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Create the shortest function that finds the factorial of a natural number.

The factorial is found by multiplying a number by each of the digits that lead up to it.

5! = 5 * 4 * 3 * 2 * 1 = 120


  • Does not use any built-in libraries that can calculate the factorial (this includes any form of eval)
  • Can calculate factorials for numbers up to 125
  • Can calculate the factorial for the number 0 (special case)
  • Completes in under a minute

The shortest function wins, in the case of a tie the program with the most votes at the time wins.

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How many of the given answers can actually compute up to 125! without integer overflow? Wasn't that one of the requirements? Are results as exponential approximations acceptable (ie 125 ! = 1.88267718 × 10^209)? –  Ami Feb 6 '11 at 22:43
Completes under a minute for factorials under 125? –  Ming-Tang Feb 6 '11 at 23:08
@SHiNKiROU, even golfscript can manage 125! less than 1/10th of a second and it's and interpreted interpreted language! –  gnibbler Feb 8 '11 at 3:21
Looks like an exact duplicate of stackoverflow.com/questions/237496/code-golf-factorials which has a 2-char winner. –  ugoren Jan 13 '12 at 7:04
@ugoren the two-character solution to the other question uses a built-in factorial function. That's not allowed in this version of the challenge. –  Michael Stern Jan 7 '14 at 3:18

85 Answers 85

up vote 48 down vote accepted

Golfscript -- 12 chars


Getting started with Golfscript -- Factorial in step by step

Here's something for the people who are trying to learn golfscript. The prerequisite is a basic understanding of golfscript, and the ability to read golfscript documentation.

So we want to try out our new tool golfscript. It's always good to start with something simple, so we're beginning with factorial. Here's an initial attempt, based on a simple imperative pseudocode:

# pseudocode: f(n){c=1;while(n>1){c*=n;n--};return c}
{:n;1:c;{n 1>}{n c*:c;n 1-:n;}while c}:f

Whitespace is very rarely used in golfscript. The easiest trick to get rid of whitespace is to use different variable names. Every token can be used as a variable (see the syntax page). Useful tokens to use as variables are special characters like |, &, ? -- generally anything not used elsewhere in the code. These are always parsed as single character tokens. In contrast, variables like n will require a space to push a number to the stack after. Numbers are essentially preinitialized variables.

As always, there are going to be statements which we can change, without affecting the end result. In golfscript, everything evaluates to true except 0, [], "", and {} (see this). Here, we can change the loop exit condition to simply {n} (we loop an additional time, and terminate when n=0).

As with golfing any language, it helps to know the available functions. Luckily the list is very short for golfscript. We can change 1- to ( to save another character. At present the code looks like this: (we could be using 1 instead of | here if we wanted, which would drop the initialization.)


It is important to use the stack well to get the shortest solutions (practice practice practice). Generally, if values are only used in a small segment of code, it may not be necessary to store them into variables. By removing the running product variable and simply using the stack, we can save quite a lot of characters.


Here's something else to think about. We're removing the variable n from the stack at the end of the loop body, but then pushing it immediately after. In fact, before the loop begins we also remove it from the stack. We should instead leave it on the stack, and we can keep the loop condition blank.


Maybe we can even eliminate the variable completely. To do this, we will need to keep the variable on the stack at all times. This means that we need two copies of the variable on the stack at the end of the condition check so we don't lose it after the check. Which means that we'll have a redundant 0 on the stack after the loop ends, but that is easy to fix.

This leads us to our optimal while loop solution!


Now we still want to make this shorter. The obvious target should be the word while. Looking at the documentation, there are two viable alternatives -- unfold and do. When you have a choice of different routes to take, try and weigh the benefits of both. Unfold is 'pretty much a while loop', so as an estimate we'll cut down the 5 character while by 4 into /. As for do, we cut while by 3 characters, and get to merge the two blocks, which might save another character or two.

There's actually a big drawback to using a do loop. Since the condition check is done after the body is executed once, the value of 0 will be wrong, so we may need an if statement. I'll tell you now that unfold is shorter (some solutions with do are provided at the end). Go ahead and try it, the code we already have requires minimal changes.


Great! Our solution is now super-short and we're done here, right? Nope. This is 17 characters, and J has 12 characters. Never admit defeat!

Now you're thinking with... recursion

Using recursion means we must use a branching structure. Unfortunate, but as factorial can be expressed so succinctly recursively, this seems like a viable alternative to iteration.

# pseudocode: f(n){return n==0?n*f(n-1):1}
{:n{n.(f*}1if}:f # taking advantage of the tokeniser

Well that was easy -- had we tried recursion earlier we may not have even looked at using a while loop! Still, we're only at 16 characters.


