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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Mathematisch-Naturwissen­schaft­liche Fakultät - Institut für Physik

Scilab Overview

Scilab version: 4.1.2

Invocation and Help

From the (Unix) command line:

      unix> scilab            graphical interface with command window
      unix> scilab -h         lists command line switches

In the command window:

      help keyword            online help for keyword
      quit                    terminate Scilab

Expressions and Assignment

Expressions can be terminated with <CRT>, comma or semicolon. The result is echoed in a standard numerical format, except for the semicolon, which implies quiet evaluation.

The standard format for numerical output is changed e.g. as follows:

      format('v', 10)      variable format, up to 10 digits (default)
      format('e', 16)      exponential format, up to 16 digits

If the result is assigned to a variable:

      var = expression

its type and size is (re)allocated automatically.


Scalar and vector/matrix operations:

      +  -  *  /
      ^  **          (matrix) exponentiation
      (  )           arithmetic precendence;
                        also for arguments (of functions)
                        and indices (of vectors and matrices)

Element-wise vector/matrix operations:

      .*  ./  .^

More matrix operations:

      \     left inverse
      '     Hermitean conjugation
      .'    transposition

Relational operators:

      ==  ~=  <>  <  >  <=  >=

~= and <> are equivalent.

Logical operators:

      &   |   ~

See also matrix functions and(..), or(..).


      n1:n2          n1, n1+1, n1+2, ..
      n1:dn:n2       n1, n1+dn, n1+2*dn, ..


Names in Scilab consist of

      letters                                (case sensitive)
      digits                                 (digit not as 1st character)
      special characters  %  _  #  !  $  ?   (percent as 1st character only)
  • Maximal length is 24 characters (the rest will be ignored).
  • It appears that variables and functions share the same name space. In this way, assignments to variables like beta, gamma will hide the corresponding functions (with a warning).
  • On the other hand, function calls with an empty argument list often allow to drop the brackets, e.g. clf instead of clf()


      %pi %i %e
      %eps %inf %nan
      %t %T %f %F
      %s    ???

Built-in functions

      abs sqrt
      exp log log10 log2

      sin   cos   tan  cotg
      sinh  cosh  tanh coth
      asin  acos  atan
      asinh acosh atanh

      gamma gammaln dlgamma beta

      erf erfc

More info:

      help elementary

Local and global variables

      global a b ..           give access to named variables

      clear a b ..            clear named variables
      clear                   clear all variables
      clearglobal a b ..      clear named global variables
      clearglobal             clear all global variables

      who                     list all current variables
      who('local')            list local variables
      who('global')           list global variables
      whos()                  list all variables etc
      whos -name pat          list all variables starting with pat

Data Types

Numerical data are 64bit (double precision) real floating point numbers by default. Complex numbers may appear as input of expressions or results of function calls. In this case, the evaluation will switch to complex arithmetic, and data will be allocated as (double) complex automatically.

Integer data types of different size exist, they have to be specified explicitly (e.g. int8(5)) and are mainly for compact storage, not for computations.

Finally, there are string data.

All data are considered as matrices, with scalars, row and column vectors as special cases. Storage will be allocated as needed.

Complex numbers

      z = 3 + 4*%i         complex constant
      z = complex(a,b)     z = a + bi for real a, b
      zc = conj(z)         complex conjugate
      a = real(z)
      b = imag(z)

Note: Scilab does not support Matlab's notation z = 3 + 4i for complex constants.


      'xyz' or "xyz"
      +              concatenation operator
      string(x)      convert number to string
      disp(str)      display string

      disp('result = '+string(%pi))    example with string handling

Note: The notation "xyz" is not supported by Matlab.

Matrix Operations

Explicit initialisation

      u = [1 3 5]          row vector
      v = [4; 6; 8]        column vector
      A = [1 3 5; 6 4 2]   matrix
      w = [x1:dx:x2]       row vector, generated by a list

Special initialisations

      zeros(m,n)     matrix filled with zeros
      ones(m,n)      matrix filled with ones
      eye(m,n)       unit matrix
      rand(m,n)      random matrix (uniform in [0,1])

In these calls, a sample matrix can be given instead, e.g. zeros(A). But note that zeros(n) has just one element, taking "n" as a sample matrix!

      diag(v)        diagnonal matrix with entries from vector v

Matrix size

      size(A)        returns both sizes as a two-component vector
      size(A,1)      size of first dimension
      size(A,2)      size of second dimension
      length(A)      = size(A,1) * size(A,2)

Matrix functions

      inv(A), A^(-1)       inverse
      A / B = A * B^(-1)
      A \ B = A^(-1) * B

      A'                   Hermitean conjugation
      A.'                  transposition
      conj(A)              complex conjugate
      diag(A)              diagonal

      sum, prod
      max, min, norm
      det, trace, spec
      and, or

In addition, some special functions are defined for square matrices, e.g. expm, sinm, ..

