Hidden property – Undocumented Matlab https://undocumentedmatlab.com Charting Matlab's unsupported hidden underbelly Thu, 19 Jul 2018 20:59:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.1 Customizing contour plots part 2https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/customizing-contour-plots-part2 https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/customizing-contour-plots-part2#comments Sun, 12 Nov 2017 11:03:37 +0000 https://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=7149
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  2. Customizing contour plots Contour labels, lines and fill patches can easily be customized in Matlab HG2. ...
  3. Matlab’s HG2 mechanism HG2 is presumably the next generation of Matlab graphics. This article tries to explore its features....
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A few weeks ago a user posted a question on Matlab’s Answers forum, asking whether it is possible to display contour labels in the same color as their corresponding contour lines. In today’s post I’ll provide some insight that may assist users with similar customizations in other plot types.

Matlab does not provide, for reasons that escape my limited understanding, documented access to the contour plot’s component primitives, namely its contour lines, labels and patch faces. Luckily however, these handles are accessible (in HG2, i.e. R2014b onward) via undocumented hidden properties aptly named EdgePrims, TextPrims and FacePrims, as I explained in a previous post about contour plots customization, two years ago.

Let’s start with a simple contour plot of the peaks function:

[X,Y,Z] = peaks;
[C,hContour] = contour(X,Y,Z, 'ShowText','on', 'LevelStep',1);

The result is the screenshot on the left:

Standard Matlab contour labels

Standard Matlab contour labels

Customized Matlab contour labels

Customized Matlab contour labels

In order to update the label colors (to get the screenshot on the right), we create a short updateContours function that updates the TextPrims color to their corresponding EdgePrims color:

The updateContours() function

function updateContours(hContour)
    % Update the text label colors
    drawnow  % very important!
    levels = hContour.LevelList;
    labels = hContour.TextPrims;  % undocumented/unsupported
    lines  = hContour.EdgePrims;  % undocumented/unsupported
    for idx = 1 : numel(labels)
        labelValue = str2double(labels(idx).String);
        lineIdx = find(abs(levels-labelValue)<10*eps, 1);  % avoid FP errors using eps
        labels(idx).ColorData = lines(lineIdx).ColorData;  % update the label color
        %labels(idx).Font.Size = 8;                        % update the label font size
    drawnow  % optional

Note that in this function we don’t directly equate the numeric label values to the contour levels’ values: this would work well for integer values but would fail with floating-point ones. Instead I used a very small 10*eps tolerance in the numeric comparison.

Also note that I was careful to call drawnow at the top of the update function, in order to ensure that EdgePrims and TextPrims are updated when the function is called (this might not be the case before the call to drawnow). The final drawnow at the end of the function is optional: it is meant to reduce the flicker caused by the changing label colors, but it can be removed to improve the rendering performance in case of rapidly-changing contour plots.

Finally, note that I added a commented line that shows we can modify other label properties (in this case, the font size from 10 to 8). Feel free to experiment with other label properties.

Putting it all together

The final stage is to call our new updateContours function directly, immediately after creating the contour plot. We also want to call updateContours asynchronously whenever the contour is redrawn, for example, upon a zoom/pan event, or when one of the relevant contour properties (e.g., LevelStep or *Data) changes. To do this, we add a callback listener to the contour object’s [undocumented] MarkedClean event that reruns our updateContours function:

[X,Y,Z] = peaks;
[C,hContour] = contour(X,Y,Z, 'ShowText','on', 'LevelStep',1);
% Update the contours immediately, and also whenever the contour is redrawn
addlistener(hContour, 'MarkedClean', @(h,e)updateContours(hContour));

Contour level values

As noted in my comment reply below, the contour lines (hContour.EdgePrims) correspond to the contour levels (hContour.LevelList).

For example, to make all negative contour lines dotted, you can do the following:

[C,hContour] = contour(peaks, 'ShowText','on', 'LevelStep',1); drawnow
set(hContour.EdgePrims(hContour.LevelList<0), 'LineStyle', 'dotted');

Customized Matlab contour lines

Customized Matlab contour lines

Prediction about forward compatibility

As I noted on my previous post on contour plot customization, I am marking this article as “High risk of breaking in future Matlab versions“, not because of the basic functionality (being important enough I don’t presume it will go away anytime soon) but because of the property names: TextPrims, EdgePrims and FacePrims don’t seem to be very user-friendly property names. So far MathWorks has been very diligent in making its object properties have meaningful names, and so I assume that when the time comes to expose these properties, they will be renamed (perhaps to TextHandles, EdgeHandles and FaceHandles, or perhaps LabelHandles, LineHandles and FillHandles). For this reason, even if you find out in some future Matlab release that TextPrims, EdgePrims and FacePrims don’t exist, perhaps they still exist and simply have different names. Note that these properties have not changed their names or functionality in the past 3 years, so while it could well happen next year, it could also remain unchanged for many years to come. The exact same thing can be said for the MarkedClean event.

Professional assistance anyone?

As shown by this and many other posts on this site, a polished interface and functionality is often composed of small professional touches, many of which are not exposed in the official Matlab documentation for various reasons. So if you need top-quality professional appearance/functionality in your Matlab program, or maybe just a Matlab program that is dependable, robust and highly-performant, consider employing my consulting services.

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MathWorks-solicited Java surveyhttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/mathworks-solicited-java-survey https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/mathworks-solicited-java-survey#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:05:34 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=6866
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Over the years I’ve reported numerous uses for integrating Java components and functionality in Matlab. As I’ve also recently reported, MathWorks is apparently making a gradual shift away from standalone Java-based figures, toward browser-based web-enabled figures. As I surmised a few months ago, MathWorks has created dedicated surveys to solicit user feedbacks on the most important (and undocumented) non-compatible aspects of this paradigm change: one regarding users’ use of the javacomponent function, the other regarding the use of the figure’s JavaFrame property:

In MathWorks’ words:

In order to extend your ability to build MATLAB apps, we understand you sometimes need to make use of undocumented Java UI technologies, such as the JavaFrame property. In response to your needs, we are working to develop documented alternatives that address gaps in our app building offerings.

