What is MATLAB?

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Are you curious to know what MATLAB is? What is it used for? What problems does it solve? What language(s) it is written in? What features does it have? What are its applications in numerical computing? If yes, you have reached the right page. This article discusses these topics and talks about MATLAB and its features along with the application areas in numerical computing.

MATLAB is a two-letter abbreviation for Matrix Laboratory. It is a high-level programming language with an interactive development environment for numerical computation and visualization. Problems in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths(STEM) can be solved with it.

It was first developed by Cleve Moler at the University of New Mexico as an interface to code written in Fortran (LINPACK, and EISPACK) for solving a system of linear algebra equations(matrices). Later, he along with two other co-founders, founded MathWorks in 1984. Since then, universities and academia have widely used it; and later adopted it into the Engineering and Scientific community.


MATLAB has wide applications across the Industry. Based on a survey of 146,075 companies in the data analytics sector, a total of 92 different products are used in this category. Of these more than 50% of the products are from MathWorks(25.77%) and MATLAB(25.77%) suite of products.

Of the 37,625 companies that use MATLAB for data analytics, 11% are from Computer Industry, followed by Higher Education- 6%. The distribution is shown in the figure below:

Courtesy: Enlyft.com

The maximum number of users of MATLAB for data analytics worldwide are in the United States-47% followed by India-11% and UK-5%.

Courtesy: Enlyft.com


  1. It is a matrix-based language and its fundamental unit for computation is a matrix or an array.
  2. It supports programming with procedural, scripting, and Object-oriented features.
  3. It is written in several programming languages. The majority of it is written in C/C++, Java for the UI, and also in MATLAB. There are some modules that are written in FORTRAN(for example, LAPACK) and assembly code that is integrated with MATLAB.
  4. Mathworks distributes MATLAB as a desktop application. It provides a large set of rigorously tested tools, functions, and capabilities. It has built-in graphics which make it easy to visualize and gain insights on data.
  5. It targets a wide range of areas and domains in STEM with its toolboxes and interactive apps. Professionals at MATLAB develop, rigorously test, and document these toolboxes. The toolboxes can contain code, data, apps, examples, and documentation.
  6. Several Programming languages (C/C++, Java, FORTRAN, Python, etc) can use MATLAB code in their applications. Also, MATLAB supports the use of other programming languages in it.
  7. It can help migrate its applications as part of web, enterprise, or database, with its Application servers that the clients can interact with.
  8. It has options to scale its applications on to Clusters and Servers. One may not have knowledge of Big data analytics, but can analyze larger data sets with only minor code changes.
  9. Simulink is one of the many tools provided with Matlab. Simulink, makes modeling and simulations easier to achieve, by using graphical blocks that correspond to codes in MATLAB. It has its own set of products in the Mathworks suite of Products.
  10.  It also includes the Live Editor for creating scripts that combine code, output, and formatted text in an executable notebook.
MATLAB live Editor
MATLAB Live Editor


MATLAB has many application areas in the STEM fields and can be broadly classified as follows:

  • Scientific computing or computational science is at the very heart of MATLAB and provides several tools to solve engineering and scientific problems.
  • Engineers and Scientists relate mathematical models to problems in science and engineering. Fourier analysis, numerical linear algebra, partial differential equations(PDEs), Ordinary differential equations(ODEs), represent the physics of the problem domain.
  • Several numerical computation techniques (numerical analysis) solve these mathematical models, and form the basis for scientific computation.
  • Programmers can develop numerical computational algorithms in MATLAB and use several built-in functions to aid their analysis.
  • The modeling of a problem varies for different domains and industries and Matlab provides toolboxes of custom solutions and Apps(UI applications) that support them.
Numerical Computing using MATLAB
Numerical Computing using MATLAB