The "normal" functions (exp, sin, ..), applied to a vector or matrix, act element-wise.

Often enough, matrix operations are invoked by mistake: failing to specify element-wise operation, an error message complains about inconsistent matrix dimensions.
A particular case is

      1./A           ??
      1 ./A          element-wise

In the first version, Scilab (in contrast to Matlab!) considers the dot as part of the number. The effect is to try a matrix inversion, which may end up in a "pseudo-inverse", with surprising results! A typical example is

      1 ./[1:5]

      help slash
      help pinv


Define a function:

      function y = myfct(x)
            y = ...

      function [y1, y2] = myfct(x1, x2, x3)
            y1 = ...
            y2 = ...
      myfct(a, b, c)             function call returns y1
      [p, q] = myfct(a, b, c)    function call returns p=y1, q=y2
  • A function can be formulated without a return value and/or with empty or missing argument list.
  • If a function returns several items, its call will result in the first one, unless it is assigned to an appropriate list of result items.
  • Inside the function's body, assignments are quiet (no need for `;'). Output may be produced with disp(..).
  • Local variables of the calling context are available, but "read only". They can be changed locally, but this has no effect on the calling side and is not preserved across calls.
  • If an external variable is to be changed from within the function, it has to be declared "global" both in the calling context and in the body of the function.

Numerical Integration

A definite integral can be computed in two ways.
intg needs a function definition in the first place, it does not handle expressions or built-in functions directly:

      intg(a, b, fct)

      function y = fct(x)
         y = sin(2*x)
      intg(0, %pi/2, fct)

integrate is more flexible (but slower), it expects the integrand and the integration variable as strings:

      integrate('expr', 'var', a, b)

      integrate('sin(2*z)', 'z', 0, %pi/2)

Nonlinear Equations

Solve the general (system of) equation(s) fct(x) = 0 with start vector x = x0

      fsolve(x0, fct)

Solve sin(x) = x/4 with different start values:

      function y = fct1(x)
         y = sin(x) - .25*x;
      fplot2d([-5:.1:5], fct1)
      x0 = [-5:5];
      fsolve(x0, fct1)

Solve x^2 + y^2 = 4, x*y = 1:

      function v = fct2(u)
         v(1) = u(1)^2 + u(2)^2 - 4
         v(2) = u(1)*u(2) - 1
      fsolve([1 0], fct2)
      fsolve([0 -1], fct2)

Ordinary Differential Equations

Formulate the initial value problem as a (system of) first order equation(s) for the unknown (m-component) function u(t):

      du/dt = fct(t,u)
      u(t0) = u0

and solve it with ode:

      u = ode(u0, t0, times, fct)

      u0       initial values, an m-component column vector
      t0       initial time
      times    time values for which the solution is to be computed,
                  an n-component vector
      fct      name of the function on the right hand side,
                  with two arguments, a scalar and a vector

ode returns the solution as an (mxn) matrix u. Its ith column u(:,i) represents the solution u(t) at time t=times(i).

Simple example of first order (dy/dt = sin(y)/(1 + t^2), y(0) = 1):

      function ydot = fct(t,y)
         ydot = sin(y)/(1 + t^2)
      y = ode(1, 0, times, fct)
      clf; plot(times, y)

Example - damped harmonic oscillation (x'' + r x' + x = 0, x(0) = 1, x'(0) = 0):

      function v = fct(t,u)
         v(1) = u(2)
         v(2) = -.2*u(2) - u(1)
      u0 = [1; 0];
      times = [0:.1:20];
      u = ode(u0, 0, times, fct);
      clf; plot(times, u(1,:))

Graphics - Matlab Style

Clear graphics

Plot commands are cumulative by default. To start a new graph, use


2D plots

Both functions and parametric curves are drawn as polygons, based on two (equal size) vectors of coordinates. In this way, curves and/or sets of points are plotted with the same command:

      plot(x, y)
      plot(x, y, 'spec')

      spec is a string, combining symbols for
         colors:        r g b c m y k w
         line styles:   -  --  :  -.
         points:        +  o  *  .  x  s  d  ^  v  >  <


      x = [-3:.3:3]; y = x.^3 - 3*x;
      plot(x, y)
      plot(x, y, 'go')

      phi = [0:.1:10];
      clf; plot(cos(phi), sin(1.1*phi), 'r-d')

Add error bars:

      errbar(x, y, em, ep)          add vertical bar from (y-em) to (y+ep)

      x = rand(1,5); y = rand(x); dy = .2*y;
      clf; plot(x, y, 'ro')
      errbar(x, y, dy, dy)

Multiple plots

      subplot(m, n, p)

breaks the graphics window into an (m x n) matrix of sub-windows and selects the pth for plotting (counting row-wise).