To help inform our work and plans, we would like to understand how you are using the JavaFrame property. Based on your understanding of how it is being used within your app, please take a moment to fill out the following survey. The survey will take approximately 1-2 minutes to finish.

I urge anyone who uses one or both of these features to let MathWorks know how you’re using them, so that they could incorporate that functionality into the core (documented) Matlab. The surveys are really short and to the point. If you wish to send additional information, please email George.Caia at mathworks.com.

The more feedback responses that MathWorks will get, the better it will be able to prioritize its R&D efforts for the benefit of all users, and the more likely are certain features to get a documented solution at some future release. If you don’t take the time now to tell MathWorks how you use these features in your code, don’t complain if and when they break in the future…

My personal uses of these features

  • Functionality:
    • Figure: maximize/minimize/restore, enable/disable, always-on-top, toolbar controls, menu customizations (icons, tooltips, font, shortcuts, colors)
    • Table: sorting, filtering, grouping, column auto-sizing, cell-specific behavior (tooltip, context menu, context-sensitive editor, merging cells)
    • Tree control
    • Listbox: cell-specific behavior (tooltip, context menu)
    • Tri-state checkbox
    • uicontrols in general: various event callbacks (e.g. mouse hover/unhover, focus gained/lost)
    • Ability to add Java controls e.g. color/font/date/file selector panel or dropdown, spinner, slider, search box, password field
    • Ability to add 3rd-party components e.g. JFreeCharts, JIDE controls/panels

  • Appearance:
    • Figure: undecorated (frameless), other figure frame aspects
    • Table: column/cell-specific rendering (alignment, icons, font, fg/bg color, string formatting)
    • Listbox: auto-hide vertical scrollbar as needed, cell-specific renderer (icon, font, alignment, fg/bg color)
    • Button/checkbox/radio: icons, text alignment, border customization, Look & Feel
    • Right-aligned checkbox (button to the right of label)
    • Panel: border customization (rounded/matte/…)

You can find descriptions/explanations of many of these in posts I made on this website over the years.

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Customizing uifigures part 1https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/customizing-uifigures-part-1 https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/customizing-uifigures-part-1#comments Thu, 21 Jul 2016 10:32:51 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=6554
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Last month, I posted an article that summarized a variety of undocumented customizations to Matlab figure windows. As I noted in that post, Matlab figures have used Java JFrames as their underlying technology since R14 (over a decade ago), but this is expected to change a few years from now with the advent of web-based uifigures. uifigures first became available in late 2014 with the new App Designer preview (the much-awaited GUIDE replacement), and were officially released in R2016a. AppDesigner is actively being developed and we should expect to see exciting new features in upcoming Matlab releases.

Matlab's new AppDesigner (a somewhat outdated screenshot)

Matlab's new AppDesigner (a somewhat outdated screenshot)

However, while AppDesigner has become officially supported, the underlying technology used for the new uifigures remained undocumented. This is not surprising: MathWorks did a good job of retaining backward compatibility with the existing figure handle, and so a new uifigure returns a handle that programmatically appears similar to figure handles, reducing the migration cost when MathWorks decides (presumably around 2018-2020) that web-based (rather than Java-based) figures should become the default figure type. By keeping the underlying figure technology undocumented and retaining the documented top-level behavior (properties and methods of the figure handle), Matlab users who only use the documented interface should expect a relatively smooth transition at that time.

So does this mean that users who start using AppDesigner today (and especially in a few years when web figures become the default) can no longer enjoy the benefits of figure-based customization offered to the existing Java-based figure users (which I listed in last month’s post)? Absolutely not! All we need is to get a hook into the uifigure‘s underlying object and then we can start having fun.

The uifigure Controller

One way to do this is to use the uifigure handle’s hidden (private) Controller property (a matlab.ui.internal.controller.FigureController MCOS object whose source-code appears in %matlabroot%/toolbox/matlab/uitools/uicomponents/components/+matlab/+ui/+internal/+controller/).

Controller is not only a hidden but also a private property of the figure handle, so we cannot simply use the get function to get its value. This doesn’t stop us of course: We can get the controller object using either my getundoc utility or the builtin struct function (which returns private/protected properties as an undocumented feature):

>> hFig = uifigure('Name','Yair', ...);
>> figProps = struct(hFig);  % or getundoc(hFig)
Warning: Calling STRUCT on an object prevents the object from hiding its implementation details and should thus be
avoided. Use DISP or DISPLAY to see the visible public details of an object. See 'help struct' for more information.
(Type "warning off MATLAB:structOnObject" to suppress this warning.)
Warning: figure JavaFrame property will be obsoleted in a future release. For more information see
the JavaFrame resource on the MathWorks web site.
(Type "warning off MATLAB:HandleGraphics:ObsoletedProperty:JavaFrame" to suppress this warning.)
figProps = 
                      JavaFrame: []
                    JavaFrame_I: []
                       Position: [87 40 584 465]
                   PositionMode: 'auto'
                     Controller: [1x1 matlab.ui.internal.controller.FigureController]
                 ControllerMode: 'auto'
>> figProps.Controller
ans = 
  FigureController with properties:
       Canvas: []
    ProxyView: [1x1 struct]
>> figProps.Controller.ProxyView
ans = 
            PeerNode: [1x1 com.mathworks.peermodel.impl.PeerNodeImpl]
    PeerModelManager: [1x1 com.mathworks.peermodel.impl.PeerModelManagerImpl]
>> struct(figProps.Controller)
Warning: Calling STRUCT on an object prevents the object from hiding its implementation details and should thus be
avoided. Use DISP or DISPLAY to see the visible public details of an object. See 'help struct' for more information.
(Type "warning off MATLAB:structOnObject" to suppress this warning.)
ans = 
               PositionListener: [1x1 event.listener]
    ContainerPositionCorrection: [1 1 0 0]
                      Container: [1x1 matlab.ui.internal.controller.FigureContainer]
                         Canvas: []
                  IsClientReady: 1
              PeerEventListener: [1x1 handle.listener]
                      ProxyView: [1x1 struct]
                          Model: [1x1 Figure]
               ParentController: [0x0 handle]
      PropertyManagementService: [1x1 matlab.ui.internal.componentframework.services.core.propertymanagement.PropertyManagementService]
          IdentificationService: [1x1 matlab.ui.internal.componentframework.services.core.identification.WebIdentificationService]
           EventHandlingService: [1x1 matlab.ui.internal.componentframework.services.core.eventhandling.WebEventHandlingService]