Arrays are generally created in two ways -- using the [ and ] characters, or with the , function. If executed with an integer at the top of the stack, , returns an array of that length with arr[i]=i.

For iterating over arrays, we have three options:

  1. {block}/: push, block, push, block, ...
  2. {block}%: [ push, block, push, block, ... ] (this has some nuances, e.g. intermediate values are removed from the stack before each push)
  3. {block}*: push, push, block, push, block, ...

The golfscript documentation has an example of using {+}* to sum the contents of an array. This suggests we can use {*}* to get the product of an array.


Unfortunately, it isn't quite that simple. All the elements are off by one ([0 1 2] instead of [1 2 3]). We can use {)}% to rectify this issue.


Well not quite. This doesn't handle zero correctly. We can calculate (n+1)!/(n+1) to rectify this, although this costs far too much.


We can also try to handle n=0 in the same bucket as n=1. This is actual extremely short to do, try and work out the shortest you can.

Not so good is sorting, at 7 characters: [1\]$1=. Note that this sorting technique does has useful purposes, such as imposing boundaries on a number (e.g. `[0\100]$1=)
Here's the winner, with only 3 characters: .!+

If we want to have the increment and multiplication in the same block, we should iterate over every element in the array. Since we aren't building an array, this means we should be using {)*}/, which brings us to the shortest golfscript implementation of factorial! At 12 characters long, this is tied with J!


Bonus solutions

Starting with a straightforward if solution for a do loop:


We can squeeze a couple extra out of this. A little complicated, so you'll have to convince yourself these ones work. Make sure you understand all of these.


A better alternative is to calculate (n+1)!/(n+1), which eliminates the need for an if structure.


But the shortest do solution here takes a few characters to map 0 to 1, and everything else to itself -- so we don't need any branching. This sort of optimization is extremely easy to miss.


For anyone interested, a few alternative recursive solutions with the same length as above are provided here:


*note: I haven't actually tested many of the pieces of code in this post, so feel free to inform if there are errors.

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Interesting, the seems to be a bug in the spoiler markdown when you use code in a spoiler... Anyone cares to mention this on Meta? –  Ivo Flipse Feb 7 '11 at 11:55
+1 Well played! –  Eelvex Feb 9 '11 at 21:19

Haskell, 17

f n=product[1..n]
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I like Haskell very much. Such mathematical tasks are usually extremely short in it. –  FUZxxl Feb 6 '11 at 17:42
I don't know Haskell... But Will this calculate factorial for 0 –  The King Feb 7 '11 at 12:11
@The King: yes it will. [1..0] ==> [] and product [] ==> 1 –  J B Feb 7 '11 at 12:12
I would argue this uses the "built-in library" that the problem prohibits. Still, the other method f 0=1;f n=n*f$n-1 is 17 characters as well. –  eternalmatt Jul 26 '11 at 1:20
@eternalmatt: that part of the restrictions is underspecified to me. Both product and, say, (*) or (-) "can calculate the factorial", and they're all defined through the Prelude. Why would one be cool and not the other? –  J B Jul 27 '11 at 9:28

Python - 27

Just simply:

f=lambda x:0**x or x*f(x-1)
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Good trick: 0**x. –  Alexandru Jul 11 '11 at 20:25

APL (4)


Works as an anonymous function:

    ×/∘⍳ 5

If you want to give it a name, 6 characters:

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I don't speak APL, what is going on here? –  Michael Stern Jan 6 '14 at 21:11
@MichaelStern: makes an index vector, i.e. ⍳5 is 1 2 3 4 5. × is (obviously) multiply, / is reduce, and is function composition. So, ×/∘⍳ is a function that takes an argument x and gives the product of the numbers [1..x]. –  marinus Jan 6 '14 at 23:09
Ah, the same approach as in @Yves Klett's Mathematica solution. Very nice. –  Michael Stern Jan 7 '14 at 3:14

J (12)

A standard definition in J:


Less than 1sec for 125!


 f 0
 f 5
  f 125x
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why not just */>:i. ? –  Andbdrew Aug 21 '11 at 11:26
Because OP asks for a function and the best we can do in J is to define a verb. –  Eelvex Aug 23 '11 at 12:16
There's no reason it can't be an anonymous function right? Like ([:*/1+i.) for 10 points, or even 8 as the parentheses are only needed for calling the function, not for the definition. –  jpjacobs Nov 4 '14 at 22:05

Perl 6: 13 chars


[*] is same as Haskell product, and 1..$_ is a count-up from 1 to $_, the argument.

