MATLAB getting started#

MATLAB has to be loaded using the module utility prior to running it. This ensures that the environment is correctly set. Get the list of available versions of MATLAB using:

$ module avail matlab

(KU Leuven clusters) or:

$ module avail MATLAB

(UAntwerpen and VUB clusters).

Load a specific version by specifying the MATLAB version in the command:

$ module load matlab/R2014a


$ module load MATLAB/2014a

depending on the site you’re at.

Interactive use#

  • Interactive use is possible, but is not the preferred way of using MATLAB on the cluster! Use batch processing of compiled MATLAB code instead.

  • If there is an X Window System server installed on your PC (as is by default the case under Access from Linux; you can use XMing Server under Access from Windows or XQuartz on macOS/OS X), the full graphical MATLAB Desktop is available. If the speed is acceptable to you - much of the MATLAB user interface is coded in Java and Java programs are known to be slow over remote X connections - this is the recommended way to start MATLAB for short testing purposes, simple calculations, writing programs, visualizing data. Please avoid doing extensive calculations this way, as you would be abusing the resources of the shared login-node. Your program will disturb other users, and other users will slow down execution of your program. Moreover, only a limited amount of CPU time is available to you, after which your session will be killed (with possible data loss).

  • With matlab -nodesktop you can start MATLAB without the full desktop, while you are still able to use the visualization features. The helpwin, helpdesk and edit commands also work and open GUI-style help windows or a GUI-based editor. Of course this also requires a X server.

  • You can always, i.e., without X-Window server, start MATLAB in console-mode, via:

    $ matlab -nodisplay

    You get a MATLAB command prompt, from where you can start m-files, but have no access to the graphical facilities. The same limitations as above on CPU time apply.

  • For intensive calculations you want to run interactively, it is possible to use the PBS Job system to reserve a node for your exclusive use, while still having access to, e.g., the graphical capabilities of MATLAB, by forwarding the X output (qsub -X -I).

  • WARNING: an interactive MATLAB session on a compute node can be very slow. A workaround (found at is:

    • launch an interactive session qsub -I -X

    • once the interactive session is started, (say it starts on r2i0n15), start another connection to that compute node (ssh -X r2i0n15). In this second connection, start MATLAB, and it will work at normal speed.

Batch use#

For any non-trivial calculation, it is strongly suggested that you use the PBS batch system.

Running a MATLAB script#

You first have to write a MATLAB m-file that executes the required calculation. Make sure the last command of this m-file is quit or exit, otherwise MATLAB might wait forever for more commands …

Example (to be saved, e.g., in testmatlabscript.m):

ndim = 600;
a = rand(600,1)*10;
b = rand(1,600)*100;
c = a * b;
d = max(c);
e = min(d);
save('testmatlab', 'd', 'e');

You can now run this program (as a test, still on the login node, from the directory where you saved the file testmatlabscript.m):

matlab  -nodisplay -r testmatlabscript

The next thing is to write a small shell script, to be sent to the PBS Job System, so that the program can be executed on a compute node, rather than on the login node.

For information on how to run jobs on the VSC cluster, see the documentation of the job system. Below you will find a quick run through for the impatient, but make sure to familiarize yourself with the details.

A simple example follows (to be saved in, e.g.,

#!/bin/bash -l
# The maximum duration of the program,
#   in the format [days:]hours:minutes:seconds
#PBS -l walltime=01:00:00
# the requested amount of RAM
#PBS -l pmem=950mb
# The name of your job (used in mail, outputfile, showq,...)
#PBS -N matlab_test_job
# Set the correct environment for MATLAB
module load matlab
# Go into the directory from where 'qsub' was run
# Start MATLAB, specify the correct command-file ...
matlab -nojvm -nodisplay -r test

Now you submit your job with:

$ qsub

and you get the job ID that was assigned to your job. You get an overview of the status of your jobs using:

$ qstat

When the job has run, output will be available in the file <jobname>.o<jobid> in the directory where you submitted the job from. In the case of the file testmatlabscript.m above, a file testmatlabscript.mat will have been created, with the calculated data d and e, you can load the resulting file into MATLAB for further processing.

Running a MATLAB function#

If instead of a script, a MATLAB function is used, parameters can be passed into the function.

