Octave: An Different to the Excessive Value of MATLAB


Octave is a free (each free as in beer and free as in speech) MATLAB appropriate numerical programming device out there underneath the GNU Common Public License. MATLAB, an abbreviation for “Matrix Laboratory”, is presently probably the most broadly used business, proprietary numerical programming device. Even a single license for the MATLAB software program is a considerable price. MATLAB is actually a scripting language just like Perl, Python, or PHP with a complete, extremely built-in set of numerical, statistical, mathematical, and graphical capabilities together with, for instance, the Fourier rework, matrix inversion, and histograms. Partially as a result of MATLAB has grow to be the de facto trade normal for numerical programming, Octave is of specific curiosity to people, corporations, and organizations engaged in numerical and mathematical programming and analysis and growth.

A Little Bit About MATLAB

MATLAB was initially developed within the 1970’s as an easy-to-use interactive front-end for just lately developed Fortran libraries of matrix algebra and matrix manipulation capabilities. For that reason, MATLAB was initially designed round two-dimensional matrices of actual numbers. Within the 1980’s, MATLAB was rewritten within the then in style C programming language and transformed right into a business software program product from MathWorks. Through the years, MATLAB has been prolonged to help multi-dimensional numerical arrays, character strings, many sorts of arithmetic past matrix and linear algebra, object-oriented programming, and plenty of different options. MATLAB has various good options, however it is usually a hodge-podge of options added by many alternative programmers at MathWorks during the last 30 years.


Octave was developed by John W. Eaton and others as a free clone of MATLAB. Octave shares a lot of the syntax and options of MATLAB. For a variety of mathematical and numerical programming duties, Octave is superb and may do every little thing MATLAB can do. It’s out there as each supply code and pre-compiled binaries for the Microsoft Home windows, Mac OS X, and Linux/Unix platforms. Octave might be simply downloaded from the Octave site: https://www.gnu.org/software program/octave/

Octave and MATLAB have nearly equivalent syntax. There may be in depth info on the Net about MATLAB and Octave in addition to many books about MATLAB. This text will concentrate on sure particular points and options deemed particularly vital in adopting or utilizing Octave for numerical and mathematically oriented tasks. For detailed info on the syntax, readers are referred to the in depth and glorious on-line and printed documentation.

Instance 1: Including Two Vectors in Octave

octave-3.2.4.exe:10> a = [1 2 3]
 a = 1  2  3
octave-3.2.4.exe:11> b = [4 5 6]
 b = 4  5  6
octave-3.2.4.exe:12> a + b
 ans = 5  7  9

Instance 2: A Numerical Vary in Octave

octave-3.2.4.exe:13> 5:10
 ans = 5   6   7   8   9  10

Instance 3: A Easy Plot

octave-3.2.4.exe:15> a = 1:100;
octave-3.2.4.exe:16> pi
ans = 3.1416
octave-3.2.4.exe:17> knowledge = sin(2*pi*a/20);
octave-3.2.4.exe:18> plot(knowledge)
Simple Octave Plot

Octave Plot

Octave consists of built-in capabilities to learn and write human readable tab-delimited and comma separated values (CSV) knowledge recordsdata. This present day, most pc applications starting from databases to spreadsheets to phrase processors can simply learn and write knowledge recordsdata in tab-delimited or comma separated worth codecs. Virtually all pc programming languages can simply learn and write tab-delimited knowledge recordsdata and, with considerably extra work, comma separated worth knowledge recordsdata. The Octave built-in capabilities for this are: dlmread, dlmwrite, csvread, and csvwrite. In actual world tasks, it’s truly uncommon to make use of Octave or comparable instruments totally standalone. One is normally importing knowledge from different applications and exporting knowledge to different applications. With big disk drives and highly effective trendy pc networks, it’s almost all the time potential to make use of human readable tab-delimited or comma separated worth knowledge recordsdata to import, export, and share knowledge. That is usually probably the most handy technique to combine Octave with different instruments. As well as, Octave can learn and write binary knowledge, for instance by C fashion built-in fopen, fread, fwrite, and fclose capabilities.