I will discuss all the goodies here in a future post (if you are curious then feel free to start drilling in there yourself, I promise it won’t bite you…). However, today I wish to concentrate on more immediate benefits from a different venue:

The uifigure webwindow

uifigures are basically webpages rather than desktop windows (JFrames). They use an entirely different UI mechanism, based on HTML webpages served from a localhost webserver that runs CEF (Chromium Embedded Framework version 3.2272 on Chromium 41 in R2016a). This runs the so-called CEF client (apparently an adaptation of the CefClient sample application that comes with CEF; the relevant Matlab source-code is in %matlabroot%/toolbox/matlab/cefclient/). It uses the DOJO Javascript toolkit for UI controls visualization and interaction, rather than Java Swing as in the existing JFrame figures. I still don’t know if there is a way to combine the seemingly disparate sets of GUIs (namely adding Java-based controls to web-based figures or vice-versa).

Anyway, the important thing to note for my purposes today is that when a new uifigure is created, the above-mentioned Controller object is created, which in turn creates a new matlab.internal.webwindow. The webwindow class (%matlabroot%/toolbox/matlab/cefclient/+matlab/+internal/webwindow.m) is well-documented and easy to follow (although the non camel-cased class name escaped someone’s attention), and allows access to several important figure-level customizations.

The figure’s webwindow reference can be accessed via the Controller‘s Container‘s CEF property:

>> hFig = uifigure('Name','Yair', ...);
>> warning off MATLAB:structOnObject      % suppress warning (yes, we know it's naughty...)
>> figProps = struct(hFig);
>> controller = figProps.Controller;      % Controller is a private hidden property of Figure
>> controllerProps = struct(controller);
>> container = controllerProps.Container  % Container is a private hidden property of FigureController
container = 
  FigureContainer with properties:
    FigurePeerNode: [1x1 com.mathworks.peermodel.impl.PeerNodeImpl]
         Resizable: 1
          Position: [86 39 584 465]
               Tag: ''
             Title: 'Yair'
              Icon: 'C:\Program Files\Matlab\R2016a\toolbox\matlab\uitools\uicomponents\resources\images…'
           Visible: 1
               URL: 'http://localhost:31417/toolbox/matlab/uitools/uifigureappjs/componentContainer.html…'
              HTML: 'toolbox/matlab/uitools/uifigureappjs/componentContainer.html'
     ConnectorPort: 31417
         DebugPort: 0
     IsWindowValid: 1
>> win = container.CEF   % CEF is a regular (public) hidden property of FigureContainer
win = 
  webwindow with properties:
                             URL: 'http://localhost:31417/toolbox/matlab/uitools/uifigureappjs/component…'
                           Title: 'Yair'
                            Icon: 'C:\Program Files\Matlab\R2016a\toolbox\matlab\uitools\uicomponents\re…'
                        Position: [86 39 584 465]
     CustomWindowClosingCallback: @(o,e)this.Model.hgclose()
    CustomWindowResizingCallback: @(event,data)resizeRequest(this,event,data)
                  WindowResizing: []
                   WindowResized: []
                     FocusGained: []
                       FocusLost: []
                DownloadCallback: []
        PageLoadFinishedCallback: []
           MATLABClosingCallback: []
      MATLABWindowExitedCallback: []
             PopUpWindowCallback: []
             RemoteDebuggingPort: 0
                      CEFVersion: '3.2272.2072'
                 ChromiumVersion: '41.0.2272.76'
                   isWindowValid: 1
               isDownloadingFile: 0
                         isModal: 0
                  isWindowActive: 1
                   isAlwaysOnTop: 0
                     isAllActive: 1
                     isResizable: 1
                         MaxSize: []
                         MinSize: []
>> win.URL
ans =

An alternative way to get the webwindow is via the list of all webwindows stored by a central webwindowmanager:

webWindows = matlab.internal.webwindowmanager.instance.findAllWebwindows();  % manager method returning an array of all open webwindows
webWindows = matlab.internal.webwindowmanager.instance.windowList;           % equivalent alternative via manager's windowList property

Note that the controller, container and webwindow class objects, like most Matlab MCOS objects, have internal (hidden) properties/methods that you can explore. For example:

>> getundoc(win)
ans = 
                   Channel: [1x1 asyncio.Channel]
       CustomEventListener: [1x1 event.listener]
           InitialPosition: [100 100 600 400]
    JavaScriptReturnStatus: []
     JavaScriptReturnValue: []
     NewWindowBeingCreated: 0
          NewWindowCreated: 1
           UpdatedPosition: [86 39 584 465]
              WindowHandle: 2559756
                    newURL: 'http://localhost:31417/toolbox/matlab/uitools/uifigureappjs/componentContai…'

