Open main menu

Wikibooks β

MATLAB Programming/GNU Octave

< MATLAB Programming

Octave is a free computer program for performing numerical computations (created as part of the GNU project) which is mostly compatible with MATLAB.



The project was conceived around 1988. At first it was intended to be a companion to a chemical reactor design course. Real development was started by John W. Eaton in 1992. The first alpha release dates back to January 4, 1993 and on February 17, 1994 version 1.0 was released.

The name has nothing to do with music. It was the name of a former professor of one of the authors of Octave who was known for his ability to quickly come up with good approximations to numerical problems.

Technical detailsEdit

  • Octave is written in C++ using STL libraries.
  • Octave has an interpreter that interprets the Octave language.
  • Octave itself is extensible using dynamically loadable modules.
  • Octave interpreter works in tandem with gnuplot and Grace software to create plots, graphs, and charts, and to save or print them.

Octave, the languageEdit

The Octave language is an interpreted programming language. It is a structured programming language (an example of which is the C language) and supports many common C standard library constructs, and can be extended to support UNIX system calls and functions. However, it does not support passing arguments by reference.

Octave programs consist of a list of function calls or script. The language is matrix-based and provides various functions for matrix operation. It is not object-oriented, but supports data structures.

Its syntax is very similar to MATLAB, and carefully programming a script will allow it to run on both Octave and MATLAB.

Because Octave is made available under the GNU General Public License, it may be freely copied and used. The program runs under most Unix and Unix-like operating systems, as well as Microsoft Windows.

Notable featuresEdit

  • Command and variable name completion

Typing a TAB character on the command line causes Octave to attempt to complete variable, function, and file names. Octave uses the text before the cursor as the initial portion of the name to complete.

  • Command history

When running interactively, Octave saves the commands typed in an internal buffer so that they can be recalled and edited.

  • Data structures

Octave includes a limited amount of support for organizing data in structures. For instance:

octave:1> x.a = 1; x.b = [1, 2; 3, 4]; x.c = "string";
octave:2> x.a
x.a = 1
octave:3> x.b
x.b =

  1  2
  3  4

octave:4> x.c
x.c = string
  • Short-circuit boolean operators

Octave's `&&' and `||' logical operators are evaluated in a short-circuit fashion (like the corresponding operators in the C language) and work differently than the element by element operators `&' and `|'.

  • Increment and decrement operators

Octave includes the C-like increment and decrement operators `++' and `--' in both their prefix and postfix forms.

  • Unwind-protect

Octave supports a limited form of exception handling modelled after the unwind-protect form of Lisp. The general form of an unwind_protect block looks like this:

  • Variable-length argument lists

Octave has a real mechanism for handling functions that take an unspecified number of arguments without explicit upper limit.

Here is an example of a function that uses the new syntax to print a header followed by an unspecified number of values:

function foo (heading, ...)
  disp (heading);
  va_start ();
  while (--nargin)
    disp (va_arg ());
  • Variable-length return lists

Octave also has a real mechanism for handling functions that return an unspecified number of values. For example:

function [...] = foo (n)
  for i = 1:n
    vr_val (i);

See alsoEdit