Counting Primes

February 9, 2016

We have studied functions for counting the prime numbers less than a given number in two previous exercises. All of them were based on Legendre’s phi function that counts the numbers less than x not stricken by sieving with the first a primes.

Today we look at a rather different method of counting the primes that is due to G. H. Hardy and Edward M. Wright. Their method is based on factorials, and their formula is

$\pi(n) = -1 + \sum_{j=3}^{n} \left( (j-2)! - j\lfloor \frac{(j-2)!}{j} \rfloor \right)$

for n > 3, where ⌊n⌋ is the greatest integer less than n. The expression inside the big parentheses is 1 when n is prime and 0 when n is composite, by Wilson’s Theorem, which states that an integer n > 1 is prime if and only if (n − 1)! ≡ −1 (mod n); the theorem was first stated by Ibn al-Haytham (c. 1000AD), but is named for John Wilson, who first published it in 1770, and it was first proved by Lagrange in 1771.

Your task is to write a program that counts primes by the Hardy-Wright method. 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.