The ordering of performance of each function call from the fastest to the slowest tends to be as follows:
inlined > file-pass = nest-pass = sub-pass > nest-share > sub-global > file-global
(A>B means A is faster than B and A=B means A is as fast as B)
First, using an inlined function is the fastest as it does not incur overhead associated with function call.
Second, when the arguments are passed to the callee function, the calling function sets up the arguments in such a way that the callee function knows where to retrieve them. This setup associated with function call in general incurs performance overhead, and therefore file-pass, nest-pass, and sub-pass are slower than inline.
Third, if the workspace is shared with nested functions and the arguments to a nested function are those shared within the workspace, rather than pass-by-value, then performance of that function call is inhibited. If MATLAB sees a shared variable within the shared workspace, it searches the workspace for the variable. On the other hand, if the arguments are passed by the calling function, then MATLAB does not have to search for them. The time taken for this search explains that type nest-share is slower than file-pass, nest-pass, and sub-pass.
Finally, when a function call involves global variables, performance is even more inhibited. This is because to look for global variables, MATLAB has to expand its search space to the outside of the current workspace. Furthermore, the reason a function call involving global variables appears a lot slower than the others is that MATLAB Accelerator does not optimize such a function call. When MATLAB Accelerator is turned off with the following command,
the difference in performance between inline and file-global becomes less significant.
Please note that the behaviors depend largely on various factors such as operating systems, CPU architectures, MATLAB Interpreter, and what the MATLAB code is doing.