Using webwindow for figure-level customizations

We can use the methods of this webwindow object as follows:

win.setAlwaysOnTop(true);   % always on top of other figure windows (a.k.a. AOT)
win.setMaxSize([400,600]);  % enables resizing up to this size but not larger (default=[])
win.setMinSize([200,300]);  % enables resizing down to this size but not smaller (default=[])
win.setActivateCurrentWindow(false);  % disable interaction with this entire window
win.setActivateAllWindows(false);     % disable interaction with *ALL* uifigure (but not Java-based) windows
result = win.executeJS(jsStr, timeout);  % run JavaScript

In addition to these methods, we can set callback functions to various callbacks exposed by the webwindow as regular properties (too bad that some of their names [like the class name itself] don’t follow Matlab’s standard naming convention, in this case by appending “Fcn” or “Callback”):

win.FocusGained = @someCallbackFunc;
win.FocusLost = @anotherCallbackFunc;

In summary, while the possible customizations to Java-based figure windows are more extensive, the webwindow methods appear to cover most of the important ones. Since these functionalities (maximize/minimize, AOT, disable etc.) are now common to both the Java and web-based figures, I really hope that MathWorks will create fully-documented figure properties/methods for them. Now that there is no longer any question whether these features will be supported by the future technology, and since there is no question as to their usefulness, there is really no reason not to officially support them in both figure types. If you feel the same as I do, please let MathWorks know about this – if enough people request this, MathWorks will be more likely to add these features to one of the upcoming Matlab releases.

Warning: the internal implementation is subject to change across releases, so be careful to make your code cross-release compatible whenever you rely on one of Matlab’s internal objects.

Note that I labeled this post as “part 1” – I expect to post additional articles on uifigure customizations in upcoming years.

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Figure window customizationshttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/figure-window-customizations https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/figure-window-customizations#respond Wed, 01 Jun 2016 08:00:11 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=6439
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  2. FindJObj – find a Matlab component’s underlying Java object The FindJObj utility can be used to access and display the internal components of Matlab controls and containers. This article explains its uses and inner mechanism....
  3. Uitable sorting Matlab's uitables can be sortable using simple undocumented features...
  4. Frameless (undecorated) figure windows Matlab figure windows can be made undecorated (borderless, title-less). ...
A friend recently asked me, in light of my guesstimate that Java-based Matlab figures will be replaced by web-based figures sometime around 2018-2020, whether there are any “killer features” that make it worthwhile to use undocumented Java-based tricks today, despite the fact that they will probably break in 2-5 years. In my opinion, there are many such features; today I will focus on just a subset of them – those features that relate to the entire figure window.

Over the years I wrote many articles here about figure-level customizations, as well as an entire chapter in my Matlab-Java programming book. So today’s post will be a high-level overview, and users who are interested in any specific topic can visit the referenced links for the implementation details.

An undecorated Matlab figure window - one of many possible figure-level customizations
An undecorated Matlab figure window – one of many possible figure-level customizations


JavaFrame is an undocumented hidden property of the figure handle that provides access to the underlying Java window (JFrame) peer object’s reference. Since R2008a, a warning is issued whenever we retrieve this property:

>> jFrame = get(gcf,'JavaFrame');
Warning: figure JavaFrame property will be obsoleted in a future release.
For more information see the JavaFrame resource on the MathWorks web site.
(Type "warning off MATLAB:HandleGraphics:ObsoletedProperty:JavaFrame" to suppress this warning.) 

Until HG2 (R2014b+) we could suppress the warning by simply wrapping the figure handle within a handle() call, as explained here. Since R2014b we need to use the warning function to do this:

warning('off', 'MATLAB:HandleGraphics:ObsoletedProperty:JavaFrame');

We can do several things directly with the JavaFrame‘s properties and methods, including:

  • Maximize/minimize/restore the window, via the properties Maximized/Minimized (which accept and return a boolean (logical) value), or the corresponding methods jFrame.isMaximized(), isMinimized(), setMaximized(flag), setMinimized(flag). details
  • Modify the container to which the figure will be docked. By default this is the “Figures” container, but this can be changed to any user-specified container, or even to the “Editor”, using the GroupName property or its associated methods. See the related setFigDockGroup utility that I posted on the Matlab File exchange.
  • Remove the top separator line between the toolbar and the content-pane, to blend them together, via the jFrame.showTopSeparator(flag) method.
  • Retrieve a direct Java reference to the Matlab Desktop and the figure’s internal containers via the Desktop and FigurePanelContainer properties, respectively (we can also get those references by other means).
  • Retrieve a direct Java reference to the containing JFrame (Java window), as discussed below
  • A few other features that I will not discuss here

MathWorks have set up a dedicated webpage where you can specify how you are using JavaFrame and why it is important for you: http://www.mathworks.com/javaframe. I encourage you to use this webpage to tell MathWorks which features are important for you. This will help them to decide which functionality should be added to the new web-based figures.

