The Octave Programming Language

Published on 11 April 2018 (Updated: 11 December 2023)

Welcome to the Octave page! Here, you'll find a description of the language as well as a list of sample programs in that language.

This article was written by:


Although this article is about the Octave programming language, let's first discuss it's roots: a language called MATLAB.

MATLAB (short for MATrix LABoratory) is a high-level programming language initially released in 1984. It markets itself as an easy-to-pick-up tool for scientists, engineers, and economists to do some serious number crunching.

The development of MATLAB started in the 1970's when a computer science professor, Cleve Moler, developed the language, so his students could use snippets of code for solving linear systems and obtaining eigenvalues/eigenvectors (LINPACK and EISPACK respectively) without having to learn Fortran. Moler's creation was immediately popular for its ease-of-use, interactivity and expandability and sports over 3 million users world-wide.

The main downside of MATLAB is that it is a paid application, and a rather pricey one at that. At the time of this writing (2023), the price ranges from $99 (perpetual for student edition) to over $900 (per year for standard edition). An alternative to MATLAB is a language called Octave, which claims to be "mostly compatible with MATLAB". Unlike MATLAB, Octave is completely free, and it is open source, available from the GNU Octave GitHub repository. It is published by the Free Source Foundation under the GNU Public License (GPL).

Octave was conceived by James B. Rawlings of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and John G. Ekerdt of the University of Texas around 1988 as a means of solving certain chemistry problems. Seeing that was too limited, they decided to create a more flexible tool which eventually became Octave. This was also developed with the same goals as MATLAB, as a means of solving scientific and engineer problems without having to use Fortran. Development started around 1992, and the first official release was around 1994.

You may be wondering why it is called "Octave", which sounds more like something associated with music. The name comes from Octave Levenspiel, one of the author's chemistry professors, who published a textbook on chemical reactions.