Portable(ish) Random(ish) Number Generator


Sometimes we just need some mixing up of stuff.

For a little diversion that I’m taking, I wanted a random number generator that could be easily ported to other languages too, so that I could get a consistent behaviour.

So it was natural for me to remember that the glorious Numerical Recipes in C had something about it (in Chapter 7), something actually suggested by Knuth himself for a 32-bit Pseudo-Random Number Generator (PNRG) using a recurrent function, with some help from H.W. Lewis (section Quick and Dirty Generators):

\[R_{i+1} = R_i \cdot 1664525 + 1013904223 \pmod{2^{32}}\]

This is nothing that should be used for anything related to security or betting, but it’s good and simple enough for situation with much lower expectations.

Implementing it in Perl is pretty straightforward, as an iterator:

sub randomish_uint32_it ($seed = undef) {
   $seed = seed_to_num($seed) & 0xFFFFFFFF;
   return sub { $seed = ($seed * 1664525 + 1013904223) & 0xFFFFFFFF };

The function is a factory for generating an iterator, i.e. another function that will give us the next pseudo-random integer at every call. This factory expects to receive something as seed, so that using the same seed allows re-generating the same sequence (either in some later time, or in some other language). This is what I came up with for turning a string into a seed value useable in the function above:

sub seed_to_num ($seed = undef) {
   return time() unless defined $seed;
   return $seed if $seed =~ m{\A (?: 0 | [1-9]\d*) \z}mxs;
   my $val = 0;
   $val = ($val << 8) | ord(substr($seed, $_)) for 0 .. length($seed) - 1;
   return $val;

Actually, it accepts something resembling a non-negative integer and returns it unchanged; turns strings into integers; returns the current epoch if the input is undefined.

For reasons I also needed to get a random bit; the suggestion in the text is to use a different integer for each bit, and trust the higher bits more than the lower ones, so here’s my approach with a wrapper iterator:

sub get_bit ($it, $max = 0xFFFFFFFF) { sub { 2 * $it->() > $max ? 1 : 0 } }

Now, this is technically less portable than the other (which is also more or less portable by itself). In particular, the multiplication by 2 might overflow on architecture that do not support 64-bit integers. Hence, in the specific case of the underlying generation, this is probably better:

sub get_bit ($it) { sub { $it->() & 0x80000000 ? 1 : 0 } }

i.e. it checks the higest bit and returns accordingly.

The corresponding implementation in Raku would be:

class Randomish {
   has $!s;

   submethod TWEAK (:$seed = Nil) {
      if (! defined($seed)) { $!s = DateTime.now.posix }
      elsif ($seed ~~ m{^^ [ 0 | <[ 1..9 ]>\d* ] $$}) { $!s = $seed }
      else { $!s = $seed.comb».ord.reduce({($^a +< 8) +| $^b}) }
      $!s +&= 0xFFFFFFFF;

   method uint32() { $!s = ($!s * 1664525 + 1013904223 ) +& 0xFFFFFFFF }
   method bit() { self.uint32() +& 0x80000000 ?? 1 !! 0 }

Stay safe and stay random!

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