# Continued fraction

It is generally assumed that the numerator of all of the fractions is 1. If arbitrary values and/or functions are used in place of one or more of the numerators or the integers in the denominators, the resulting expression is a **generalized continued fraction**. When it is necessary to distinguish the first form from generalized continued fractions, the former may be called a **simple** or **regular continued fraction**, or said to be in **canonical form**.

The term *continued fraction* may also refer to representations of rational functions, arising in their analytic theory. For this use of the term, see Padé approximation and Chebyshev rational functions.

Consider, for example, the rational number 415/93, which is around 4.4624. As a first approximation, start with 4, which is the integer part; 415/93 = 4 + 43/93. The fractional part is the reciprocal of 93/43 which is about 2.1628. Use the integer part, 2, as an approximation for the reciprocal to obtain a second approximation of 4 + 1/2 = 4.5; 93/43 = 2 + 7/43. The remaining fractional part, 7/43, is the reciprocal of 43/7, and 43/7 is around 6.1429. Use 6 as an approximation for this to obtain 2 + 1/6 as an approximation for 93/43 and 4 + 1/2 + 1/6, about 4.4615, as the third approximation; 43/7 = 6 + 1/7. Finally, the fractional part, 1/7, is the reciprocal of 7, so its approximation in this scheme, 7, is exact ( 7/1 = 7 + 0/1) and produces the exact expression 4 + 1/2 + 1/6 + 1/7 for 415/93.

The expression 4 +
1/2 +
1/6 +
1/7 is called the continued fraction representation of 415/93. This can be represented by the abbreviated notation 415/93 = [4; 2, 6, 7]. (It is customary to replace only the *first* comma by a semicolon.) Some older textbooks use all commas in the (*n* + 1)-tuple, for example, [4, 2, 6, 7].^{[3]}^{[4]}

If the starting number is rational, then this process exactly parallels the Euclidean algorithm applied to the numerator and denominator of the number. In particular, it must terminate and produce a finite continued fraction representation of the number. The sequence of integers that occur in this representation is the sequence of successive quotients computed by the Euclidean algorithm. If the starting number is irrational, then the process continues indefinitely. This produces a sequence of approximations, all of which are rational numbers, and these converge to the starting number as a limit. This is the (infinite) continued fraction representation of the number. Examples of continued fraction representations of irrational numbers are:

Continued fractions are, in some ways, more "mathematically natural" representations of a real number than other representations such as decimal representations, and they have several desirable properties:

where *a _{i}* and

*b*can be any complex numbers. Usually they are required to be integers. If

_{i}*b*= 1 for all

_{i}*i*the expression is called a

*simple*continued fraction. If the expression contains finitely many terms, it is called a

*finite*continued fraction. If the expression contains infinitely many terms, it is called an

*infinite*continued fraction.

^{[6]}

Thus, all of the following illustrate valid finite simple continued fractions:

To calculate a continued fraction representation of a number r, write down the integer part (technically the floor) of r. Subtract this integer part from r. If the difference is 0, stop; otherwise find the reciprocal of the difference and repeat. The procedure will halt if and only if r is rational. This process can be efficiently implemented using the Euclidean algorithm when the number is rational. The table below shows an implementation of this procedure for the number 3.245, resulting in the continued fraction expansion [3; 4,12,4].

The semicolon in the square and angle bracket notations is sometimes replaced by a comma.^{[3]}^{[4]}

Every finite continued fraction represents a rational number, and every rational number can be represented in precisely two different ways as a finite continued fraction, with the conditions that the first coefficient is an integer and the other coefficients are positive integers. These two representations agree except in their final terms. In the longer representation the final term in the continued fraction is 1; the shorter representation drops the final 1, but increases the new final term by 1. The final element in the short representation is therefore always greater than 1, if present. In symbols:

Every infinite continued fraction is irrational, and every irrational number can be represented in precisely one way as an infinite continued fraction.

An infinite continued fraction representation for an irrational number is useful because its initial segments provide rational approximations to the number. These rational numbers are called the **convergents** of the continued fraction.^{[9]}^{[10]} The larger a term is in the continued fraction, the closer the corresponding convergent is to the irrational number being approximated. Numbers like π have occasional large terms in their continued fraction, which makes them easy to approximate with rational numbers. Other numbers like *e* have only small terms early in their continued fraction, which makes them more difficult to approximate rationally. The golden ratio ϕ has terms equal to 1 everywhere—the smallest values possible—which makes ϕ the most difficult number to approximate rationally. In this sense, therefore, it is the "most irrational" of all irrational numbers. Even-numbered convergents are smaller than the original number, while odd-numbered ones are larger.

