NSNumberFormatter is a helpful class when you need to display numbers as well-formatted string.

However, it is pretty tricky (in fact misleading) when you are configuring the number of significant figures (SF) or decimal places (DP), hence this guide.


When you init a NSNumberFormatter, the default is:

  • usesSignificantDigits = false
  • minimum/maximumSignificantDigits = 1-6
  • minimum/maximumFractionDigits = 0-0

usesSignificantDigits = false means the formatter will not use the significant digits (aka SF), even though it is set to 1-6. And since the fractional digits (aka DP) is set to 0-0, it will not show any decimal places.

let num = 1.23456789
var numberFormatter = NSNumberFormatter()
print("SF: \(numberFormatter.minimumSignificantDigits)-\(numberFormatter.maximumSignificantDigits) [Uses SD: \(numberFormatter.usesSignificantDigits)]")
print("DP: \(numberFormatter.minimumFractionDigits)-\(numberFormatter.maximumFractionDigits)")

/// Prints "1"

Set the Decimal Places

This is straight forward:

numberFormatter.maximumFractionDigits = 3
/// Prints "1.235" (3 DP)

Also note that it actually rounded up, because the default mode is RoundHalfEven.

Set the Significant Figures

It gets trickier.

If you want to use significant figures, you can set usesSignificantDigits to true to activate the default.

numberFormatter.usesSignificantDigits = true
/// Prints "1.23457" (6 SF)

But you can also just set minimum/maximumSignificantDigits, with a caveat..

numberFormatter = NSNumberFormatter()
print(numberFormatter.usesSignificantDigits)    // "false" by default
numberFormatter.minimumSignificantDigits = 1    // Set the SF
print(numberFormatter.usesSignificantDigits)    // "true", somehow it auto set
numberFormatter.usesSignificantDigits = false   // Reset to false
print(numberFormatter.usesSignificantDigits)    // "false"
numberFormatter.minimumSignificantDigits = 1    // Subsequent set
print(numberFormatter.usesSignificantDigits)    // Remains false

In line 3, setting minimumSignificantDigits causes usesSignificantDigits to be auto set to true.

But when you reset usesSignificantDigits to false (line 6) and then subequently set minimum/maximumSignificantDigits (line 7), it will NOT auto set usesSignificantDigits to true!

The behaviour in this API is badly designed.

To prevent this misleading behaviour, remember to set usesSignificantDigits explicitly everytime.

Either Decimal Places or Significant Figures

On any cases, the formatting will use either minimum/maximumSignificantDigits or minimum/maximumFractionDigits.

It will NOT use both configurations.

So control with usesSignificantDigits.

An example of a function that control the use of DP or SF depending on the number:

numberFormatter.maximumSignificantDigits    = 4
numberFormatter.maximumFractionDigits       = 2

// If num > 1, use DP, else use SF
func stringFromNum(num: Double) -> String? {
    if num > 1 {
        numberFormatter.usesSignificantDigits = false
    } else {
        numberFormatter.usesSignificantDigits = true
    return numberFormatter.stringFromNumber(num)

stringFromNum(0.123456789)      // "0.1235" (4 SF)
stringFromNum(9876.123456789)   // "9876.12" (2 DP)

Bug with usesSignificantDigits

It is not the end of the story.

There is a serious bug with usesSignificantDigits, and it is still not fixed since Sep 2014.

Reproduce bug:

numberFormatter = NSNumberFormatter()
numberFormatter.maximumSignificantDigits = 2
numberFormatter.usesSignificantDigits = false
numberFormatter.stringFromNumber(3.8765432)  // Expected "4" (0 DP), but printed "3.9" (2 SF)


numberFormatter = NSNumberFormatter()
numberFormatter.stringFromNumber(0)    // This is the WORKAROUND
numberFormatter.maximumSignificantDigits = 2
numberFormatter.usesSignificantDigits = false

As weird as it seems, using stringFromNumber once right after init-ing will set things correct!

Not sure why, but that is a workaround..




Back to Home