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It's not allowed to not use a space after [*] anymore ("Two terms in a row" error message). –  xfix Dec 28 '13 at 19:24

Golfscript - 13 chars (SYM)

defines the function !

{),()\{*}/}:!             # happy robot version \{*}/ 

alternate 13 char version


whole program version is 10 chars


testcases take less than 1/10 second:








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+1 for symbolic golf entry! I wish I could upvote more than once. :-D –  Chris Jester-Young Feb 7 '11 at 0:56

Python - 28

f=lambda x:x/~x+1or x*f(x-1)

(based off Alexandru's solution)

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Matlab 15


>> f(0)
ans =
>> f(4)
ans =
>> tic,f(125),toc
ans =
Elapsed time is 0.000380 seconds.
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PostScript, 26 chars

/f{1 exch -1 1{mul}for}def


GS> 0 f =
GS> 1 f =
GS> 8 f =

The function itself takes only 21 characters; the rest is to bind it to a variable. To save a byte, one can also bind it to a digit, like so:

GS> 0{1 exch -1 1{mul}for}def
GS> 8 0 load exec =
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Ghostscript cannot handle 125!; anything beyond 34! comes out as 1.#INF. (I used stock GNU Ghostscript 9.0.7 compiled for x64 Windows.) –  Ross Presser Jan 7 '14 at 6:17

Ruby - 30 29 characters

def f(n)(1..n).inject 1,:*end


f(0) -> 1
f(5) -> 120
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You can put the end directly after :* without a newline or semicolon. –  sepp2k Feb 6 '11 at 17:50
thanks, -1 char :-) –  user300 Feb 6 '11 at 17:56
There's no need to pass 1 to the #inject call. (1..10).inject :* #=> 3628800 –  Dogbert Feb 7 '11 at 10:56
@Dogbert, what about for f(0)? –  Nemo157 Feb 7 '11 at 19:05
Shorter to use 1.9 lambda syntax: f=->n{(1..n).inject 1,:*}. Call it with f[n]. –  Michael Kohl Aug 22 '11 at 22:04

C#, 20 or 39 characters depending on your point of view

As a traditional instance method (39 characters; tested here):

double f(int x){return 2>x?1:x*f(x-1);}

As a lambda expression (20 characters, but see disclaimer; tested here):


We have to use double because 125! == 1.88 * 10209, which is much higher than ulong.MaxValue.

Disclaimer about the lambda version's character count:

If you recursion in a C# lambda, you obviously have to store the lambda in a named variable so that it can call itself. But unlike (e.g.) JavaScript, a self-referencing lambda must have been declared and initialized on a previous line. You can't call the function in the same statement in which you declare and/or initialize the variable.

In other words, this doesn't work:

Func<int,double> f=x=>2>x?1:x*f(x-1); //Error: Use of unassigned local variable 'f'

But this does:

Func<int,double> f=null;            

There's no good reason for this restriction, since f can't ever be unassigned at the time it runs. The necessity of the Func<int,double> f=null; line is a quirk of C#. Whether that makes it fair to ignore it in the character count is up to the reader.

CoffeeScript, 21 19 characters for real

f=(x)->+!x||x*f x-1

Tested here: http://jsfiddle.net/0xjdm971/

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Ruby - 21 chars



irb(main):009:0> f=->n{n>1?n*f[n-1]:1}
=> #<Proc:0x25a6d48@(irb):9 (lambda)>
irb(main):010:0> f[125]
=> 18826771768889260997437677024916008575954036487149242588759823150835315633161
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85 Chars

BigInteger f(int n){return n<2?BigInteger.ONE:new BigInteger(""+n).multiply(f(n-1));}
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JavaScript, 25

function f(n)!n||n*f(n-1)

CoffeeScript, 19


Returns true in the case of n=0, but JavaScript will type-coerce that to 1 anyway.

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Don't you need a return statement in the JavaScript function? –  Justin Morgan Jul 12 '11 at 19:19
Update: Holy smoke, you don't need a return! But why not? –  Justin Morgan Jul 12 '11 at 19:43
It's JavaScript 1.8 (developer.mozilla.org/en/new_in_javascript_1.8). Full disclosure, it only works on Firefox! –  Casey Chu Jul 13 '11 at 3:53
Nice, I didn't know about leaving out the return statement for JavaScript 1.8. Also, you can guarantee 1 instead of true for the n=0 case with the same length code: function f(n)n?n*f(--n):1 –  Briguy37 Aug 3 '11 at 21:50
ES6, 17: f=n=>!n||n*f(n-1) Take that, CoffeeScript! –  minitech Dec 29 '13 at 3:03