For a continued fraction [*a*_{0}; *a*_{1}, *a*_{2}, ...], the first four convergents (numbered 0 through 3) are

*a*

_{0}/1,

*a*

_{1}

*a*

_{0}+ 1/

*a*

_{1},

*a*

_{2}(

*a*

_{1}

*a*

_{0}+ 1) +

*a*

_{0}/

*a*

_{2}

*a*

_{1}+ 1,

*a*

_{3}(

*a*

_{2}(

*a*

_{1}

*a*

_{0}+ 1) +

*a*

_{0}) + (

*a*

_{1}

*a*

_{0}+ 1)/

*a*

_{3}(

*a*

_{2}

*a*

_{1}+ 1) +

*a*

_{1}

The numerator of the third convergent is formed by multiplying the numerator of the second convergent by the third coefficient, and adding the numerator of the first convergent. The denominators are formed similarly. Therefore, each convergent can be expressed explicitly in terms of the continued fraction as the ratio of certain multivariate polynomials called *continuants*.

If successive convergents are found, with numerators h_{1}, h_{2}, ... and denominators k_{1}, k_{2}, ... then the relevant recursive relation is:

Thus to incorporate a new term into a rational approximation, only the two previous convergents are necessary. The initial "convergents" (required for the first two terms) are ^{0}⁄_{1} and ^{1}⁄_{0}. For example, here are the convergents for [0;1,5,2,2].

When using the Babylonian method to generate successive approximations to the square root of an integer, if one starts with the lowest integer as first approximant, the rationals generated all appear in the list of convergents for the continued fraction. Specifically, the approximants will appear on the convergents list in positions 0, 1, 3, 7, 15, ... , 2^{k}−1, ... For example, the continued fraction expansion for √3 is [1;1,2,1,2,1,2,1,2,...]. Comparing the convergents with the approximants derived from the Babylonian method:

A Baire space is a topological space on infinite sequences of natural numbers. The infinite continued fraction provides a homeomorphism from the Baire space to the space of irrational real numbers (with the subspace topology inherited from the usual topology on the reals). The infinite continued fraction also provides a map between the quadratic irrationals and the dyadic rationals, and from other irrationals to the set of infinite strings of binary numbers (i.e. the Cantor set); this map is called the Minkowski question mark function. The mapping has interesting self-similar fractal properties; these are given by the modular group, which is the subgroup of Möbius transformations having integer values in the transform. Roughly speaking, continued fraction convergents can be taken to be Möbius transformations acting on the (hyperbolic) upper half-plane; this is what leads to the fractal self-symmetry.

The limit probability distribution of the coefficients in the continued fraction expansion of a random variable uniformly distributed in (0, 1) is the Gauss–Kuzmin distribution.

**Corollary 2:** The difference between successive convergents is a fraction whose numerator is unity:

**Corollary 3:** The continued fraction is equivalent to a series of alternating terms:

**Corollary 1:** A convergent is nearer to the limit of the continued fraction than any fraction whose denominator is less than that of the convergent.

**Corollary 2:** A convergent obtained by terminating the continued fraction just before a large term is a close approximation to the limit of the continued fraction.

One can choose to define a *best rational approximation* to a real number x as a rational number n/d, *d* > 0, that is closer to x than any approximation with a smaller or equal denominator. The simple continued fraction for x can be used to generate *all* of the best rational approximations for x by applying these three rules:

For example, 0.84375 has continued fraction [0;1,5,2,2]. Here are all of its best rational approximations.

The strictly monotonic increase in the denominators as additional terms are included permits an algorithm to impose a limit, either on size of denominator or closeness of approximation.

The "half rule" mentioned above requires that when a_{k} is even, the halved term a_{k}/2 is admissible if and only if |*x* − [*a*_{0} ; *a*_{1}, ..., *a*_{k − 1}]| > |*x* − [*a*_{0} ; *a*_{1}, ..., *a*_{k − 1}, *a*_{k}/2]|^{[11]} This is equivalent^{[11]} to:^{[12]}

The convergents to x are "best approximations" in a much stronger sense than the one defined above. Namely, n/d is a convergent for x if and only if |*dx* − *n*| has the smallest value among the analogous expressions for all rational approximations m/c with *c* ≤ *d*; that is, we have |*dx* − *n*| < |*cx* − *m*| so long as *c* < *d*. (Note also that |*d _{k}x* −

*n*| → 0 as

_{k}*k*→ ∞.)

