Types of Functions

Local and Nested Functions in a File

Program files can contain multiple functions: the main function and any combination of local or nested functions. Local and nested functions are useful for dividing programs into smaller tasks, making it easier to read and maintain your code.

Local functions are subroutines that are available to any other functions within the same file. They can appear in the file in any order after the main function in the file. Local functions are the most common way to break up programmatic tasks.

For example, create a single program file named myfunction.m that contains a main function, myfunction, and two local functions, squareMe and doubleMe:

function b = myfunction(a)
   b = squareMe(a) + doubleMe(a);
function y = squareMe(x)
   y = x.^2;
function y = doubleMe(x)
   y = x.*2;

You can call the main function from the command line or another program file, although the local functions are only available to myfunction:

ans =

Nested functions are completely contained within another function. The primary difference between nested functions and local functions is that nested functions can use variables defined in parent functions without explicitly passing those variables as arguments.

Nested functions are useful when subroutines share data, such as GUI applications that pass data between components. For example, create a function that allows you to set a value between 0 and 1 using either a slider or an editable text box. If you use nested functions for the callbacks, the slider and text box can share the value and each other's handles without explicitly passing them:

function myslider
value = 0;
f = figure;
s = uicontrol(f,'Style','slider','Callback',@slider);
e = uicontrol(f,'Style','edit','Callback',@edittext,...

   function slider(obj,~)
      value = obj.Value;
      e.String = num2str(value);
   function edittext(obj,~)
      value = str2double(obj.String);
      s.Value = value;


Private Functions in a Subfolder

Like local or nested functions, private functions are accessible only to functions in a specific location. However, private functions are not in the same file as the functions that can call them. Instead, they are in a subfolder named private. Private functions are available only to functions in the folder immediately above the private folder. Use private functions to separate code into different files, or to share code between multiple, related functions.

Anonymous Functions Without a File

Anonymous functions allow you to define a function without creating a program file, as long as the function consists of a single statement. A common application of anonymous functions is to define a mathematical expression, and then evaluate that expression over a range of values using a MATLAB® function function, i.e., a function that accepts a function handle as an input.

For example, this statement creates a function handle named s for an anonymous function:

s = @(x) sin(1./x);

This function has a single input, x . The @ operator creates the function handle.

You can use the function handle to evaluate the function for particular values, such as

y = s(pi)
y =


Or, you can pass the function handle to a function that evaluates over a range of values, such as fplot:

range = [0.01,0.1];

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