Octave vs MATLAB – Analyzing the Differences

In this Octave vs MatLab article, we will be comparing the two programming languages to determine which one you should be using.


MatLab, or “Matrix Laboratory” is a high performance language designed for technical computation. It is a tool that’s widely used in different aspects of our life such math, and computation, algorithm development. Visualization, simulation, prototyping.

MatLab is very popular amongst Engineers and Scientists, who use it in various industry and academic fields such as Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Computational Biology and Control Systems.

It has fairly easy to understand code, based mostly around mathematic notation. The difference between MatLab and other programming languages is that MatLab was designed specifically for computation whereas the others (like Python) are general purpose languages.

Website: www.Mathworks.com


Octave is a open-source, high level programming language designed primarily for numerical computing. As an open source project, it’s developed and maintained by the community (a group of volunteers).

While it started out a bit different, it has been modelled after MatLab over the years, and is now considered by many “the open source equivalent of MatLab”.

In the past, Octave lacked several key features like a GUI (it used a CLI instead) and several other code related features. However, development of Octave has been quite active and it has caught up in many areas, with a new great GUI and complete with almost all important features.

Website: www.GNU.org/software/octave

Comparison Table (Summary)

Comparison PointMatLabOctave
LicenseMatLab requires a paid licenseOctave is both free and open source (source code is available)
InterfaceBeing more mature and developed, the MatLab interface has a slight edge in it’s feel and customization options.Not introduced till Octave 4.0, it’s GUI is very similar to MatLab’s, but slightly inferior.
Languages InvolvedMatLab was created using C, C++ and Java.Octave was created using C, C++ and Fortran.
MemoryMatLab is a bit larger and heavier, so it uses more memory (RAM)Octave is smaller and light, causing it to less Memory.
SpeedMatLab is fasterOctave is slower than MatLab
ToolsMatLab has more tools and Packages, as well as the SimulinkOctave (compared to MatLab) doesn’t have many packages or special tools.
MatLab vs Octave (Table Comparison)

Octave vs MatLab Analysis

A more detailed breakdown and analysis on comparing the similarities and differences between Octave and MatLab.


MatLab can actually be really expensive under certain licenses, but it’s pretty cheap if you can get the Student License (if you’re eligible). The Student license starts at $29, whereas the Standard license can cost upto $2400 (lifetime use).

Octave on the other hand is completely free, and you even have the source code available.

The Simulink

The Simulink is a sort of add-on product exclusive to MatLab, that provides a special and interactive environment for modelling and simulating dynamic systems. Can be used for the rapid development of virtual prototypes without much effort required.

As of 2021, Octave has no such equivalent which marks this as one of MatLab’s biggest advantages over Octave.


They are pretty compatible with each other on a base level, as in, basic code written in either language could be copied-pasted to the other and it would run perfectly. As the code becomes more complex however, and specialized tools come in place, the difference becomes more notable and the chances of errors (due to syntax difference) increase significantly.

There are some weird syntax differences between the two, such as MatLab not supporting C-styled incrementing (i++ or i–) while Octave does. Furthermore, MatLab allows for the opening of empty files, while Octave does not.


The difference in performance between the two is very significant and undisputable, with MatLab often being twice or thrice as fast. MatLab which has been developed by a professional team, and which has more investment behind it, performs better than Octave. Hence, for serious projects and teams, it is always going to be the better choice.

If you’re familiar with Java, you’ll probably know about the JIT compiler. As MatLab has been developed from Java (alongside other languages), it also has this feature which is also one of the main reasons behind it’s speed.

Tools and Compatibility

As we mentioned earlier, MatLab has alot more tools (admittedly, most are paid add-ons) than Octave. Furthermore, it’s a commercial product meaning it’s more compatible out-of-the-box and easy to get set up and running.

The Winner

From the above comparisons, you have probably already deduced that MatLab is the superior programming language. As a commercial option, it would be devastating for them if Octave was their equal (a free option) so you can expect them to be doing their best to keep the lead. They always have the latest technologies, and the best support that all the investment can provide.

Octave in the end, will always be a free, open source tool developed by the community (volunteers). It’s a good substitute for MatLab, but ultimately will always remain just that.


If you’re a student currently enrolled in a University/College, you can always try asking them whether they offer free access to MatLab (quite a few educational institutes offer this).

Of course, that doesn’t mean Octave shouldn’t be used at all. MatLab’s license costs are a paywall that will prevent many people from using it. If you can’t use MatLab, then Octave is the next best thing.


If you’re just a beginner or someone with a small scale project, just go with Octave. If you follow the proper procedure (mentioned at the end), switching over will be a very easy process. Of course, don’t switch over unless you’re actually serious about using MatLab and the extra functionality it offers.

If you have a big project in mind, or just have alot of money then I recommend you directly get MatLab. You’ll get the best performance and compatibility right out of the box and won’t have any issues expanding your project from a simple one to something serious.


If you do pick Octave with the intention of switching to MatLab later, avoid learning any Octave specific code. By using the --traditional option in Octave, you can make the compiler throw an error if Octave-specific code was used. This ensures that you don’t have to unlearn anything when you later move to MatLab.

This marks the end of the GNU Octave vs MATLAB article. Any suggestions or contributions for CodersLegacy are more than welcome. Questions regarding the article content can be asked in the comments section below.

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