I was trying to convert file size from bytes to human understandable value and found one interesting solution. I will provide it on php with explanation.

function bytesConvert($size) {
    $base = log($size)/log(1024);
    $suffix = array('', 'Kb', 'Mb', 'Gb', 'Tb');

    return round(pow(1024, $base - floor($base)), 2) . $suffix[floor($base)];


  • log - Natural logarithm;
  • round - Rounds a float with specified precision;
  • pow - Exponential expression; Returns base raised to the power of exp;
  • floor - Round fractions down;

I use this solution and it works. But it's like Cargo cult for me. I understand every single action at this function but can't get a clue why it works. I will be very grateful if somebody will explain it.


In points:

  • The suffixes Kilo, Mega, Giga, Tera, etc. are equivalent of 1000^1, 1000^2, 1000^3, 1000^4, etc.
    • In fact the given algorithm is wrong since it uses powers $1024^i$ and therefore should use suffixes like Kibi, Mebi, Gibi, etc., compare Wikipedia;
    • On the other hand, those are not very popular and its use might be just counter-productive.
    • Still, it is good to be aware of the issue ;-)
  • The $\log_bn$ is a number $k$ such that $b^k = n$;
    • So $log_{1000}1000 = 1$, $log_{1000}1000000 = 2$, and so on,
    • Also, the logarithm function is continous and monotonic, hence $1 < log_{1000}1234 < 2 < log_{1000}7654321 < log_{1000}87654321 < 3$ \begin{align*} \log_{1000}1234 &\approx 1.03043\ldots & 1000^1 &= 1000 & 1000^{0.030438\ldots} &= 1.234 \\ \log_{1000}7654321 &\approx 2.29463\ldots & 1000^2 &= 1000000 &1000^{0.29463\ldots} &= 7.654321 \end{align*}
  • So, by separating the integral and fractional part of $\log_{1000}n$ you know how many triples of zeros you should append...

    • {'', 'K', 'M', 'G', 'T'}[$\lfloor\log_{1000}42)\rfloor$] == ' '

    • {'', 'K', 'M', 'G', 'T'}[$\lfloor\log_{1000}1234\rfloor$] == 'K'

    • {'', 'K', 'M', 'G', 'T'}[$\lfloor\log_{1000}7654321\rfloor$] == 'M'

    • {'', 'K', 'M', 'G', 'T'}[$\lfloor\log_{1000}123456789\rfloor$] == 'G'

  • ...and what should be the prefix:

    • $\log_{1000}42 - 0 = \log_{1000}42 - \lfloor\log_{1000}42\rfloor \approx 0.541\ldots$, $\quad1000^{0.541\ldots} = 42$
    • $\log_{1000}1234 - 1 \approx 0.030438\ldots$, $\quad1000^{0.030438\ldots} = 1.234$
  • This all works for any base like 10, 16, 1000, 1024, whatever, and so your algorithm follows ;-)

I'm sorry if the explanation came too basic for you, but I didn't know your background; I hope it will help ;-)

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  • $\begingroup$ Wrong? Wrong? This is mathematics -- the only way a definition can be "wrong" in mathematics is if it differs from what everybody else is using. By that token, using "megabyte" to mean 1000000 bytes, or anything else different from 1048576 bytes, is wrong. (On the other hand, you're free to use the horrible abominations "mebi" and so forth to mean whatever you want, since nobody is using them). $\endgroup$ – hmakholm left over Monica Nov 30 '12 at 0:24
  • $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm I agree with you that mebi is horrible. However, Mega has exactly one precise definition, and it is not $1024^2$ independent of what some computer software engineers would like it to be. I wouldn't like it to turn into X-mas vs. Easter, so, I can be a conformist this one time. $\endgroup$ – dtldarek Nov 30 '12 at 0:33
  • $\begingroup$ x @dtldarek: Again, this is mathematics and words mean whatever those who're using them use them to mean. The fact that the prefix "mega-" has two different definitions in common use depending on whether it is applied to bytes or something else, is not something you (or anyone else) can change by claiming that it doesn't. $\endgroup$ – hmakholm left over Monica Nov 30 '12 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ @dtldarek Your explanation is pretty fine for me. Only one thing, I always thought suffixes Kilo, Mega, Giga, Tera, etc. are equivalent of 1024^i and Kibi, Mebi, Gibi 1000^i. $\endgroup$ – Viacheslav Kondratiuk Nov 30 '12 at 11:00

The first line gives $base=\log_{1024} size$, the power of $1024$ that size is. The suffix comes because each time base increases by $1$, we want a different suffix. For example, if $2 \lt base \lt 3$ we have a size between $1024^2$ and $1024^3$, so the size is in the range of Megabytes. The round part just divides the size by the size of a Megabyte or whatever suffix we are using.

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