Octave’s help for widespread multimedia and binary file codecs in considerably restricted however enough. Octave can learn and write various binary picture file codecs utilizing its imread and imwrite capabilities. The creator works an excellent take care of digital audio, together with audio particular results and speech recognition. Octave can learn and write the broadly used Microsoft WAV (Wave) audio file format utilizing the wavread and wavwrite capabilities. Uncompressed wave audio recordsdata are fairly easy and might be simply learn and written at a low degree by nearly any programming language in addition to many widespread audio processing instruments on all the main pc working programs: Microsoft Home windows goes with out saying, each Mac OS and the iPhone iOS help wave recordsdata, and plenty of variants of Linux and Unix. The favored free (as in beer, as in speech) Audacity audio processing program can each learn and write uncompressed WAV audio recordsdata; Audacity is offered as each supply code and pre-compiled binaries for Home windows, Mac, and Linux platforms.

Octave is kind of quick. The essential knowledge kind of Octave is a “matrix,” which now means a multi-dimensional array of double precision floating level numbers. In the present day, there’s not often a considerable distinction in velocity between single and double precision floating level arithmetic on most platforms. The assorted matrix operations constructed into Octave are very shut in velocity to quick compiled code. As a result of its fundamental knowledge kind is principally a multi-dimensional array of native knowledge sorts (double precision floating level) Octave (and MATLAB) can typically carry out quicker on numerical programming duties than list-based symbolic manipulation applications comparable to Mathematica. Octave additionally helps a easy mechanism so as to add quick compiled C capabilities to Octave by its mkoctfile perform/command:

mkoctfile [-options] file ...

The mkoctfile perform compiles supply code written in C, C++, or Fortran. Relying on the choices used with mkoctfile, the compiled code might be referred to as inside Octave or can be utilized as a stand-alone software. mkoctfile might be referred to as from the shell immediate or from the Octave immediate.

As a result of Octave is free and out there for obtain on all main pc platforms, it’s now simple to create mathematical or numerical scripts to share with anybody on these platforms (MS Home windows, Mac OS X, or Linux/Unix) with out the massive price of the MATLAB program.


Whereas Octave has very in depth options — few customers will want extra — Octave doesn’t help all the superior and up to date options of MATLAB. Whereas Octave is free, it’s licensed underneath the GNU Common Public License (GPL), reasonably than the Berkeley fashion licenses that enable customers to include supply code into their proprietary commericial applications. The GPL is usually an issue for business customers of Octave or different free software program. Octave error messages might be cryptic.

Each Octave and MATLAB have little help for symbolic manipulation. In lots of areas comparable to sign and picture processing, that is not often a priority. The creator has used the free Maxima (previously MACSYMA) program efficiently for symbolic manipulation duties that Octave couldn’t carry out.

Alternate options

There are numerous free and different not-so-free numerical, mathematical, and symbolic programming instruments together with MATLAB, Mathematica, MAPLE, Sage, Python/NumPy, Axiom, Maxima, and plenty of others. readers are referred to many on-line sources and discussions for a complete record of alternate options. The particular benefits of Octave are that it’s mature software program, has a big person base, is free, is offered in each supply code and pre-compiled binaries for all three main pc platforms, and is usually appropriate with MATLAB, which has grow to be the de facto trade normal for numerical programming lately.


For a lot of makes use of and customers, Octave is a wonderful different to MATLAB or a superb complement to MATLAB. Some customers might discover that they are going to need one licensed copy of MATLAB to verify their scripts will run underneath normal MATLAB whereas utilizing Octave on all of their computer systems to avoid wasting prices and to make sure their scripts might be run by anybody, wherever for free of charge utilizing the free Octave device. Many customers can be glad to thoroughly save the appreciable price of MATLAB, no small quantity particularly within the present tough economic system.

© 2011 John F. McGowan

Concerning the Writer

John F. McGowan, Ph.D. is a software program developer, analysis scientist, and marketing consultant. He works primarily within the space of complicated algorithms that embody superior mathematical and logical ideas, together with speech recognition and video compression applied sciences. He has in depth expertise growing software program in C, C++, Visible Primary, Mathematica, MATLAB, and plenty of different programming languages. He’s in all probability greatest recognized for his AVI Overview, an Web FAQ (Incessantly Requested Questions) on the Microsoft AVI (Audio Video Interleave) file format. He has labored as a contractor at NASA Ames Analysis Heart concerned within the analysis and growth of picture and video processing algorithms and expertise. He has printed articles on the origin and evolution of life, the exploration of Mars (anticipating the invention of methane on Mars), and low cost entry to area. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the College of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.S. in physics from the California Institute of Expertise (Caltech). He might be reached at [email protected].

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