A rational that falls within the interval (*x*, *y*), for 0 < x < y, can be found with the continued fractions for x and y. When both x and y are irrational and

where x and y have identical continued fraction expansions up through *a*_{k−1}, a rational that falls within the interval (*x*, *y*) is given by the finite continued fraction,

This rational will be best in the sense that no other rational in (*x*, *y*) will have a smaller numerator or a smaller denominator.^{[citation needed]}

If x is rational, it will have *two* continued fraction representations that are *finite*, *x*_{1} and *x*_{2}, and similarly a rational y will have two representations, *y*_{1} and *y*_{2}. The coefficients beyond the last in any of these representations should be interpreted as +∞; and the best rational will be one of *z*(*x*_{1}, *y*_{1}), *z*(*x*_{1}, *y*_{2}), *z*(*x*_{2}, *y*_{1}), or *z*(*x*_{2}, *y*_{2}).

For example, the decimal representation 3.1416 could be rounded from any number in the interval [3.14155, 3.14165). The continued fraction representations of 3.14155 and 3.14165 are

Thus, 355/113 is the best rational number corresponding to the rounded decimal number 3.1416, in the sense that no other rational number that would be rounded to 3.1416 will have a smaller numerator or a smaller denominator.

A rational number, which can be expressed as finite continued fraction in two ways,

will be one of the convergents for the continued fraction expansion of a number, if and only if the number is strictly between

The numbers x and y are formed by incrementing the last coefficient in the two representations for z. It is the case that *x* < *y* when k is even, and *x* > *y* when k is odd.

For example, the number 355/113 has the continued fraction representations

Consider *x* = [*a*_{0}; *a*_{1}, ...] and *y* = [*b*_{0}; *b*_{1}, ...]. If k is the smallest index for which *a*_{k} is unequal to *b*_{k} then *x* < *y* if (−1)^{k}(*a*_{k} − *b*_{k}) < 0 and *y* < *x* otherwise.

If there is no such k, but one expansion is shorter than the other, say *x* = [*a*_{0}; *a*_{1}, ..., *a*_{n}] and *y* = [*b*_{0}; *b*_{1}, ..., *b*_{n}, *b*_{n + 1}, ...] with *a*_{i} = *b*_{i} for 0 ≤ *i* ≤ *n*, then *x* < *y* if n is even and *y* < *x* if n is odd.

To calculate the convergents of π we may set *a*_{0} = ⌊π⌋ = 3, define *u*_{1} =
1/π − 3 ≈ 7.0625 and *a*_{1} = ⌊*u*_{1}⌋ = 7, *u*_{2} =
1/*u*_{1} − 7 ≈ 15.9966 and *a*_{2} = ⌊*u*_{2}⌋ = 15, *u*_{3} =
1/*u*_{2} − 15 ≈ 1.0034. Continuing like this, one can determine the infinite continued fraction of π as

The fourth convergent of π is [3;7,15,1] = 355/113 = 3.14159292035..., sometimes called Milü, which is fairly close to the true value of π.

Let us suppose that the quotients found are, as above, [3;7,15,1]. The following is a rule by which we can write down at once the convergent fractions which result from these quotients without developing the continued fraction.

The first quotient, supposed divided by unity, will give the first fraction, which will be too small, namely, 3/1. Then, multiplying the numerator and denominator of this fraction by the second quotient and adding unity to the numerator, we shall have the second fraction, 22/7, which will be too large. Multiplying in like manner the numerator and denominator of this fraction by the third quotient, and adding to the numerator the numerator of the preceding fraction, and to the denominator the denominator of the preceding fraction, we shall have the third fraction, which will be too small. Thus, the third quotient being 15, we have for our numerator (22 × 15 = 330) + 3 = 333, and for our denominator, (7 × 15 = 105) + 1 = 106. The third convergent, therefore, is 333/106. We proceed in the same manner for the fourth convergent. The fourth quotient being 1, we say 333 times 1 is 333, and this plus 22, the numerator of the fraction preceding, is 355; similarly, 106 times 1 is 106, and this plus 7 is 113. In this manner, by employing the four quotients [3;7,15,1], we obtain the four fractions:

These convergents are alternately smaller and larger than the true value of π, and approach nearer and nearer to π. The difference between a given convergent and π is less than the reciprocal of the product of the denominators of that convergent and the next convergent. For example, the fraction 22/7 is greater than π, but 22/7 − π is less than 1/7 × 106 = 1/742 (in fact, 22/7 − π is just more than 1/791 = 1/7 × 113).