3D plots

Plot a function over a 2D rectangular grid, defined by coordinate vectors x and y. The corresponding function values are stored in a matrix Z(k,l) = function(x(k), y(l)).

      x = [-2:.1:2]; y = [-3:.1:3];
      Z = (8*x.^2 - x.^4)' * (8*y.^2 - y.^4);

      clf; contour(x, y, Z, 5)                     contour plot

      clf; mesh(x, y, Z')                          mesh plot
      clf; surf(x, y, Z')                          colored surface plot

      clf; surf(x, y, Z', 'FaceColor', 'none')     falls back to mesh plot

      clf; surf(x, y, Z', 'FaceColor', 'interp', 'EdgeColor', 'none')
                                                   colored surface only

Note the transposition of Z in mesh(..) and surf(..) (Matlab style!).

Title and labels

Add or change title and axis labels with

      xlabel("text")    etc.

Isometric plot

isometric = same scale on the axes = preserve proportions

      isoview(xmin, xmax, ymin, ymax)     preserves coordinate frame

      square(xmin, ymin, xmax, ymax)      changes frame to square
      square()                            automatic ranges

or in graphics window:

     ->Editor ->Figure properties ->Axes(1) ->Aspect
                     Isoview: [x] on

Example - draw an ellipse with correct proportions:

      phi = [0:.02:2]*%pi;
      clf; plot(cos(phi), 2*sin(phi))

Export graphics

EPS export, using the menus of the graphics window:

      ->File ->Export
         [x] Postscript
         [x] portrait

From the command line, Scilab Graphic(0) is exported with

      xs2eps(0, 'filename.eps')

If the exported EPS fails to preserve the proportions of the plot, the following may be necessary to inforce a correct scaling:

      fh = scf(0)
      xs2eps(0, 'filename.eps')


Statements are written to a script file as typed in the command window. They are terminated by a newline, a comma or a semicolon (quiet mode).

Return from script (without closing the session):


Trailing comments:

      // comment

Run a script file:

      exec('filename', 0)           suppress echoing

Load (and compile) a function:


Load all functions *.sci from a directory:


Check function definition:


Run a script from the command line:

      unix> scilab -f scriptfile

Run a script in batch mode:

      unix> scilab -nwni -f scriptfile -e quit

Control Structures

if construct, simplest form:

      if condition then statement(s), end

With (optional) elseif and else clauses:

      if condition then
      elseif condition then

for loop with a control variable, taking values in a list like n1:n2 or n1:step:n2 :

      for var=list do statement(s), end

      for var=list do

while loop:

      while condition then

      while condition do

There may be an optional else branch with statements to be performed on exit.

The keywords then and do

  • have to be on the same line as their corresponding if, elseif, for, while ;
  • may be replaced by a comma or a newline;
  • are not supported by Matlab.


      z = input('prompt')           prompt for interactive input

      disp(var)                     simple numerical output
      disp(str)                     simple text output
      disp('result = '+string(%pi)) example with string handling

      printf('fmt', var1, ..)       output with C-style formatting

      write('filename', A)          write Matrix A into file
      A = read('filename', m, n)    read file into (mxn)-Matrix A
                                       (m = -1 => automatic mode)

      fprintfMat('filename', A)     write matrix A into file
      A = fscanfMat('filename')     read numerical data into a matrix
                                       - ignore leading text lines
                                       - last line must be terminated


      chdir('newdir')         don't use $HOME, ~ etc
      cd newdir               same; don't use $HOME; ~ works


Startup scripts

Upon startup, Scilab processes startup scripts as follows:

  1. system-wide startup file scilab.star in Scilab's installation directory, see Scilab variable SCI;
  2. per-user startup file .scilab or scilab.ini (if any) within the user's HOME directory, see SCIHOME;
  3. initialisation file .scilab or scilab.ini (if any) in the current directory where Scilab is started (if different from $HOME, see Scilab variables PWD and home).


