MATLAB vs. Python: Which One Is Right for You?

The main difference between MATLAB and Python is that Python is a general-purpose programming language, while MATLAB is a computing platform that is used for engineering and scientific applications.

What Is Python?

Python is a general-purpose programming language with an extensive collection of libraries that are used for a wide range of applications, including web development, enterprise application development, and data science. 


MATLAB is a computing platform that is used for engineering and scientific applications like data analysis, signal and image processing, control systems, wireless communications, and robotics. MATLAB includes a programming language, interactive apps, highly specialized libraries for engineering applications, and tools for automatically generating embedded code. MATLAB is also the foundation for Simulink, a block diagram environment for simulating complex multi-domain systems.

Language Comparison

The language of Python and MATLAB can be used interactively (a single command at a time) or to develop large-scale applications. Both languages support scripting, procedural and object-oriented programming.

Python has largely replaced Java as the first language for people who want to learn how to program because it is easy to learn and can be used for various programming tasks. MATLAB language is the first (and often only) programming language for many engineers and scientists because the matrix math and array orientation of the language makes it easy to learn and apply to engineering and scientific problem-solving. Apps and other interactive tools automatically generate MATLAB code, further reducing the barrier to entry.

User Base

Both Python and MATLAB have large user bases, though the user base for MATLAB is primarily comprised of engineers and scientists. As of May 2022, LinkedIn searches return about 7.6 million Python users and 4.1 million MATLAB users. People who do not work in engineering or science are often surprised to learn how widespread MATLAB is adopted, including:

Support and Documentation

Stack Overflow and similar sites are the primary support mechanism for most Python users. With so many users worldwide, it is easy to find or start a discussion online that can help answer just about any question. Documentation is available via docstrings and individual websites for Python and most libraries.

MATLAB licenses include free live support, so users can pick up the phone or send an email to get help from a MATLAB expert on their specific project. Additional free support from MathWorks worldwide engineers can help users figure out the best way to assemble available technology for their application, research, or teaching. MATLAB Answers provides an online question and answer forum specific to MATLAB, similar to Stack Overflow. MATLAB includes an integrated documentation system that combines professionally authored documentation for all MATLAB and Simulink products, help for user-authored packages, and additional online resources such as MATLAB Answers and videos.


Python and most Python libraries are free to download or use, though many users use Python through a paid service. Paid services help IT organizations manage the risks associated with the use of open-source software, such as security, licensing, and access control. Paid services also provide access to packaged or hosted distributions that eliminate much of the pain of configuring a Python installation with compatible versions of libraries.

MATLAB is not free, though it is more accessible and costs less than people assume. Approximately 8 million people have unlimited access to MATLAB through their school, research institution, or employer, including at most universities worldwide that grant engineering and science degrees. Institutions choose to invest in MATLAB because they recognize the value of the increased productivity from providing their engineers and scientists with purpose-built tools.

MATLAB and Python

While most people start by asking whether they should choose MATLAB or Python, the right answer is often to use MATLAB and Python together. With MATLAB and Python, you can take advantage of the best capabilities of each environment. For instance, you can:

Build a custom toolbox to read data from the Climate Data Store into MATLAB by wrapping the Python Climate Data Store API.

Climate Data Store Toolbox for MATLAB

Develop a speech command recognition algorithm that integrates specialized signal processing capabilities from MATLAB into the data preprocessing pipeline for training a deep neural network with TensorFlow or PyTorch.

PyTorch and TensorFlow Co-Execution for Speech Command Recognition

Develop and deploy a battery state-of-charge estimator for an electric vehicle by integrating a TensorFlow model into a complete vehicle simulation from Simulink and generating embedded C code with Simulink Coder.

Integrate TensorFlow Model into Simulink for Simulation and Code Generation (5:47)

Gustavo Sanchez

“There are things I hear about, that open-source can only do this, MATLAB cannot do that. At the end of the day, tools are tools (…) And MATLAB integrates to open-source, so the way we do is we use both”

Gustavo Sanchez, Pandata Tech