dc - macOS


The dc (desk calculator) command is a reverse Polish notation (RPN) calculator that operates on arbitrary precision numbers. It is typically used for performing mathematical operations in scripts or command line sessions where complex, precise computation is required. It supports a variety of operations, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, exponentiation, and modulo operations. dc is particularly effective for handling very large numbers and for scripting complex calculations that require conditional processing and loops.


dc [options] [file...]

The dc command can be used in interactive mode or can execute commands from a file or standard input. Multiple files can be specified, and they will be processed in order.


Expressions in dc are written in postfix notation, where the operator follows all operands, e.g., 5 3 + to add 5 and 3.


  • -e, –expression=SCRIPT
    Allows you to specify the script directly on the command line. Multiple -e options can be chained together.

  • -f, –file=FILE
    Specifies a file from which dc reads more commands. Multiple -f options can be used to read multiple files.

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

  • -V, –version
    Outputs version information and exits.


  1. Basic Arithmetic Operations:

    echo "5 3 + p" | dc

    This example adds 5 and 3 and prints the result, which will output 8.

  2. Using Files:

    echo "6 2 - p" > calculation.dc
    dc calculation.dc

    This saves the subtraction operation in a file and then computes the result using dc, which will output 4.

  3. Chaining Expressions:

    dc -e "12 8 - p" -e "14 3 * p"

    This will perform a subtraction and a multiplication, outputting 4 and 42 respectively.

Common Issues

  • Syntax Errors: Incorrect command sequence or mixing up the postfix notation can lead to errors. Always check that your operators follow the correct sequence of operands.
  • Division by Zero: This will cause an error in dc. Ensure that your scripts check for zero divisors as part of their logic.


dc can be integrated with shell scripts to perform dynamic calculations. Here’s an example of using dc with bash to calculate factorial:

factorial() {
    echo "$1 1 - p" | dc -e '
    [1 1]s:sl

factorial 5

This calculates the factorial of 5 by recursively multiplying numbers.

  • bc – An arbitrary precision calculator language.
  • expr – Evaluate expressions and perform arithmetic operations in shell scripts.

For further reading and more detailed information, consult the dc man page by running man dc on your terminal, or visit the online manual pages provided by GNU or other similar resources.