A.1.1 Getting Started with Oct-Files

Oct-files are pieces of C++ code that have been compiled with the Octave API into a dynamically loadable object. They take their name from the file which contains the object which has the extension .oct.

Finding a C++ compiler, using the correct switches, adding the right include paths for header files, etc. is a difficult task. Octave automates this by providing the mkoctfile command with which to build oct-files. The command is available from within Octave or at the shell command line.

: mkoctfile [-options] file …
: [output, status] = mkoctfile (…)

The mkoctfile function compiles source code written in C, C++, or Fortran. Depending on the options used with mkoctfile, the compiled code can be called within Octave or can be used as a stand-alone application.

mkoctfile can be called from the shell prompt or from the Octave prompt. Calling it from the Octave prompt simply delegates the call to the shell prompt. Any output is stored in the output variable and the exit status in the status variable. If called with no outputs and the compilation fails then Octave will emit an error. If the programmer requests output or status, however, Octave will merely issue a warning and it is the programmer’s responsibility to verify the command was successful.

mkoctfile accepts the following options, all of which are optional except for the filename of the code you wish to compile:


Add the include directory DIR to compile commands.


Add the definition DEF to the compiler call.

-l LIB

Add the library LIB to the link command.


Add the library directory DIR to the link command.


Generate dependency files (.d) for C and C++ source files.


Add the run-time path to the link command.


Pass options to the linker like "-Wl,-rpath=…". The quotes are needed since commas are interpreted as command separators.


Pass options to the assembler like "-Wa,OPTION".


Compile but do not link.


Enable debugging options for compilers.

--output FILE

Output filename. Default extension is .oct (or .mex if ‘--mex’ is specified) unless linking a stand-alone executable.

-p VAR
--print VAR

Print configuration variable VAR. There are three categories of variables:

Octave configuration variables that users may override with environment variables. These are used in commands that mkoctfile executes.

   ALL_CFLAGS                  INCLUDEDIR
   ALL_CXXFLAGS                LAPACK_LIBS
   ALL_FFLAGS                  LDFLAGS
   ALL_LDFLAGS                 LD_STATIC_FLAG
   BLAS_LIBS                   LFLAGS
   CC                          LIBDIR
   CFLAGS                      LIBOCTAVE
   CPICFLAG                    LIBOCTINTERP
   CPPFLAGS                    OCTAVE_LINK_OPTS
   CXX                         OCTINCLUDEDIR
   CXXFLAGS                    OCTAVE_LIBS
   CXXLD                       OCTAVE_LINK_DEPS
   CXXPICFLAG                  OCTLIBDIR
   DL_LDFLAGS                  OCT_LINK_DEPS
   F77                         OCT_LINK_OPTS
   FFLAGS                      SPECIAL_MATH_LIB
   FPICFLAG                    XTRA_CFLAGS
   INCFLAGS                    XTRA_CXXFLAGS

Octave configuration variables as above, but currently unused by mkoctfile.


Octave configuration variables that are provided for informational purposes only. Except for ‘OCTAVE_HOME’ and ‘OCTAVE_EXEC_HOME’, users may not override these variables.

If OCTAVE_HOME or OCTAVE_EXEC_HOME are set in the environment, then other variables are adjusted accordingly with OCTAVE_HOME or OCTAVE_EXEC_HOME substituted for the original value of the directory specified by the --prefix or --exec-prefix options that were used when Octave was configured.

   BINDIR                      LOCALSTARTUPFILEDIR
   DEFAULT_PAGER               MAN1DIR
   EXEC_PREFIX                 MAN1EXT
   EXEEXT                      MANDIR
   IMAGEDIR                    OCTAVE_HOME
   INFODIR                     OCTAVE_VERSION
   INFOFILE                    OCTDATADIR
   LIBEXECDIR                  OCTDOCDIR

Link a stand-alone executable file.


Assume creation of a MEX file. Set the default output extension to .mex.


Strip the output file.


Echo commands as they are executed.


The file to compile or link. Recognized file types are:

   .c    C source
   .cc   C++ source
   .cp   C++ source
   .cpp  C++ source
   .CPP  C++ source
   .cxx  C++ source
   .c++  C++ source
   .C    C++ source
   .f    Fortran source (fixed form)
   .F    Fortran source (fixed form)
   .f90  Fortran source (free form)
   .F90  Fortran source (free form)
   .o    object file
   .a    library file

Consider the following short example which introduces the basics of writing a C++ function that can be linked to Octave.

#include <octave/oct.h>

DEFUN_DLD (helloworld, args, nargout,
           "Hello World Help String")
  octave_stdout << "Hello World has "
                << args.length () << " input arguments and "
                << nargout << " output arguments.\n";

  // Return empty matrices for any outputs
  octave_value_list retval (nargout);
  for (int i = 0; i < nargout; i++)
    retval(i) = octave_value (Matrix ());

  return retval;

The first critical line is #include <octave/oct.h> which makes available most of the definitions necessary for a C++ oct-file. Note that octave/oct.h is a C++ header and cannot be directly #include’ed in a C source file, nor any other language.

Included by oct.h is a definition for the macro DEFUN_DLD which creates a dynamically loaded function. This macro takes four arguments:

  1. The function name as it will be seen in Octave,
  2. The list of arguments to the function of type octave_value_list,
  3. The number of output arguments, which can be—and often is—omitted if not used, and
  4. The string to use for the help text of the function.

The return type of functions defined with DEFUN_DLD is always octave_value_list.

There are a couple of important considerations in the choice of function name. First, it must be a valid Octave function name and so must be a sequence of letters, digits, and underscores not starting with a digit. Second, as Octave uses the function name to define the filename it attempts to find the function in, the function name in the DEFUN_DLD macro must match the filename of the oct-file. Therefore, the above function should be in a file helloworld.cc, and would be compiled to an oct-file using the command

mkoctfile helloworld.cc

This will create a file called helloworld.oct that is the compiled version of the function. It should be noted that it is perfectly acceptable to have more than one DEFUN_DLD function in a source file. However, there must either be a symbolic link to the oct-file for each of the functions defined in the source code with the DEFUN_DLD macro or the autoload (Function Files) function should be used.

The rest of the function shows how to find the number of input arguments, how to print through the Octave pager, and how to return from the function. After compiling this function as above, an example of its use is

helloworld (1, 2, 3)
-| Hello World has 3 input arguments and 0 output arguments.

Subsequent sections show how to use specific classes from Octave’s core internals. Base classes like dMatrix (a matrix of double values) are found in the directory liboctave/array. The definitive reference for how to use a particular class is the header file itself. However, it is often enough simply to study the examples in the manual in order to be able to use a class.