  • MATLAB a variety of tools to import, analyze, process, and visualize data.
  • Data analysts can import data from various sources including files, databases, and external devices in any format.
  • It provides data cleaning tools to remedy inconsistencies like outliers, missing data, noise, and other bad data. It has built-in functions for pre-processing data, including smoothing, filtering, interpolation, and many more.
  • There are numerous analysis tools in MATLAB to analyze trends, test assumptions, and develop new data models. One can extend the functionality of the analysis by using relevant MATLAB/custom Toolboxes. Toolboxes provide thousands of prebuilt functions from many industries and application-specific tasks like statistical analysis, machine learning, and signal processing.
  • Several plotting functions are available to visualize data and they can be customized both interactively and programmatically. It has a large gallery of example plots with code. One can extend these for their needs.
  • The Live Editor allows the development of Live Scripts. These scripts combine code, documentation, and reading elements allowing the developer to create an interactive narrative. It enables the export of scripts in various formats (pdf, word, Latex, HTML) to help people visualize them without having MATLAB.
  • Apps(GUI applications) allow the user to perform data analysis tasks interactively and generates the MATLAB code. Further analysis can benefit from this generated code.
Data Analysis Using MATLAB
Data Analysis using MATLAB

  • MATLAB is a matrix-based language and treats all variables as matrices. It supports vector and matrix manipulations, and provides several built-in functions.
  • It allows us to develop algorithms that are much faster than other languages like C, C++, Fortran, or Python.
  • It supports programming as a high-level language, and offers procedural, scripting, and OOP features. The language has several programming constructs like loops, support for error handling, and classes with their members and functions.
  • The MATLAB environment provides a command window to enter data, run MATLAB functions, other MATLAB files, and display results. One can save these commands as script files or functions and use them later in algorithm development.
  • Algorithm development in MATLAB can use toolboxes to extend the functionality of their analysis, These toolboxes provide industry or domain-specific functionality. The MATLAB editor/debugger provides a UI to develop and save algorithms and provides features to debug applications.
  • The code analyzer helps to check problems in code and provides visual feedback of the underlying problem.
  • The Profiler generates a profile summary to analyze the algorithm performance. It provides performance information like the time taken for the function to run along with the number of calls made.
  • MATLAB supports interfacing with other programming languages like C/C++, Java, FORTRAN, and Python. MATLAB coder helps convert scripts developed in MATLAB to C/C++. With the MATLAB Engine APIs, we can export and call MATLAB programs in other programming languages.
  • Several MATLAB algorithms are multithreaded and take advantage of the cores and processors on a system to run faster. It supports parallelism with minor code changes to scale up to clusters and servers.
Object-oriented programming using MATLAB
Object-oriented Programming using MATLAB

  • MATLAB offers several programming techniques (procedural, scripting, and Object-oriented) and interactive design environments (GUIDE and AppDesigner) to develop GUI based applications (Apps). It supports migration of these Apps into other formats like windows standalone apps, C++ and C# libraries, Java, and add-in to Excel.
  • The language, apps, and built-in math functions provide different approaches to solve a problem. It helps us to deploy to enterprise applications, and target embedded devices. It also allows us to integrate with Simulink and Model-Based Design.
  • MATLAB Production server helps move MATLAB algorithms and custom data analytics solutions as part of the web, database, or enterprise applications. A light-weight client library on the server helps in accessing these compiled algorithms.
  • MATLAB code can be scaled to Cloud, using multiple GPUs and clusters for running large-scale simulations taking advantage of parallel programming. The MATLAB Parallel Server allows programs and Simulink simulations to run on clusters and clouds.
MATLAB cloud Architecture
MATLAB Cloud Architecture


MATLAB provides different licenses based on the end-user type. The licencing can be classified as following:

  1. Industry Use
  2. Student Use
  3. University Use
  4. Startup Use
  5. Primary and Secondary School Use
  6. Home Use


MATLAB is a high-level language with an interactive programming environment for Scientific and Engineering computation and visualization developed by MathWorks and has family of products under its belt.

We can use it to analyze data, develop algorithms, and create models and applications. The language, tools, and built-in math functions enable us to develop algorithms for a wide variety of problems.

Several Programming languages can make use of algorithms developed in MATLAB. It also supports programs developed in other languages. The user can make use of a rich set of plotting functions to graphically represent the model.

One can use MATLAB for a range of scientific and engineering applications, including signal processing and communications, image and video processing, control systems, test and measurement, and other fields. More than a million engineers and scientists in industry and academia use MATLAB, the language of technical computing.

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