It shares with all fixed-radix numeral systems many properties, such as the ability to represent any real number with a canonical representation (almost unique) and the characteristics of the representations of rational numbers and irrational numbers. See decimal and binary for a discussion of these properties.
Relation to other positional number systems
Relation to binary
As with the octal and hexadecimal numeral systems, quaternary has a special relation to the binary numeral system. Each radix 4, 8 and 16 is a power of 2, so the conversion to and from binary is implemented by matching each digit with 2, 3 or 4 binary digits, or bits. For example, in base 4,
- 302104 = 11 00 10 01 002.
By analogy with bit, a quaternary digit is sometimes called a crumb.
Occurrence in human languages
Many or all of the Chumashan languages originally used a base 4 counting system, in which the names for numbers were structured according to multiples of 4 and 16 (not 10). There is a surviving list of Ventureño language number words up to 32 written down by a Spanish priest ca. 1819.
The Kharosthi numerals has a partial base 4 counting system from 1 to 10.
Quaternary numbers are used in the representation of 2D Hilbert curves. Here a real number between 0 and 1 is converted into the quaternary system. Every single digit now indicates in which of the respective 4 sub-quadrants the number will be projected.
Parallels can be drawn between quaternary numerals and the way genetic code is represented by DNA. The four DNA nucleotides in alphabetical order, abbreviated A, C, G and T, can be taken to represent the quaternary digits in numerical order 0, 1, 2, and 3. With this encoding, the complementary digit pairs 0↔3, and 1↔2 (binary 00↔11 and 01↔10) match the complementation of the base pairs: A↔T and C↔G and can be stored as data in DNA sequence.
- "Chumashan Numerals" by Madison S. Beeler, in Native American Mathematics, edited by Michael P. Closs (1986), ISBN 0-292-75531-7.