors when converting from decimal integers) and can be used as a sort of “poor man’s decimal type” by choosing an implicit fixed decimal point so that the smallest unit you work with can be represented as the integer 1. In practical terms, this is often put as: “To handle money, store and calculate everything in cents and format only the output”.
This works, but has a number of severe drawbacks:
- It’s more work (and more opportunity for bugs) to get it right, especially in regard to rounding modes.
- Integers have complete precision, but very limited range, and when they overflow, they usually “wrap around” silently, i.e. the largest integer plus 1 becomes zero (for unsigned ints) or the negative value with the largest magnitude (for signed). This is just about the worst possible behaviour when dealing with money, for obvious reasons.
- The implicit decimal point is hard to change and extremely inflexible: if you store dollars as cents, it’s simply impossible to support the Bahraini dinar(1 dinar = 1,000 Fils) at the same time. You’d have to store the position of the decimal point with the data - the first step in implementing your own (buggy, non-standard) limited-precision decimal floating-point format.
- The number of subunits in currencies change with time in the world. Due to inflation/deflation, some currencies stop having subunits, others add more subunits. If you store integers, you need to migrate the already stored prices to the new format. This is a total nightmare in an established system.
Summary: using integers is not recommended. Do this only if there really is no better alternative at all.