Stacksizes are given in double precision words.

      stacksize()          current stack (total and used) for local variables
      gstacksize()         same for global variables

      stacksize(n)         set new stacksize limit for local variables
      gstacksize(n)        same for global variables

Local stacksize is 5 MiWords by default (see system startup file scilab.star) and may be increased up to 2^27 = 1.342 x 10^8 MiWords = 1 GB (depending on system resources?).
Global stacksize is 11000 Words initially and will be increased automatically, as far as system resources allow.

Matlab vs. Scilab

            Matlab                        Scilab
Basics      i                             %i
            3 + 4i                        3 + 4*%i
            format long                   format('v', 16)

Matrices    [1:5].^2                      [1:5]^2     (dot isn't required)
            1./[1:5]                      1 ./[1:5]   (space is required!)
            length(A) = max(size(A))      length(A) = prod(size(A))
            sum(A)                        sum(A,'m')  (first non-sing. dim.)
            eig(..)                       spec(..)

Functions   cot                           cotg
            mod(..)                       modulo(..)
            quad(..) etc                  intg(..), integrate(..)
            fzero(fct, x0)                fsolve(x0, fct)
            ode45(..) etc                 ode(..)

Graphics    errorbar(..)                  errbar(..)
            axis equal                    square

Scripts     %                             //

I/O         disp(sprintf('pi = %f', pi)); printf('pi = %f\n', %pi)
            load(..)                      read(..)
            save ...                      write(..)

Graphics - Traditional Scilab Style

      xdel()            window and data
      xbasc()           graph and data
      xclear()          graph only

Set graphics style:
      xset()                  interactive mode
      xset("default")         reset to defaults
      xset("use color",0)     black+white
            xset("dashes",i)  line type i=1..6 (i.le.1 => solid line)
      xset("use color",1)     color mode (default)
            xset("dashes",i)  color i=1..34 (i.le.1 => black)
      xset("mark",i,size)     mark i=0..9, size=0..5 (i=0 => point)
      xset("thickness",i)     line width i=0..19 (i=0 or 1 => one pixel)
      xset("font",i,size)     font i=0..5, size=0..5
                              (i=1 => greek)

2D plot:
      plot(x,y)                           simple
      plot2d(x,y,style)                   with line style(s):
                                                dashes: 1..6
                                                colors: 1..34
                                                marks:  0..(-9)
                                                see xset()
      plot2d(x,y,style,"021")             same
      plot2d(x,y,style,"041")             same with equal units
      plot2d(x,y,style,"061")             same with smart axes

      leg="text"                          legend(s), separated by `@'
      plot2d(x,y,style,"121",leg)         with legend(s) for style(s)

      rect=[xmin ymin xmax ymax]
      plot2d(x,y,style,"011"," ",rect)    with fixed boundaries
      plot2d(x,y,style,"031"," ",rect)    same with equal units
      plot2d(x,y,style,"051"," ",rect)    same with smart axes

      plot2d(x,y,style,"000")             add to previous plot
      plot2d(x,y,strf="000")              same

      xtitle("title","xax","yax")         add title and x/y legends
      square()                            square frame (lost in PS?)
      xclip("clipgrf")                    clip at frame (needed?)
      xsetech(...)                        specify sub-window

2D vector plot ("quiver"):
      champ(x,y,fx,fy)                    (no need to transpose qx,qy!)
      champ(x,y,fx,fy,strf="041")         same with equal units

3D meshplot of z(x,y):
      plot3d(x,y,z)     x,y : vectors of length nx,ny
                        z : matrix of size (nx,ny)
      plot3d(x,y,z,35,45," ",[34 2 4])          same with white facets
                              ^^                (.ge.17 for greyscale,
                                                 8 or .ge.34 for color)
      plot3d(x,y,z,35,45,"xtxt@ytxt@ztxt")      same with legends

      ebox=[xmin xmax ymin ymax zmin zmax]      same with fixed
      plot3d(x,y,z,35,45," ",[34 1 4],ebox)     boundaries
                                 ^    ^^^^
      theta=180./%pi * atan(Lx/Lz)              correction for a box
      plot3d(x,y,z,35,theta," ",[34 2 4])       of size (Lx,Lx,Lz)

      phi=180/%pi * atan(.7*Ly/Lx)
      theta=180/%pi * atan(.7*sqrt(Lx^2+Ly^2)/Lz)     correction for
      plot3d(x,y,z,phi,theta," ",[34 2 4])            box (Lx,Ly,Lz)

Add text:
      xtitle("title", "xtext", "ytext", "ztext")

Add a polygon:    better use plot2d...
      xpoly(x,y,"lines")            polygon line
      xpoly(x,y,"marks")            point(s)



Burkhard Bunk, 08.03.2015