I am looking for a way to calculate the remainder of an n-bit number when divided by another n-bit number.

For example, 1000 mod 0011 = 10.

How is this done on a computer?

  • \$\begingroup\$ If you want the remainder to be accurate to 3 bits then pre-shift-left the numerator by 3 bits and regard the lower 3 bits of the result as the remainder. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andy aka
    Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 13:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see, thank you. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 13:32
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ When you do a division, it calculates the quotient and the remainder. So a remainder circuit is the same as a division circuit - you just use the other output. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 13:51
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ For 4-bit numbers, use a 256 element x 4-bit LUT, and write a spreadsheet to generate its contents. \$\endgroup\$
    – user16324
    Commented Nov 30, 2020 at 14:51
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ A division circuit is not necessarily complicated. If you design a sequential one, along the algorithm shown in megasplash's answer, it is quite simple. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 12:18

1 Answer 1


A processor in a computer calculates such things by using a binary arithmetic. In particular, the remainder is one of the results of a binary division.

The simplest (i.e. non-optimized) way to perform a binary division is to iterate through the binary subtraction (using binary adder) and shift operations until a desired accuracy of the quotient. This binary division resembles a "school" way of division (long division).

CPU knows, what is a number of digits in an integer part of a quotient. So when you set the accuracy to be 0 digits in the fractional part, you will get the result of the mod operation in the remainder. (This is generally speaking, as if you were to design a processor. Usually you don't set such things manually as it is already hardwired in an ALU of a processor.)

Example Lets divide \$8_{10}\$ by \$3_{10}\$. Numerator \$8_{10}=1000_2\$ has four significant binary digits, denominator \$3_{10}=11_2\$ has two significant binary digits. The quotient will have \$4 - 2 + 1 = 3\$ significant binary digits in an integer part.

Iteration 1. You start from the left-most binary position and compare (by subtraction) the first two digits of the numerator and the denominator. We get (\$10_2=2_{10} < 11_2=3_{10}\$), which results in a "0" bit in the quotient. The remainder remains equal to the numerator value.

Iteration 2. Then you shift to the right and perform the same comparison. Now \$100_2=4_{10} > 11_2=3_{10}\$, which results in a "1" bit in the quotient. You subtract: \$100_2 - 11_2 = 1_2\$, which gives you the remainder equal to \$10_2\$.

Iteration 3. For the last iteration you make the same comparison, which gives you a "0" bit in the quotient and doesn't change the remainder.

Binary long division

Notes: 1. As the last value of the remainder is not zero, you could continue the division. Following results will form a fractional part of the quotient.

  1. This simple explanation should suffice to answer your question. However, the actual implementation of the divider may differ in a lot of ways, since it has to deal with negative numbers, two's complements, floating points, demands of performance and/or chip space and many other thing.

  2. This is a good reference on the topic: Appendix J: Computer Arithmetic by David Goldberg in Hennessy, Patterson: Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach, 5th Ed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Seems like explaining how the remainder is obtained from a division operation is not as simple as explaining how other operations work like counting or addition so thanks for the explanation and the reference source. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 12:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ You may also find more information at Computer Science Stack Exchange, which seems to be more suited for this topic. \$\endgroup\$
    – megasplash
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 14:10

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