MATLAB - Additional Information

What is MATLAB?

MATLAB is a technical computing environment for high-performance numeric computation and visualization. MATLAB integrates numerical analysis, matrix computation, signal processing and graphics in an easy-to-use environment where problems and solutions are expressed just as they are written mathematically - without traditional programming.

MATLAB is an interactive system whose basic data element is a matrix that does not require dimensioning. This allows you to solve many numerical problems in a fraction of the time it would take to write a program in a language such as Fortran, Basic or C.

MATLAB also features a family of application-specific solutions called toolboxes. Toolboxes are collections of MATLAB functions (M-files) that extend the MATLAB environment in order to solve particular classes of problems.

In the College of Engineering, the following toolboxes are available:

  1. Matlab Compiler
  2. Communication
  3. Communication Blockset
  4. Control System
  5. Curve Fitting
  6. Data Acquisition
  7. Dials and Gaugest
  8. Fuzzy Logic
  9. Genetics Algorithms
  10. Image Aquisition
  11. Image Processing
  12. Instrument Control
  13. Neural Network
  14. Optimization
  15. PDE toolbox
  16. Power System Blocks
  17. RealTime Workshop
  18. Robust Control
  19. Signal Blocks
  20. Signal Processing
  21. SimMechanics
  22. Simscape
  23. Simulink
  24. Simulink Control Design
  25. Spline
  26. Stateflow
  27. Stateflow Coder
  28. Statistics
  29. Symbolic Math
  30. System Identification
  31. Video and Image Blockset
  32. Wavelet

To find out what toolboxes are available on a UNIX system, type the command ver on the matlab prompt.

Where is MATLAB?

MATLAB is available on all platforms using the same license. The current version is 7.6

Preparing Your Account

As you become familiar with MATLAB, you will probably want to create your own library of MATLAB-related files. It is recommended that you create a new directory called MATLAB in your home directory:

% cd
	% mkdir matlab
	% cd matlab

MATLAB's search path is set up to look for files in this subdirectory. Storing your MATLAB related files in the Matlab directory gives you access to them no matter where you are in your file system when you invoke MATLAB.

Invoking MATLAB

To invoke MATLAB, enter the command matlab at the operating system prompt. The MATLAB banner appears with the MATLAB prompt ">>". At this point, the MATLAB interpreter is awaiting instructions from you. Enter a small matrix, place brackets around the data and separate the rows with semicolons:

A = [ 1 2 3; 4 5 6; 7 8 9]

When you press Return, MATLAB responds with:

A = 
                      1              2              3
                      4              5              6
                      7              8             10

To invert this matrix, enter

B = inv(A)

Editing the Command Line

To edit mistyped commands or recall previous command lines, you can use the arrow keys. For example, if you misspell sqrt in the command


Instead of retyping the entire line, press the "up" key. The last command you entered displays. You can press key to move the cursor left, backspace to delete r and the r key to insert the r in the right place.

The commands you enter during a MATLAB session are stored in a moderately sized input buffer. You can "smart recall" to recall a previous command whose first few characters you specify.

Using Editors

As you become proficient with MATLAB, you will do an increasing amount of work with M-files. M-files contain a series of MATLAB statements and these files are created and edited with text editors such as vi, Emacs, etc. You can use a separate window for running the editor. M-file is a record of how a problem was solved and automates command entry as well as allows user defined function that can be executed from the command line in the future.

Shell Escape

Use the exclamation point character "!" within MATLAB to indicate the input line is a command to the operating system. This is useful for running any UNIX utility or other program, without exiting from MATLAB. When the external process completes, control returns to MATLAB.

Help Facility

A help facility provides on-line information for most MATLAB topics. The command help with no arguments displays a list of directories that contain MATLAB related files. Each line displayed lists the name of a directory followed by a description of the directory contents. Some of the directories are associated with the base MATLAB itself; they contain information about the functions that are built in the core MATLAB processor, or included M-files with every copy of MATLAB. Other directories are for toolboxes; these contain collections of additional MATLAB functions covering more specialized application areas. For a list of functions covered by a particular directory, type help followed by the directory name (help matfun). Often the names listed are functions, so help followed by one of these names provides detailed information about that feature (help eig).

A more general information search is provided by lookfor. This command is like using the index in a book and is similar to the UNIX apropos command (lookfor inverse). Three other commands, who, what and which give information about variables, file and directories. Type help who, help what and help which to find out details.

For additional help, you may try Matlab's site on the Internet at


Typing demo at the MATLAB prompt demonstrates some of MATLAB's capabilities and uses a menu called Expo.