JFrame window

The JavaFrame handle enables direct retrieval of the containing Java JFrame (window) reference, using several alternatives. Here are two of these alternatives (there are others):

% Alternative #1
>> jWindow = jFrame.getFigurePanelContainer.getTopLevelAncestor
jWindow = 
% Alternative #2
    jClient = jFrame.fFigureClient;  % This works up to R2011a
        jClient = jFrame.fHG1Client;  % This works from R2008b-R2014a
        jClient = jFrame.fHG2Client;  % This works from R2014b and up
jWindow = jClient.getWindow;

Customized menu items Customized menu items
Integrated figure status bar

Customized menu items (top) and figure status bar (bottom)

With the retrieved jWindow reference, we can do several additional interesting things:

  • Enable/disable the entire figure in a single go (details)
  • Remove/restore the window frame (borders and title bar), otherwise known as an “undecorated window” (details)
  • Set the figure window to be “Always-On-Top”, i.e. not occluded by any other window, via the AlwaysOnTop property, or the corresponding jWindow.isAlwaysOnTop(), setAlwaysOnTop(flag) methods.
  • Make the figure window fully or partially transparent (details). Note: this fails on R2013b/Java7 and higher due to a change in the way that transparency works in Java 7 compared to earlier releases; in other words blame Oracle’s Java, not MathWorks’ Matlab….
  • Blur/restore the figure window (details). This too works only up to R2013a.
  • Detect and handle window-level focus gain/loss events (details), as well as window-level mouse events (enter/exit/hover etc. – details).
  • Customize the figure’s menu bar – dynamic behavior, tooltips, highlights, keyboard shortcuts/accelerators, font colors/styles, callbacks, icons etc. (details1, details2)
  • Control figure docking in compiled (deployed) applications (details1, details2)
  • Display an integral figure status-bar with text and GUI controls (details1, details2).
  • A few other features that I will not discuss here

As you can see, there are numerous very interesting customizations that can be done to Matlab figures which rely on the undocumented implementation. Here are a couple of usage examples that you can easily adapt (follow the links above for additional details and usage examples):

jWindow.setEnabled(false);     % disable entire figure [true/false]
jWindow.setMinimized(true);    % minimize window [true/false]
jWindow.setMaximized(true);    % maximize window [true/false]
jWindow.setAlwaysOnTop(true);  % set to be always on top [true/false]
% Set a Matlab callback function to a window focus-gain event
hjWindow = handle(jWindow, 'CallbackProperties');
hjWindow.FocusGainedCallback = @myCallbackFunc;

In addition to the Java-based features above, some functionalities can also be achieved via direct OS manipulations, for example using Jan Simon’s great WindowAPI utility (Windows-only), although I typically prefer using the Java approach since it is cross-platform compatible.

Using all these features is super-easy, so there is not really a question of code complexity or technical risk – the main question is whether to accept the risk that the associated code will stop working when Matlab figures will eventually become web-based.

So is it worth the risk?

This is an excellent question. I contend that the answer depends on the specific use-case. In one project you may decide that it is indeed worth-while to use these undocumented features today, whereas in another GUI you may decide that it is not.

It might make sense to use the features above in any of the following circumstances:

  • If you need any of the features in your Matlab GUI today. In this case, you really have no alternative other than to use these features, since there is no documented way to achieve the required functionality.
  • If you do not plan to upgrade your Matlab release soon, or at least after the Java-based figures are discontinued in a few years. The commercial Matlab license is perpetual, enabling users to enjoy these features for as long as they continue using this Matlab release.
  • If you are compiling your Matlab program using the Matlab Compiler or Coder toolboxes. In such cases, the executable will remain static, until such time (if ever) that you decide to recompile it using a newer Matlab release. Users of the compiled code could continue to use the compiled undocumented features well into the future, for as long as their computers keep running. In such cases, we are not concerned with release compatibility issues.
  • If you accept the risk that some recoding may be necessary in the future, or that some functionality will degrade, for the added benefit that they provide your GUIs today.
  • If you are willing to code without MathWorks’ official support and endorsement, and accept the fact that they will not fix any internal bugs that you may discover which is related to these features.
  • If you wish to present a professional-grade GUI today, and worry about potential incompatibilities only if and when they eventually arrive, sometime in the future.

Here’s another twist to consider: do not take it for granted that when web-based uifigures replace Java-based figures all the documented functionality will work as-is on the new uifigures just as they have on the old figures. In fact, I personally believe that we will need to extensively modify our GUI code to make it compatible with the new uifigures. In other words, avoiding the undocumented hacks above will probably not save us from the need to recode (or at least adapt) our GUI, it will just reduce the necessary work somewhat. We encountered a similar situation with the graphics hacks that I exposed over the years: many people avoided them in the fear that they might someday break; then when R2014b came and HG2 graphics replaced HG1, it turned out that many of these supposedly risky hacks continued working in HG2 (examples: LooseInset, YLimInclude) whereas quite a bit of standard fully-documented Matlab functionality was broken and required some recoding. I believe that the lessons from the HG2 migration were well studied and assimilated by MathWorks, but realistically speaking we should not expect a 100% full-proof transition to uifigures.

Still, accepting the risk does not mean that we should bury our head in the sand. Whenever using any undocumented feature in your code, I strongly suggest to use defensive coding practices, such as wrapping your code within try-catch blocks. This way, even if the feature is removed in R2020a (or whenever), the program will still run, albeit with somewhat diminished functionality, or in other words, graceful degradation. For example:

    jFrame = get(hFig, 'JavaFrame');
    oldUnits = get(hFig, 'Units');
    set(hFig, 'Units','norm', 'Pos',[0,0,1,1]);
    set(hFig, 'Units',oldUnits);

Once again, I urge you to visit http://www.mathworks.com/javaframe and tell MathWorks which of the above features are important for you. The more users tell MathWorks that they depend on a specific feature, the more would MathWorks be likely to invest R&D efforts in enabling it in the future web-based figures.

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Customizing contour plots part 2https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/customizing-contour-plots-part-2 https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/customizing-contour-plots-part-2#comments Wed, 09 Mar 2016 18:00:49 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=6304
Related posts:
  1. Minimize/maximize figure window Matlab figure windows can easily be maximized, minimized and restored using a bit of undocumented magic powder...
  2. getundoc – get undocumented object properties getundoc is a very simple utility that displays the hidden (undocumented) properties of a specified handle object....
  3. Types of undocumented Matlab aspects This article lists the different types of undocumented/unsupported/hidden aspects in Matlab...
  4. Matlab’s HG2 mechanism HG2 is presumably the next generation of Matlab graphics. This article tries to explore its features....
A few months ago I discussed various undocumented manners by which we can customize Matlab contour plots. A short while ago I receive an email from a blog reader (thanks Frank!) alerting me to another interesting way by which we can customize such plots, using the contour handle’s hidden ContourZLevel property. In today’s post I will explain how we can use this property and expand the discussion with some visualization interactivity.

