index - matlab replacing values in a matrix

How can I index a MATLAB array returned by a function without first assigning it to a local variable? (6)

For example, if I want to read the middle value from magic(5), I can do so like this:

M = magic(5);
value = M(3,3);

to get value == 13. I'd like to be able to do something like one of these:

value = magic(5)(3,3);
value = (magic(5))(3,3);

to dispense with the intermediate variable. However, MATLAB complains about Unbalanced or unexpected parenthesis or bracket on the first parenthesis before the 3.

Is it possible to read values from an array/matrix without first assigning it to a variable?

At least in MATLAB 2013a you can use getfield like:

getfield(a,{1,2}) % etc

to get the element at (1,2)

How do you feel about using undocumented features:

>> builtin('_paren', magic(5), 3, 3)               %# M(3,3)
ans =

or for cell arrays:

>> builtin('_brace', num2cell(magic(5)), 3, 3)     %# C{3,3}
ans =

Just like magic :)


Bad news, the above hack doesn't work anymore in R2015b! That's fine, it was undocumented functionality and we cannot rely on it as a supported feature :)

For those wondering where to find this type of thing, look in the folder fullfile(matlabroot,'bin','registry'). There's a bunch of XML files there that list all kinds of goodies. Be warned that calling some of these functions directly can easily crash your MATLAB session.

It could be more simple if you make a new function:

function [ element ] = getElem( matrix, index1, index2 )
    element = matrix(index1, index2);

and then use it:

value = getElem(magic(5), 3, 3);

Note that if you compare running times with the standard way (asign the result and then access entries), they are exactly the same.

[email protected](M,i,j) M(i,j);
>> for nit=1:10;tic;subs(magic(100),1:10,1:10);tlap(nit)=toc;end;mean(tlap)

ans =


>> for nit=1:10,tic;M=magic(100); M(1:10,1:10);tlap(nit)=toc;end;mean(tlap)

ans =


To my opinion, the bottom line is : MATLAB does not have pointers, you have to live with it.

To complement Amro's answer, you can use feval instead of builtin. There is no difference, really, unless you try to overload the operator function:

BUILTIN(...) is the same as FEVAL(...) except that it will call the original built-in version of the function even if an overloaded one exists (for this to work, you must never overload BUILTIN).

>> feval('_paren', magic(5), 3, 3)               % M(3,3)
ans =

>> feval('_brace', num2cell(magic(5)), 3, 3)     % C{3,3}
ans =

What's interesting is that feval seems to be just a tiny bit quicker than builtin (by ~3.5%), at least in Matlab 2013b, which is weird given that feval needs to check if the function is overloaded, unlike builtin:

>> tic; for i=1:1e6, feval('_paren', magic(5), 3, 3); end; toc;
Elapsed time is 49.904117 seconds.
>> tic; for i=1:1e6, builtin('_paren', magic(5), 3, 3); end; toc;
Elapsed time is 51.485339 seconds.

Your initial notation is the most concise way to do this:

M = magic(5);  %create
value = M(3,3);  % extract useful data
clear M;  %free memory

If you are doing this in a loop you can just reassign M every time and ignore the clear statement as well.