manpagez: man pages & more
info octave
Home | html | info | man
[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]

11.7 Function Files

Except for simple one-shot programs, it is not practical to have to define all the functions you need each time you need them. Instead, you will normally want to save them in a file so that you can easily edit them, and save them for use at a later time.

Octave does not require you to load function definitions from files before using them. You simply need to put the function definitions in a place where Octave can find them.

When Octave encounters an identifier that is undefined, it first looks for variables or functions that are already compiled and currently listed in its symbol table. If it fails to find a definition there, it searches a list of directories (the path) for files ending in ‘.m’ that have the same base name as the undefined identifier.(5) Once Octave finds a file with a name that matches, the contents of the file are read. If it defines a single function, it is compiled and executed. See section Script Files, for more information about how you can define more than one function in a single file.

When Octave defines a function from a function file, it saves the full name of the file it read and the time stamp on the file. If the time stamp on the file changes, Octave may reload the file. When Octave is running interactively, time stamp checking normally happens at most once each time Octave prints the prompt. Searching for new function definitions also occurs if the current working directory changes.

Checking the time stamp allows you to edit the definition of a function while Octave is running, and automatically use the new function definition without having to restart your Octave session.

To avoid degrading performance unnecessarily by checking the time stamps on functions that are not likely to change, Octave assumes that function files in the directory tree ‘octave-home/share/octave/version/m’ will not change, so it doesn't have to check their time stamps every time the functions defined in those files are used. This is normally a very good assumption and provides a significant improvement in performance for the function files that are distributed with Octave.

If you know that your own function files will not change while you are running Octave, you can improve performance by calling ignore_function_time_stamp ("all"), so that Octave will ignore the time stamps for all function files. Passing "system" to this function resets the default behavior.

Command: edit name
Command: edit field value
Command: value = edit get field

Edit the named function, or change editor settings.

If edit is called with the name of a file or function as its argument it will be opened in a text editor.

  • If the function name is available in a file on your path and that file is modifiable, then it will be edited in place. If it is a system function, then it will first be copied to the directory HOME (see further down) and then edited. If no file is found, then the m-file variant, ending with ".m", will be considered. If still no file is found, then variants with a leading "@" and then with both a leading "@" and trailing ".m" will be considered.
  • If name is the name of a function defined in the interpreter but not in an m-file, then an m-file will be created in HOME to contain that function along with its current definition.
  • If is specified, then it will search for in the path and try to modify it, otherwise it will create a new ‘.cc’ file in HOME. If name happens to be an m-file or interpreter defined function, then the text of that function will be inserted into the .cc file as a comment.
  • If name.ext is on your path then it will be edited, otherwise the editor will be started with ‘HOME/name.ext’ as the filename. If ‘name.ext’ is not modifiable, it will be copied to HOME before editing.

    WARNING! You may need to clear name before the new definition is available. If you are editing a .cc file, you will need to mkoctfile ‘’ before the definition will be available.

If edit is called with field and value variables, the value of the control field field will be value. If an output argument is requested and the first argument is get then edit will return the value of the control field field. If the control field does not exist, edit will return a structure containing all fields and values. Thus, edit get all returns a complete control structure. The following control fields are used:


This is the editor to use to modify the functions. By default it uses Octave's EDITOR built-in function, which comes from getenv("EDITOR") and defaults to emacs. Use %s In place of the function name. For example,

[EDITOR, " %s"]

Use the editor which Octave uses for bug_report.

"xedit %s &"

pop up simple X11 editor in a separate window

"gnudoit -q \"(find-file \\\"%s\\\")\""

Send it to current Emacs; must have (gnuserv-start) in ‘.emacs’.

See also field 'mode', which controls how the editor is run by Octave.

On Cygwin, you will need to convert the Cygwin path to a Windows path if you are using a native Windows editor. For example

'"C:/Program Files/Good Editor/Editor.exe" "$(cygpath -wa %s)"'

This is the location of user local m-files. Be be sure it is in your path. The default is ‘~/octave’.


This is the name to put after the "## Author:" field of new functions. By default it guesses from the gecos field of password database.


This is the e-mail address to list after the name in the author field. By default it guesses <$LOGNAME@$HOSTNAME>, and if $HOSTNAME is not defined it uses uname -n. You probably want to override this. Be sure to use <user@host> as your format.


GNU General Public License (default).


BSD-style license without advertising clause.


Public domain.


Your own default copyright and license.

Unless you specify ‘pd’, edit will prepend the copyright statement with "Copyright (C) yyyy Function Author".


This value determines whether the editor should be started in async mode (editor is started in the background and Octave continues) or sync mode (Octave waits until the editor exits). Set it to "async" to start the editor in async mode. The default is "sync" (see also "system").


Determines whether files should be edited in place, without regard to whether they are modifiable or not. The default is false.

Built-in Function: mfilename ()
Built-in Function: mfilename ("fullpath")
Built-in Function: mfilename ("fullpathext")

Return the name of the currently executing file. At the top-level, return the empty string. Given the argument "fullpath", include the directory part of the file name, but not the extension. Given the argument "fullpathext", include the directory part of the file name and the extension.

Built-in Function: val = ignore_function_time_stamp ()
Built-in Function: old_val = ignore_function_time_stamp (new_val)

Query or set the internal variable that controls whether Octave checks the time stamp on files each time it looks up functions defined in function files. If the internal variable is set to "system", Octave will not automatically recompile function files in subdirectories of ‘octave-home/lib/version’ if they have changed since they were last compiled, but will recompile other function files in the search path if they change. If set to "all", Octave will not recompile any function files unless their definitions are removed with clear. If set to "none", Octave will always check time stamps on files to determine whether functions defined in function files need to recompiled.

[ < ] [ > ]   [ << ] [ Up ] [ >> ]         [Top] [Contents] [Index] [ ? ]
© 2000-2018
Individual documents may contain additional copyright information.