The ContourZLevel property

The contour handle’s ContourZLevel property is a hidden property. This means that, just like all other hidden properties, it is accessible if we just happen to know its name (which is easy using my getundoc utility). This property sets the Z level at which the contour lines are drawn.

For example, by default the meshc function sets ContourZLevel‘s value to the bottom of the 3D display (in other words, to the axes’ ZLim(1) value). This is done within the mesh.m function:

Standard Matlab meshc output (contour at bottom)

Standard Matlab meshc output (contour at bottom)

We can, however, modify the contour’s level value to any other Z location:

% create a mesh and contour plot
handles = meshc(peaks);
% handles is a 2-element array of handles: the surface plot and the contours
hContour = handles(2); % get the handle to the contour lines
hContour.ContourZLevel = 4.5; % set the contour's Z position (default: hAxes.ZLim(1)=-10)
% We can also customize other aspects of the contour lines, for example:
hContour.LineWidth = 2; % set the contour lines' width (default: 0.5)

Customized Matlab meshc output

Customized Matlab meshc output

Adding some visualization interactivity

Now let’s add some fun interactivity using a vertical slider to control the contour’s height (Z level). Matlab’s slider uicontrol is really just an ugly scrollbar, so we’ll use a Java JSlider instead:

% Add a controlling slider to the figure
jSlider = javaObjectEDT(javax.swing.JSlider);
[hjSlider, hContainer] = javacomponent(jSlider, [10,10,30,120], gcf);
% Set the slider's action callback
hAxes = hContour.Parent;  % handle to containing axes
zmin = hAxes.ZLim(1);
zmax = hAxes.ZLim(2);
zrange = zmax - zmin;
cbFunc = @(hSlider,evtData) set(hContour,'ContourZLevel',hSlider.getValue/100*zrange+zmin);
hjSlider.StateChangedCallback = cbFunc;  % set the callback for slider action events
cbFunc(hjSlider,[]);  % evaluate the callback to synchronize the initial display

Interactive contour height

Interactive contour height

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Customizing contour plotshttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/customizing-contour-plots https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/customizing-contour-plots#comments Wed, 18 Nov 2015 18:00:55 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=6075
Related posts:
  1. Draggable plot data-tips Matlab's standard plot data-tips can be customized to enable dragging, without being limitted to be adjacent to their data-point. ...
  2. Customizing contour plots part 2 Matlab contour labels' color and font can easily be customized. ...
  3. Matlab’s HG2 mechanism HG2 is presumably the next generation of Matlab graphics. This article tries to explore its features....
  4. getundoc – get undocumented object properties getundoc is a very simple utility that displays the hidden (undocumented) properties of a specified handle object....
One of my clients asked me last week whether it is possible to access and customize individual contour lines and labels in HG2 (Matlab’s new graphics system, R2014+). Today’s post will discuss how this could indeed be done.

Matlab contour plot

Matlab contour plot

In HG1 (R2014a and earlier), contour handles were simple hggroup objects that incorporated text and patch child handles. The contour labels, lines and fill patches could easily be accessed via these child handles (contour lines and fills use the same patch object: the lines are simply the patch edges; fills are their faces). The lines could then be customized, the label strings changed, and the patch faces (fills) recolored:

[X,Y,Z] = peaks;
[C,hContour] = contour(X,Y,Z,20, 'ShowText','on');
hChildren = get(hContour, 'Children');
set(hChildren(1), 'String','Yair', 'Color','b');  % 1st text (contour label)
set(hChildren(end), 'EdgeColor',[0,1,1]);         % last patch (contour line)

The problem is that in HG2 (R2014b onward), contour (and its sibling functions, contourf etc.) return a graphic object that has no accessible children. In other words, hContour.Children returns an empty array:

>> hContour.Children
ans = 
  0x0 empty GraphicsPlaceholder array.
>> allchild(hContour)
ans = 
  0x0 empty GraphicsPlaceholder array.
>> isempty(hContour.Children)
ans =

So how then can we access the internal contour patches and labels?

HG2’s contour object’s hidden properties

Skipping several fruitless dead-ends, it turns out that in HG2 the text labels, lines and fills are stored in undocumented hidden properties called TextPrims, EdgePrims and (surprise, surprise) FacePrims, which hold corresponding arrays of matlab.graphics.primitive.world.Text, matlab.graphics.primitive.world.LineStrip and matlab.graphics.primitive.world.TriangleStrip object handles (the drawnow part is also apparently very important, otherwise you might get errors due to the Prim objects not being ready by the time the code is reached):

>> drawnow;  % very important!
>> hContour.TextPrims  % row array of Text objects
ans = 
  1x41 Text array:
  Columns 1 through 14
    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text
  Columns 15 through 28
    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text
  Columns 29 through 41
    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text    Text
>> hContour.EdgePrims  % column array of LineStrip objects
ans = 
  20x1 LineStrip array:
>> hContour.FacePrims  % column array of TriangleStrip objects (empty if no fill)
ans = 
  0x0 empty TriangleStrip array.