Data Input

  • Enter data as an explicit list of elements. If you have a small amount of data, say 10-15 elements, it is easy to type the data explicitly using brackets, "[" and "]". This method is awkward for larger amounts of data because you can't edit your input if you make a mistake.
  • Create data in an M-file. Use your text editor to create a script M-file that enters your data as an explicit list of elements. This method is useful when your data is not already in a computer readable form and you have to type them in anyway. Running and re-running the M-file enters the data.
  • Load data from an ASCII flat file. A flat file stores the data in ASCII form, with fixed length rows terminated with newlines (carriage returns), and spaces separating the numbers. ASCII flat file can be directly edited by normal text editors. Flat files can be read directly into MATLAB using the load command. The result is put in a variable whose name is the file name.
  • Read data using fopen, fread and MATLAB's other low level I/O functions. This method is useful for loading data file from other applications that have their own establish file formats.

Exporting MATLAB Data

  • Save the data in ASCII form using the save command with the -ascii option.
  • Write the data in a special format using fopen, fread and MATLAB's other low level I/O functions. This is useful for writing data files in a format required by other applications.

Recording a MATLAB Session

The diary command creates a diary of your MATLAB session in a disk file. (Graphics are not saved) The resulting ASCII file is suitable for inclusion into reports and other documents using any word processor.

Printing Graphics

MATLAB's various plotting functions create windows that contain graphics. The print filename command can be executed to create a postscript file of the active figure which is placed in your root directory. From a unix prompt you can then send the postscript file to the printer using the "lp" command.

How To Start MATLAB in Background

Before attempting to run a matlab program in background, remove any graphic commands, such as plot, etc from your file, my_file.m. Then use the following to run your m-file in background on one of the servers:

nohup matlab < my_file > outfile

The 'nohup' will enable the program to keep running after you log off the server. The '&' will tell the server to run the command in background. Outfile is where your output will be stored.

If you are running in the background, you will probably also want to save the output from your variables also.

save foo [var1 [var2 [...]]]

This will create a file called foo.mat. If you do not specify any variables, then Matlab will save your entire workspace (this can be quite large). To retrieve the data in foo, use 'load foo' in the Matlab window.

Things To Try

( type as seen at the MATLAB prompt >>)

	x = [-1 0 2]
	x = x'
	y = x - 1
	inprod = x'*y
	outprod = x*y'
	A = [1 2 3; 4 5 6; 7 8 0]
	B = A'            
	C = A + B
	b = A*x
	x = inv(A)*b
	z = pi*x
	w = x*y
	w = x.*y
	u = x^2
	u = x.^2
z = cos(pi/3)
	z = [-1:0.05:1]'
	zz = cos(2*pi*z)
	zz = exp(-1.5*z).*cos(2*pi*z)
	title(`Figure 1'); xlabel(`Time'); ylabel(`Amplitude'); grid 
(create a file called bumps.m in your root directory.
 	It should include:)
	function y = bumps(x)
	y = 1./((x-.3).^2+.01) + 1./((x-.9).^2+.04) - 6

	(then at the prompt >>)
	x = -1:0.01:2;
	fplot(`bumps',[-1 2],0.01)
	y = x;
	R = sqrt(X.^2 + Y.^2) +eps
	Z = sin(R)./R

MATLAB Command and Function Tables

The 20 categories listed below provide command and function reference tables for their associated topic. To find "general" commands and functions for MATLAB, at the MATLAB prompt ">>", enter:

help general

To find MATLAB operators and special characters, at the MATLAB prompt ">>", enter:

help ops
Category   Description
	--------   ------------------------------------------------
	general    General purpose commands
	ops        Operators and special characters
	lang       Language constructs and debugging
	elmat      Elementary matricies and matrix manipulation
	specmat    Specialized matricies
	elfun      Elementary math functions
	specfun    Specialized math functions
	matfun     Matrix functions - numerical linear algebra
	datafun    Data analysis and Fourier transform functions
	polyfun    Polynomial and interpolation functions
	funfun     Function functions - nonlinear numerical methods
	sparfun    Sparse matrix functions
	plotxy     Two dimensional graphics
	plotxyz    Three dimensional functions
	graphics   General purpose graphics functions
	color      Color control and lighting model functions
	sounds     Sound processing functions
	strfun     Character string functions
	iofun      Low-level file I/O functions
	demos      Demonstrations and samples


Click here to find out about the MATLAB Distributed Engine.