dc - Linux


The dc (desk calculator) command is a reverse Polish notation (RPN) calculator that operates from the command line in Linux. It is useful for performing arithmetic operations, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and exponentiation. dc supports arbitrary-precision arithmetic and can also handle base conversions. It is commonly used in scripts and situations where complex, precision-dependent calculations are necessary.


The basic syntax of the dc command is:

dc [options] [file...]
  • file...: One or more files containing dc commands. If no files are specified, dc reads commands from the standard input.


  • -e, –expression=EXPR: Allows you to pass a string of expressions directly into dc. This is useful for scripts and one-liner commands.

  • -f, –file=FILE: Specifies a file from which dc will read more commands. Multiple -f options can be used.

  • -h, –help: Displays help information and exits.

  • -V, –version: Displays version information and exits.


  1. Basic Arithmetic:
    Calculate the sum of 5 and 3:

    echo "5 3 + p" | dc

    Output: 8

  2. Using Files:
    Assume you have a file named calc.dc with the following contents:


    Run the file with dc:

    dc calc.dc

    Output: 40

  3. Complex Calculations:
    Calculate ( (5 + 3) \times (2 + 2) ):

    echo "5 3 + 2 2 + * p" | dc

    Output: 32

  4. Using Options:
    Use the -e flag to perform a calculation:

    dc -e "8 5 * p"

    Output: 40

Common Issues

  • Syntax errors: dc can fail with syntax errors if the RPN notation is not correctly followed. Ensure that the correct order of operations and sufficient operands are provided for each operator.
  • Division by zero: This error occurs when dividing by zero. Avoid this by checking divisors before performing division.
  • Base conversions: Issues might arise when converting bases if not handled correctly; ensure the calculation base matches the operands’ intended bases.


dc can be combined with other UNIX tools for more complex workflows. For example, to process numbers from a file and calculate their total:

cat numbers.txt | xargs | sed 's/ / + /g' | dc

This chain reads numbers from numbers.txt, formats them for addition, and calculates the sum using dc.

  • bc: A similar arbitrary-precision calculator but with an infix notation (similar to normal algebraic operations), unlike dc‘s RPN.
  • expr: Command for integer arithmetic, which is simpler but less powerful than dc.

For additional reading about dc, consult the GNU bc manual, as bc often includes a section about dc, available via the command info bc.