Example (to be saved, e.g., in testmatlabfunction.m):

function testmatlabfunction(input1,input2)
% source:
% change arguments to numerics if necessary - only when compiling code
if ~isnumeric(input1)
   input1n = str2num(input1);
   input2n = str2num(input2);
   input1n = input1;
   input2n = input2;
sumofinputs = input1n + input2n;
outputfilename = ['testfunction_' num2str(input1n) '_' num2str(input2n)];
save(outputfilename, 'input1n', 'input2n', 'sumofinputs');

You can now run this program (as a test, still on the login node, from the directory were you saved the file testmatlabfunction.m):

$ matlab  -nodisplay -r "testmatlabfunction 3 6"


  • The quotes around the function name and the parameters are required;

  • the function name does not include the *.m extension.

MATLAB compiler#

Each job requires a MATLAB license while running. If you start lots of jobs, you’ll use lots of licenses. When all licenses are in use, your further jobs will fail, and you’ll block access to MATLAB for other people at your site.

However, when compiling your MATLAB program, no more runtime licenses are needed.

Compilation of MATLAB files is relatively easy with the MATLAB ‘mcc’ compiler. It works for ‘function m-files’ and for ‘script m-files’. ‘function m-files’ are however preferred.

To deploy a MATLAB program as a standalone application, load the module for MATLAB as a first step and compile the code in a second step with the mcc command.

If we want to compile a MATLAB program ‘main.m’, the corresponding command line should be:

$ mcc  -v  -R -singleCompThread  -m  main.m

Where the options are:

  • -m: generate a standalone application

  • -v: verbose display of the compilation steps

  • -R: runtime options, useful ones are: -singleCompThread, -nodisplay, -nojvm

The deployed executable is compiled to run using a single thread via the option -singleCompThread. This is important when a number of processes are to run concurrently on the same node (e.g., worker framework).


  • Parameters are always considered as strings, and thus have to be converted to, e.g., numbers inside your function when needed. You can test with isdeployed or isstr MATLAB functions (see examples).

  • The function is allowed to return a value, but that value is not returned to the shell. Thus, to get results out, they have to be written to the screen, or saved in a file.

  • Not all MATLAB functions are allowed in compiled code (see the “Compiler Support for MATLAB and Toolboxes” page at the MathWorks).

Example 1: Simple MATLAB script file#

The file fibonacci.m contains:

function a = fibonacci(n)
% FIBONACCI Calculate the fibonacci value of n.
% When complied as standalone function,
% arguments are always passed as strings, not numbers ...
if (isstr(n))
    n = str2num(n);
if (length(n)~=1) || (fix(n) ~= n) || (n < 0)
    error(['MATLAB:factorial:NNotPositiveInteger', ...
           'N must be a positive integer.']);
first = 0;second = 1;
for i=1:n-1
    next = first+second;
% When called from a compiled application, display result
if (isdeployed)
    disp(sprintf('Fibonacci %d -> %d' , n,first))
% Also return the result, so that the function remains usable
% from other MATLAB scripts.

Run the compiler:

$ mcc -m fibonacci

An executable file fibonacci is created.

You can now run your application as follows:

./fibonacci 6
Fibonacci 6 -> 5
$ ./fibonacci 8
Fibonacci 8 -> 13
$ ./fibonacci 45
Fibonacci 45 -> 701408733

Example 2 : Function that uses other MATLAB files#

The file multi_fibo.m contains:

function multi_fibo()
%MULTIFIBO Calls FIBONACCI multiple times in a loop
% Function calculates Fibonacci number for a matrix by calling the
% fibonacci function in a loop. Compiling this file would automatically
% compile the fibonacci function also because dependencies are
% automatically checked.
if max(n)<0
    f = NaN;
    [r c] = size(n);
    for i = 1:r %#ok
        for j = 1:c %#ok
                f(i,j) = fibonacci(n(i,j));
                f(i,j) = NaN;

Compile the file:

$ mcc -m multi_fibo

Run the executable:

n =
    10    11    12    13    14    15    16    17    18    19    20
Fibonacci 10 -> 34
Fibonacci 11 -> 55
Fibonacci 12 -> 89
Fibonacci 13 -> 144
Fibonacci 14 -> 233
Fibonacci 15 -> 377
Fibonacci 16 -> 610
Fibonacci 17 -> 987
Fibonacci 18 -> 1597
Fibonacci 19 -> 2584
Fibonacci 20 -> 4181
f =
          34          55          89         144         233
377         610         987        1597        2584        4181

Example 3 : Function that used other MATLAB files in other directories#

If your script uses MATLAB files (e.g., self-made scripts, compiled mex files) other than those part of the MATLAB-distribution, include them at compile time as follows:

$ mcc -m  -I /path/to/MyMatlabScripts1/  -I /path/to/MyMatlabScripts2 .... \
          -I /path/to/MyMatlabScriptsN multi_fibo

More info on the MATLAB Compiler#

MATLAB compiler documentation on the Mathworks website.