C (39 chars)

double f(int n){return n<2?1:n*f(n-1);}
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Nice. But can save some characters: double f(n){return!n?1:n*f(n-1);} - 33 chars. –  ugoren Jan 12 '12 at 16:38

F#: 26 chars

There's no inbuilt product function in F#, but you can make one with a fold

let f n=Seq.fold(*)1{1..n}
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D: 45 Characters

T f(T)(T n){return n < 2 ? 1 : n * f(n - 1);}

More legibly:

T f(T)(T n)
    return n < 2 ? 1 : n * f(n - 1);

A cooler (though longer version) is the templatized one which does it all at compile time (64 characters):

template F(int n){static if(n<2)enum F=1;else enum F=n*F!(n-1);}

More legibly:

template F(int n)
    static if(n < 2)
        enum F = 1;
        enum F = n * F!(n - 1);

Eponymous templates are pretty verbose though, so you can't really use them in code golf very well. D's already verbose enough in terms of character count to be rather poor for code golf (though it actually does really well at reducing overall program size for larger programs). It's my favorite language though, so I figure that I might as well try and see how well I can get it to do at code golf, even if the likes of GolfScript are bound to cream it.

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take out the whitespace and you can get it down to 36 chars –  ratchet freak Jul 3 '11 at 13:36

Befunge - 2x20 = 40 characters

0\:#v_# 1#<\$v *\<

This is a function in that it is a standalone block of code not utilising the wraparound. You have to place the argument on the top of the stack then enter from the top-left going right, the function will exit from the bottom-right going right with the result on the top of the stack.

E.g. to calculate the factorial of 125

555**   0\:#v_# 1#<\$v *\<
            >:1-:#^_$>\:#^_$    .@

Testing 0

0   0\:#v_# 1#<\$v *\<
        >:1-:#^_$>\:#^_$    .@
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PowerShell 42 (saved 2 chars using filter instead of function)

filter f($x){if(!$x){1}else{$x*(f($x-1))}}


PS C:\> f 0
PS C:\> f 5
PS C:\> f 1
PS C:\> f 125
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C#: 37

int f(int n){return n>0?n*f(n-1):1;}

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This function returns 1 always. –  Alexandru Jul 4 '11 at 11:15
whoopsies, you're right. –  Origamiguy Jul 10 '11 at 12:38
int is way too small to hold 125!, which is something like 1.88e+209. –  Justin Morgan Jul 12 '11 at 19:05

Scala, 39 characters

def f(x:BigInt)=(BigInt(1)to x).product

Most of the characters are ensuring that BigInts are used so the requirement for values up to 125 is met.

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Kona (11 6)


K works right-to-left (for the most part), so we enumerate x (make a list/array of numbers from 0 to x-1), add 1 to it (list ranges 0 to x), then multiply all numbers together. If it weren't a requirement to compute 125!, I could save 1 more byte by eliminating . next to the 1. In any event, 125! is computed in mere milliseconds:

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You don't need a lot of this. K has currying, so the entire answer becomes */1.+!: 6 bytes. –  kirbyfan64sos Jun 25 at 14:43
@kirbyfan64sos: True & I'll edit it in. I think when I wrote this ~18 months ago, I was still stuck on everything must be callable (i.e., function). –  Kyle Kanos Jun 25 at 15:00

Python 29

f=lambda x:x and x*f(x-1)or 1
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js, 52

function f(m){n=1;for(i=1;i<=m;i++){n*=i;}return n;}
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You can shorten that too function f(m){for(n=i=1;i<=m;)n*=i++;return n}. It's 6 character in less. –  HoLyVieR Feb 7 '11 at 3:57

Python 35 Characters

def f(n):return n and n*f(n-1) or 1


def f(n):return n*f(n-1) if n else 1
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I posted a shorter similar solution. No need to repeat it you don't have an extra insight. –  Alexandru Feb 7 '11 at 12:33

Python - 35ch

reduce(lambda a,b:a*b,range(1,n+1))
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PowerShell – 36


filter f{if($_){$_*(--$_|f}else{1}}


> 0,5,125|f
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PowerShell, 34


Creates a list of numbers from one to the argument, selects those greater than or equal to one and multiplies those. For 0 the list 1, 0 will be created where then only 1 remains, yielding the correct answer.

To test:

> &{($p=1).."$args"-ge1|%{$p*=$_};$p} 125

It's just a scriptblock; i.e. a function without a name.

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Sage: 19 chars

For some reason, Guido hates prod(). But, Sage supports it:

f=lambda n:prod(1..n)

edit: just had a statement previously, not a function

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