We can now access and customize the individual contour lines, labels and fills:

hContour.TextPrims(4).String = 'Dani';
hContour.TextPrims(7).Visible = 'off';
hContour.TextPrims(9).VertexData = single([-1.3; 0.5; 0]);  % Label location in data units
hContour.EdgePrims(2).ColorData = uint8([0;255;255;255]);  % opaque cyan
hContour.EdgePrims(5).Visible = 'off';

Note that the LineStrip objects here are the same as those used for the axes Axles, which I described a few months ago. Any customization that we could do to the axle LineStrips can also be applied to contour LineStrips, and vice versa.

For example, to achieve the appearance of a topographic map, we might want to modify some contour lines to use dotted LineStyle and other lines to appear bold by having larger LineWidth. Similarly, we may wish to hide some labels (by setting their Visible property to ‘off’) and make other labels bold (by setting their Font.Weight property to ‘bold’). There are really numerous customization possibilities here.

Here is a listing of the standard (non-hidden) properties exposed by these objects:

>> get(hContour.TextPrims(1))
        BackgroundColor: []
              ColorData: []
              EdgeColor: []
                   Font: [1x1 matlab.graphics.general.Font]
          FontSmoothing: 'on'
       HandleVisibility: 'on'
                HitTest: 'off'
    HorizontalAlignment: 'center'
            Interpreter: 'none'
                  Layer: 'middle'
              LineStyle: 'solid'
              LineWidth: 1
                 Margin: 1
                 Parent: [1x1 Contour]
          PickableParts: 'visible'
               Rotation: 7.24591082075548
                 String: '-5.1541'
          StringBinding: 'copy'
             VertexData: [3x1 single]
      VerticalAlignment: 'middle'
                Visible: 'on'
>> get(hContour.EdgePrims(1))
          AlignVertexCenters: 'off'
             AmbientStrength: 0.3
                ColorBinding: 'object'
                   ColorData: [4x1 uint8]
                   ColorType: 'truecolor'
             DiffuseStrength: 0.6
            HandleVisibility: 'on'
                     HitTest: 'off'
                       Layer: 'middle'
                     LineCap: 'none'
                    LineJoin: 'round'
                   LineStyle: 'solid'
                   LineWidth: 0.5
               NormalBinding: 'none'
                  NormalData: []
                      Parent: [1x1 Contour]
               PickableParts: 'visible'
    SpecularColorReflectance: 1
            SpecularExponent: 10
            SpecularStrength: 0.9
                   StripData: [1 18]
                     Texture: [0x0 GraphicsPlaceholder]
                  VertexData: [3x17 single]
               VertexIndices: []
                     Visible: 'on'
       WideLineRenderingHint: 'software'
>> get(hContour.FacePrims(1))
             AmbientStrength: 0.3
             BackFaceCulling: 'none'
                ColorBinding: 'object'
                   ColorData: [4x1 uint8]
                   ColorType: 'truecolor'
             DiffuseStrength: 0.6
            HandleVisibility: 'on'
                     HitTest: 'off'
                       Layer: 'middle'
               NormalBinding: 'none'
                  NormalData: []
                      Parent: [1x1 Contour]
               PickableParts: 'visible'
    SpecularColorReflectance: 1
            SpecularExponent: 10
            SpecularStrength: 0.9
                   StripData: [1 4 13 16 33 37 41 44 51 54 61 64 71 74 87 91 94 103]
                     Texture: [0x0 GraphicsPlaceholder]
            TwoSidedLighting: 'off'
                  VertexData: [3x102 single]
               VertexIndices: []
                     Visible: 'on'

But how did I know these properties existed? The easiest way in this case would be to use my getundoc utility, but we could also use my uiinspect utility or even the plain-ol’ struct function.

p.s. – there’s an alternative way, using the Java bean adapter that is associated with each Matlab graphics object: java(hContour). Specifically, this object apparent has the public method browseableChildren(java(hContour)) which returns the list of all children (in our case, 41 text labels [bean adapters], 20 lines, and a single object holding a ListOfPointsHighlight that corresponds to the regular hidden SelectionHandle property). However, I generally dislike working with the bean adapters, especially when there’s a much “cleaner” way to get these objects, in this case using the regular EdgePrims, FacePrims, TextPrims and SelectionHandle properties. Readers who are interested in Matlab internals can explore the bean adapters using a combination of my getundoc and uiinspect utilities.

So far for the easy part. Now for some more challenging questions:

Customizing the color

First, can we modify the contour fill to have a semi- (or fully-) transparent fill color? – indeed we can:

[~, hContour] = contourf(peaks(20), 10);
drawnow;  % this is important, to ensure that FacePrims is ready in the next line!
hFills = hContour.FacePrims;  % array of TriangleStrip objects
[hFills.ColorType] = deal('truecoloralpha');  % default = 'truecolor'
for idx = 1 : numel(hFills)
   hFills(idx).ColorData(4) = 150;   % default=255

Contour plot in HG2, with and without transparency

Contour plot in HG2, with and without transparency

Similar transparency effects can also be applied to the LineStrip and Text objects. A discussion of the various combinations of acceptable color properties can be found here.

Mouse clicks

Next, how can we set a custom context-menu for individual labels and contour lines?

Unfortunately, Text, LineStrip and TriangleStrip objects do not posses a ButtonDownFcn or UIContextMenu property, not even hidden. I tried searching in the internal/undocumented properties, but nothing came up.

Mouse click solution #1

So the next logical step would be to trap the mouse-click event at the contour object level. We cannot simply click the contour and check the clicked object because that would just give us the hContour object handle rather than the individual Text or LineStrip. So the idea would be to set hContour.HitTest='off', in the hope that the mouse click would be registered on the graphic object directly beneath the mouse cursor, namely the label or contour line. It turns out that the labels’ and lines’ HitTest property is ‘off’ by default, so, we also need to set them all to ‘on’:

hContour.HitTest = 'off';
[hContour.TextPrims.HitTest] = deal('on');
[hContour.EdgePrims.HitTest] = deal('on');
[hContour.FacePrims.HitTest] = deal('on');
hContour.ButtonDownFcn = @(h,e)disp(struct(e));

This seemed simple enough, but failed spectacularly: it turns out that because hContour.HitTest='off', mouse clicks are not registered on this objects, and on the other hand we cannot set the ButtonDownFcn on the primitive objects because they don’t have a ButtonDownFcn property!

