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Matlab syntax tricks

By Raphaël - December 18th, 2016


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Introduction and comments


Pushing at the end of an array with end+1

Here is a basic exemple:

% Define an empty array
A = [];                     % A is empty

% Push a value at the end
A(end+1) = 18;              % A now contains 1 element
A(end+1) = 19;              % A now contains 2 element
A(end+1) = 20;              % A now contains 3 elements

>> A

A =

    18    19    20

This syntax is particularly useful to fill up an array at every iteration of a loop. Note that it is generally considered a sub-optimal syntax and pre-allocation should be used as a golden rule whenever possible:

Pre-allocation exemple
% Pre-allocate the array
A = NaN();

% Fill the array within a loop
for i = 1:100
  A(i) = randi(i);

Note that though the offical documentation generally pre-allocate arrays with zeros, pre-allocating with NaNs is generally a better pratice as it is easier to debug incorrectly assigned values.

But there are cases where the size of the resulting array cannot be predicted before the loop begins. Pre-allocation is then suboptimal, and one has to increment the size of the array whenever a new element has to be inserted; in these cases the end+1 syntax is useful. For instance:

% Define an empty array 
A = [];

for i = 1:100

  % Some random condition that makes the final array size unpredictable
  %   Here: wait a random fraction of a second, get the number of seconds 
  %   in the current time and check if it is above the number of minutes.

  tmp = clock;
  if tmp(end)>tmp(end-1)

    % Extend the array size and assign the value 
    A(end+1) = i;



Finally, it is also possible to use the end+1 syntax with multi-dimensional arrays if the initial array dimensions are correctly defined. Remember you can define a dimension with zero cardinality:

% Define an empty array
A = NaN(0,2);             % A is a 0-by-2 empty array

N = 100;
for i = 1:N
  % Some random condition that makes the final array size unpredictable
  %   Here: draw a random number below the current index and compare it 
  %   against a random number below the loop size.

  r = i*rand(1);
  if r>N*rand(1)

    % Extend the array size and memorize iteration index and value
    A(end+1,:) = [i r];


Deleting array elements

To remove an element (or a set of elements) from an array, the elegant way simply writes:

A(I) = [];

where I denotes the indexes of the elements to remove.

In the case of multiple-elements deletion, this syntax is definitely the most efficient and elegant way. But note that for removing a single element the =[] syntax is twice as slower than redefining the array with concatenation:

% Define an array
A = 1:10;

% Array concatenation
A = [A(1:4) A(6:end)];      % Takes ~4.3e-6 seconds on my laptop

% Direct deletion
A(5) = [];                  % Takes ~8.9e-6 seconds, twice as slow!

Using strings as arrays

In Matlab, strings are arrays of chars and actually behave like any other array. For instance one can use the same concatenation syntax in all dimensions:

>> s = ['abc' 'def' 'ghi']

s =


>> s = ['Hello' ; 'world']

s =


Indexing also works the same:

>> s = 'Hello world !';   % Define a string
>> s(7:11)                % Select a substring

ans =


>> s(s=='o') = '*'        % Replace all occurence of 'o' by '*'

s =

Hell* w*rld !

>> s(1:2:end) = '#'       % Replace one every two letters

s =

#e#l# #*#l# #
Introduction and comments


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