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MEX Function - A MATLAB function to invoke C/C++ or Fortran source codes

Karthikeyan L

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  • Institute : Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
  • Programming language : Matlab, R
MATLAB has a function called 'MEX function - Matlab EXecutable function' which is used to compile your source codes written in C or C++ or Fortran and invoke them from MATLAB. It is a facility through which you can create a C/C++/Fortran wrapper code (called the MEX function in this context) which in turn is used to pass data from MATLAB to source codes which does the computations and pass the outputs back to MATLAB.

MATLAB----> Prepare your data in MATLAB ----> Pass data to MEX function ----> MEX function passes data to C/C++/Fortran codes which does computation and produces output ----> Read output in MATLAB

Effectively, once you compile the MEX function, it just acts as any other MATLAB function, although it's written in C/C++/Fortran language.

The biggest advantage of this procedure is that the computations are extremely fast because of precise memory allocations that you carry out in your C/C++/Fortran codes.

So, you can write core operations of your bulky MATLAB codes in these machine languages and call them using MEX function.

You can find further information in
MATLAB Documentation: 1) 2)

Some tutorial:

I would like to illustrate an example of this function where the task is to add two matrices. So, I write the following MEX function in C language (code's name is addmat.c) to carry out the task.

Code: [Select]
/********* addmat.c ************/
#include "mex.h"
void mexFunction( int nlhs, mxArray *plhs[],
                  int nrhs, const mxArray *prhs[])
    /* Declarations */
    double *A, *B, *C; /* A, B, C are pointers */
    int m,n,i,j;
    /************** INPUT AND OUTPUT INITIALIZATIONS *********************************/
    /* Initialization - 'mxGetPr' is used to pass data; 'mxGetM' & 'mxGetN' are used to estimate the size of matrix */
    A = mxGetPr(prhs[0]); /* Passes first input matrix using prhs[0] which is a pointer to input */
    B = mxGetPr(prhs[1]); /* Passes first second matrix using prhs[1] which is a pointer to input */
    m = mxGetM(prhs[0]);
    n = mxGetN(prhs[0]);
   /* Similar to prhs, 'plhs' are array of pointers which pass expected output to MATLAB */
   /* In the step below pointer to output matrix is being created, which is of consistent dimensions with that of A and B */
    plhs[0] = mxCreateDoubleMatrix(m, n, mxREAL);

    C = mxGetPr(plhs[0]); /* This line indicates initialization of plhs[0] pointer to that of C, this step ensures that what ever modifications we do to C will be reflected in output, i.e., we ultimately get C as the output */


    /************** CODE TO ADD TWO MATRICES *********************************/
    for (i=0;i<m;i++)
        for (j=0;j<n;j++)

Once you write this C code, its MEX function can be created by running line >> mex addmat.c in MATLAB and you get following outcome.
Code: [Select]
>> mex addmat.c
Building with 'gcc'.
MEX completed successfully.

Once MEX file is successfully compiled you can observe a file addmat.mexa64 created in your working directory. That's it! Now you can use your mex code in MATLAB the following way to add two matrices.
Code: [Select]
>> a=[1 2;3 4];b=[7 -2;6 -10];
>> a

a =

     1     2
     3     4

>> b

b =

     7    -2
     6   -10

>> c=addmat(a,b)

c =

     8     0
     9    -6

One can write much complicated C/C++/Fortran codes and invoke them from MATLAB.

Writing MEX function is the most efficient way of tackling with cumbersome algorithms. Such a facility exists in R ( and Python ( too and the concept is something very similar to that of MATLAB.
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