Tonelli-Shanks Algorithm

November 23, 2012

One of the operations of modular arithmetic, and an important step in many algorithms of number theory, is finding modular square roots. In the expression x2a (mod p), x is a modular square root of a; for instance, 62 is a square root of 2, mod 113, because 62 * 62 = 3844 = 36 * 113 + 2. Like real numbers, modular square roots come in pairs, so -62 ≡ 51 (mod 113) is also a square root of 2.

The usual method for finding modular square roots involves an algorithm developed by Alberto Tonelli in the 1890s; there are several variants, including one due to Daniel Shanks in 1973, one of which we saw in a previous exercise. The particular variant that we will look at today is described at

We will assume that the modulus p = s · 2e + 1 is an odd prime, that the number a for which we seek a square root is coprime to p, and that the Legendre symbol (a/p) is 1, which indicates that the square root exists. Find an n such that n(p−1)/2 ≡ −1 (mod p); it won’t take long if you start from n = 2 and increase n by 1 until you find one. Then set xa(s+1)/2 (mod p), bas (mod p), gns (mod p), and r = e. Next find the smallest non-negative integer m such that b2m ≡ 1 (mod p), which is done by repeated squarings and reductions. If m is zero, you’re finished; report the value of x and halt. Otherwise, set x to x · g2rm−1 (mod p), set b to b · g2rm (mod p), set g to g2rm (mod p), and set r = m, then loop back and compute a new m, continuing until m is zero.

As an example we find the square root of 2 mod 113. First compute p = 113 = 7 · 24 + 1 and n = 3, then x = 16, b = 15, g = 40, and r = 4. The first computation of m is 2, so set x = 62, b = 1, g = 98, and r = 2. Then the second computation of m is 0, so x = 62 is a square root of 2 (mod 113), and so is 113 – 62 = 51.

Your task is to write a function that computes modular square roots according to the algorithm described above. When you are finished, you are welcome to read or run a suggested solution, or to post your own solution or discuss the exercise in the comments below.


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