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To illustrate how to take derivatives using Symbolic Math Toolbox™ software, first create a symbolic expression:
syms x f = sin(5*x);
The command
diff(f)
differentiates f with respect to x:
ans = 5*cos(5*x)
As another example, let
g = exp(x)*cos(x);
where exp(x) denotes e^{x}, and differentiate g:
diff(g)
ans = exp(x)*cos(x)  exp(x)*sin(x)
To take the second derivative of g, enter
diff(g,2)
ans = 2*exp(x)*sin(x)
You can get the same result by taking the derivative twice:
diff(diff(g))
ans = 2*exp(x)*sin(x)
In this example, MATLAB^{®} software automatically simplifies the answer. However, in some cases, MATLAB might not simplify an answer, in which case you can use the simplify command. For an example of such simplification, see More Examples.
Note that to take the derivative of a constant, you must first define the constant as a symbolic expression. For example, entering
c = sym('5'); diff(c)
returns
ans = 0
If you just enter
diff(5)
MATLAB returns
ans = []
because 5 is not a symbolic expression.
To differentiate an expression that contains more than one symbolic variable, specify the variable that you want to differentiate with respect to. The diff command then calculates the partial derivative of the expression with respect to that variable. For example, given the symbolic expression
syms s t f = sin(s*t);
the command
diff(f,t)
calculates the partial derivative . The result is
ans = s*cos(s*t)
To differentiate f with respect to the variable s, enter
diff(f,s)
which returns:
ans = t*cos(s*t)
If you do not specify a variable to differentiate with respect to, MATLAB chooses a default variable. Basically, the default variable is the letter closest to x in the alphabet. See the complete set of rules in Find a Default Symbolic Variable. In the preceding example, diff(f) takes the derivative of f with respect to t because the letter t is closer to x in the alphabet than the letter s is. To determine the default variable that MATLAB differentiates with respect to, use symvar:
symvar(f, 1)
ans = t
Calculate the second derivative of f with respect to t:
diff(f, t, 2)
This command returns
ans = s^2*sin(s*t)
Note that diff(f, 2) returns the same answer because t is the default variable.
To further illustrate the diff command, define a, b, x, n, t, and theta in the MATLAB workspace by entering
syms a b x n t theta
This table illustrates the results of entering diff(f).
f  diff(f) 

syms x n f = x^n;  diff(f) ans = n*x^(n  1) 
syms a b t f = sin(a*t + b);  diff(f) ans = a*cos(b + a*t) 
syms theta f = exp(i*theta);  diff(f) ans = exp(theta*i)*i 
To differentiate the Bessel function of the first kind, besselj(nu,z), with respect to z, type
syms nu z b = besselj(nu,z); db = diff(b)
which returns
db = (nu*besselj(nu, z))/z  besselj(nu + 1, z)
The diff function can also take a symbolic matrix as its input. In this case, the differentiation is done elementbyelement. Consider the example
syms a x A = [cos(a*x),sin(a*x);sin(a*x),cos(a*x)]
which returns
A = [ cos(a*x), sin(a*x)] [ sin(a*x), cos(a*x)]
The command
diff(A)
returns
ans = [ a*sin(a*x), a*cos(a*x)] [ a*cos(a*x), a*sin(a*x)]
You can also perform differentiation of a vector function with respect to a vector argument. Consider the transformation from Euclidean (x, y, z) to spherical coordinates as given by , , and . Note that corresponds to elevation or latitude while denotes azimuth or longitude.
To calculate the Jacobian matrix, J, of this transformation, use the jacobian function. The mathematical notation for J is
For the purposes of toolbox syntax, use l for and f for . The commands
syms r l f x = r*cos(l)*cos(f); y = r*cos(l)*sin(f); z = r*sin(l); J = jacobian([x; y; z], [r l f])
return the Jacobian
J = [ cos(f)*cos(l), r*cos(f)*sin(l), r*cos(l)*sin(f)] [ cos(l)*sin(f), r*sin(f)*sin(l), r*cos(f)*cos(l)] [ sin(l), r*cos(l), 0]
and the command
detJ = simplify(det(J))
returns
detJ = r^2*cos(l)
The arguments of the jacobian function can be column or row vectors. Moreover, since the determinant of the Jacobian is a rather complicated trigonometric expression, you can use simplify to make trigonometric substitutions and reductions (simplifications).
A table summarizing diff and jacobian follows.
Mathematical Operator  MATLAB Command 

 diff(f) or diff(f, x) 
 
 
