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7.2 Persistent Variables

A variable that has been declared persistent within a function will retain its contents in memory between subsequent calls to the same function. The difference between persistent variables and global variables is that persistent variables are local in scope to a particular function and are not visible elsewhere.

The following example uses a persistent variable to create a function that prints the number of times it has been called.

 
function count_calls ()
  persistent calls = 0;
  printf ("'count_calls' has been called %d times\n",
          ++calls);
endfunction

for i = 1:3
  count_calls ();
endfor

-| 'count_calls' has been called 1 times
-| 'count_calls' has been called 2 times
-| 'count_calls' has been called 3 times

As the example shows, a variable may be declared persistent using a persistent declaration statement. The following statements are all persistent declarations.

 
persistent a
persistent a b
persistent c = 2
persistent d = 3 e f = 5

The behavior of persistent variables is equivalent to the behavior of static variables in C. The command static in Octave is also recognized and is equivalent to persistent.

Like global variables, a persistent variable may only be initialized once. For example, after executing the following code

 
persistent pvar = 1
persistent pvar = 2

the value of the persistent variable pvar is 1, not 2.

If a persistent variable is declared but not initialized to a specific value, it will contain an empty matrix. So, it is also possible to initialize a persistent variable by checking whether it is empty, as the following example illustrates.

 
function count_calls ()
  persistent calls;
  if (isempty (calls))
    calls = 0;
  endif
  printf ("'count_calls' has been called %d times\n",
          ++calls);
endfunction

This implementation behaves in exactly the same way as the previous implementation of count_calls.

The value of a persistent variable is kept in memory until it is explicitly cleared. Assuming that the implementation of count_calls is saved on disk, we get the following behavior.

 
for i = 1:2
  count_calls ();
endfor
-| 'count_calls' has been called 1 times
-| 'count_calls' has been called 2 times

clear
for i = 1:2
  count_calls();
endfor
-| 'count_calls' has been called 3 times
-| 'count_calls' has been called 4 times

clear all
for i = 1:2
  count_calls();
endfor
-| 'count_calls' has been called 1 times
-| 'count_calls' has been called 2 times

clear count_calls
for i = 1:2
  count_calls();
endfor
-| 'count_calls' has been called 1 times
-| 'count_calls' has been called 2 times

That is, the persistent variable is only removed from memory when the function containing the variable is removed. Note that if the function definition is typed directly into the Octave prompt, the persistent variable will be cleared by a simple clear command as the entire function definition will be removed from memory. If you do not want a persistent variable to be removed from memory even if the function is cleared, you should use the mlock function as described in See section Function Locking.


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