The demonstration of the foregoing properties is deduced from the fact that if we seek the difference between one of the convergent fractions and the next adjacent to it we shall obtain a fraction of which the numerator is always unity and the denominator the product of the two denominators. Thus the difference between 22/7 and 3/1 is 1/7, in excess; between 333/106 and 22/7, 1/742, in deficit; between 355/113 and 333/106, 1/11978, in excess; and so on. The result being, that by employing this series of differences we can express in another and very simple manner the fractions with which we are here concerned, by means of a second series of fractions of which the numerators are all unity and the denominators successively be the product of every two adjacent denominators. Instead of the fractions written above, we have thus the series:

The first term, as we see, is the first fraction; the first and second together give the second fraction, 22/7; the first, the second and the third give the third fraction 333/106, and so on with the rest; the result being that the series entire is equivalent to the original value.

where the *a*_{n} (*n* > 0) are the partial numerators, the *b*_{n} are the partial denominators, and the leading term *b*_{0} is called the *integer* part of the continued fraction.

To illustrate the use of generalized continued fractions, consider the following example. The sequence of partial denominators of the simple continued fraction of π does not show any obvious pattern:

However, several generalized continued fractions for π have a perfectly regular structure, such as:

The first two of these are special cases of the arctangent function with π = 4 arctan (1) and the fourth and fifth one can be derived using the Wallis product
.^{[13]}^{[14]}

The numbers with periodic continued fraction expansion are precisely the irrational solutions of quadratic equations with rational coefficients; rational solutions have finite continued fraction expansions as previously stated. The simplest examples are the golden ratio φ = [1;1,1,1,1,1,...] and √2 = [1;2,2,2,2,...], while √14 = [3;1,2,1,6,1,2,1,6...] and √42 = [6;2,12,2,12,2,12...]. All irrational square roots of integers have a special form for the period; a symmetrical string, like the empty string (for √2) or 1,2,1 (for √14), followed by the double of the leading integer.

Because the continued fraction expansion for φ doesn't use any integers greater than 1, φ is one of the most "difficult" real numbers to approximate with rational numbers. Hurwitz's theorem^{[16]} states that any irrational number k can be approximated by infinitely many rational *m*/*n* with

While there is no discernible pattern in the simple continued fraction expansion of π, there is one for *e*, the base of the natural logarithm:

which is a special case of this general expression for positive integer n:

Another, more complex pattern appears in this continued fraction expansion for positive odd n:

If *I*_{n}(*x*) is the modified, or hyperbolic, Bessel function of the first kind, we may define a function on the rationals *p*/*q* by

which is defined for all rational numbers, with p and q in lowest terms. Then for all nonnegative rationals, we have

Most irrational numbers do not have any periodic or regular behavior in their continued fraction expansion. Nevertheless, Khinchin proved that for almost all real numbers x, the *a*_{i} (for *i* = 1, 2, 3, ...) have an astonishing property: their geometric mean tends to a constant (known as Khinchin's constant, *K* ≈ 2.6854520010...) independent of the value of x. Paul Lévy showed that the nth root of the denominator of the nth convergent of the continued fraction expansion of almost all real numbers approaches an asymptotic limit, approximately 3.27582, which is known as Lévy's constant. Lochs' theorem states that nth convergent of the continued fraction expansion of almost all real numbers determines the number to an average accuracy of just over n decimal places.

Generalized continued fractions are used in a method for computing square roots.

leads via recursion to the generalized continued fraction for any square root:^{[17]}

Continued fractions play an essential role in the solution of Pell's equation. For example, for positive integers p and q, and non-square n, it is true that if *p*^{2} − *nq*^{2} = ±1, then
*p*/*q* is a convergent of the regular continued fraction for √n. The converse holds if the period of the regular continued fraction for √n is 1, and in general the period describes which convergents give solutions to Pell's equation.^{[18]}

Continued fractions also play a role in the study of dynamical systems, where they tie together the Farey fractions which are seen in the Mandelbrot set with Minkowski's question mark function and the modular group Gamma.

The backwards shift operator for continued fractions is the map *h*(*x*) = 1/x − ⌊1/x⌋ called the **Gauss map**, which lops off digits of a continued fraction expansion: *h*([0; *a*_{1}, *a*_{2}, *a*_{3}, ...]) = [0; *a*_{2}, *a*_{3}, ...]. The transfer operator of this map is called the Gauss–Kuzmin–Wirsing operator. The distribution of the digits in continued fractions is given by the zero'th eigenvector of this operator, and is called the Gauss–Kuzmin distribution.

The Lanczos algorithm uses a continued fraction expansion to iteratively approximate the eigenvalues and eigenvectors of a large sparse matrix.^{[19]}

Continued fractions have also been used in modelling optimization problems for wireless network virtualization to find a route between a source and a destination.^{[20]}

**ra**: rational approximant obtained by expanding continued fraction up to *a _{r}*