Department of Mathematics

Math 300: Mathematical Computing

Flow Control in Matlab


It is common in programming to need to use logical tests. These expressions have boolean values; i.e. they evaluate to either 'true' or 'false'. In Matlab, 'true' is represented by an integer 1, and 'false' by 0. Thus, one might examine an expression as follows.

>> K = -1 K = -1 >> K < 0 ans = 1 >> K > 0 ans = 0

One must be able to evaluate complicated logical expressions for a number of mathematical tasks. Matlab, like all programming languages, provides a full ensemble of logical operators for that purpose.

Binary OperatorMeaning
==Is equal to
<Is less than
>Is greater than
<=Is less than
>=Is greater than or equal to
~=Is not equal to
One uses parentheses liberally in order to be sure that everything is evaluated properly. Consider the following example.

>> a=-1; b=1; c=0; >> c==0 ans = 1 >> c==a ans = 0 >> a<b ans = 1 >> a>=c ans = 0 >> a<b && a>=c ans = 0 >> a<b || a>=c ans = 1 >> a<b || (a>=c && b<c) ans = 1 >> (a<b || a>=c) && b<c ans = 0

Matlab has the usual compliment of flow control statements, allowing the usual program looping and decision structures


If you want to perform some operation a specific number of times then you should use a 'for' construction. In Matlab, the for loop has the form

for variable=range
    Put commands to be repeated here

Here is an example that computes the factorial fact of a number K.

fact = 1; for i=2:K fact = fact*i; end


If you need to perform some operation an unknown number of times, until some condition is satisfied, then you should use a 'while' construction. It is worth stressing the difference in usage between this and 'for'. Use a 'for' loop when you know ahead of time how many times you must do something, but use a while loop when you need to do it until some criterion is false.

while condition is true
    Put commands to be repeated here

Here is an example in which we find the largest power n of 2 that is less than or equal to a given positive number K.

n = 0; while 2^n <= K n = n+1; end % 2^n is now greater than K, so reduce it. n = n-1;


The 'if' construction is not for repeated operations at all. Instead, it is simply a way to have your program make decisions. If some condition is true, then do one set of things; if not perhaps do something else, or skip the actions.

if condition is true
    Put commands to be performed once here
elseif different condition is true
    Put commands to be performed once here
    Put commands to be performed once here

The else and elseif statements are optional. If it suits your code, the construction could be as simple as if condition commands; end.

The factorial example from the 'for' section is pretty stupid if the user puts in a K < 0. Here is an 'if' construction to throw an error if K is negative.

if K<0 error('K must be non-negative.') end;

Assignment C is posted.

The test solution is available.

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