Who said life is easy?

One workaround is to set the figure’s WindowButtonDownFcn property:

set(gcf, 'WindowButtonDownFcn', @myMouseClickCallback);

Now, inside your myMouseClickCallback function you can check the clicked object. We could use the undocumented builtin hittest(hFig) function to see which object was clicked. Alternatively, we could use the callback eventData‘s undocumented HitObject/HitPrimitive properties (this variant does not require the HitTest property modifications above):

function myMouseClickCallback(hFig, eventData)
   hitPrimitive = hittest(hFig);  % undocumented function
   hitObject    = eventData.HitObject;     % undocumented property => returns a Contour object (=hContour)
   hitPrimitive = eventData.HitPrimitive;  % undocumented property => returns a Text or LineStrip object
   hitPoint     = eventData.Point;         % undocumented property => returns [x,y] pixels from figure's bottom-left corner
   if strcmpi(hFig.SelectionType,'alt')  % right-click
      if isa(hitPrimitive, 'matlab.graphics.primitive.world.Text')  % label
         displayTextContextMenu(hitPrimitive, hitPoint)
      elseif isa(hitPrimitive, 'matlab.graphics.primitive.world.LineStrip')  % contour line
         displayLineContextMenu(hitPrimitive, hitPoint)
      elseif isa(hitPrimitive, 'matlab.graphics.primitive.world.TriangleStrip')  % contour fill
         displayFillContextMenu(hitPrimitive, hitPoint)
Mouse click solution #2

A totally different solution is to keep the default hContour.HitTest='on' (and the primitives’ as ‘off’) and simply query the contour object’s ButtonDownFcn callback’s eventData‘s undocumented Primitive property:

hContour.ButtonDownFcn = @myMouseClickCallback;

And in the callback function:

function myMouseClickCallback(hContour, eventData)
   hitPrimitive = eventData.Primitive;  % undocumented property => returns a Text or LineStrip object
   hitPoint     = eventData.IntersectionPoint;  % [x,y,z] in data units
   hFig = ancestor(hContour, 'figure');
   if strcmpi(hFig.SelectionType,'alt')  % right-click
      if isa(hitPrimitive, 'matlab.graphics.primitive.world.Text')  % label
         displayTextContextMenu(hitPrimitive, hitPoint)
      elseif isa(hitPrimitive, 'matlab.graphics.primitive.world.LineStrip')  % contour line
         displayLineContextMenu(hitPrimitive, hitPoint)
      elseif isa(hitPrimitive, 'matlab.graphics.primitive.world.TriangleStrip')  % contour fill
         displayFillContextMenu(hitPrimitive, hitPoint)

This article should be a good start in how to code the displayTextContextMenu etc. functions to display a context menu.

Customizations reset

Finally, there are apparently numerous things that cause our customized labels and lines to reset to their default appearance: resizing, updating contour properties etc. To update the labels in all these cases in one place, simply listen to the undocumented MarkedClean event:

addlistener(hContour, 'MarkedClean', @updateLabels);

Where updateLabels is a function were you set all the new labels.

Prediction about forward compatibility

I am marking this article as “High risk of breaking in future Matlab versions“, not because of the basic functionality (being important enough I don’t presume it will go away anytime soon) but because of the property names: TextPrims, EdgePrims and FacePrims don’t seem to be very user-friendly property names. So far MathWorks has been very diligent in making its object properties have meaningful names, and so I assume that when the time comes to expose these properties, they will be renamed (perhaps to TextHandles, EdgeHandles and FaceHandles, or perhaps LabelHandles, LineHandles and FillHandles). For this reason, even if you find out in some future Matlab release that TextPrims, EdgePrims and FacePrims don’t exist, perhaps they still exist and simply have different names.

Addendum November 11, 2017: The TextPrims, EdgePrims and FacePrims properties have still not changed their names and functionality. I explained a nice use for them in a followup post, explaining how we can modify the contour labels to have different font sizes and the same colors as their corresponding contour lines.

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Using linkaxes vs. linkprophttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/using-linkaxes-vs-linkprop https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/using-linkaxes-vs-linkprop#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 20:30:04 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=5928
Related posts:
  1. Multi-column (grid) legend This article explains how to use undocumented axes listeners for implementing multi-column plot legends...
  2. Plot LimInclude properties The plot objects' XLimInclude, YLimInclude, ZLimInclude, ALimInclude and CLimInclude properties are an important feature, that has both functional and performance implications....
  3. FIG files format FIG files are actually MAT files in disguise. This article explains how this can be useful in Matlab applications....
  4. Handle Graphics Behavior HG behaviors are an important aspect of Matlab graphics that enable custom control of handle functionality. ...
One of my clients recently asked me to solve a very peculiar problem: He had several axes and was using Matlab’s builtin linkaxes function to link their axis limits. However, it didn’t behave quite the way that he expected. His axes were laid out as 2×2 subplots, and he wanted the two columns to be independently linked in the X axis, and the two rows to be independently linked in the Y axis:

% Prepare the axes
ax(1,1) = subplot(2,2,1); 
ax(1,2) = subplot(2,2,2); 
ax(2,1) = subplot(2,2,3); 
ax(2,2) = subplot(2,2,4);
% Plot something
x = 0 : 0.01 : 10;
line(x, sin(x),   'Parent',ax(1,1));
line(x, sin(2*x), 'Parent',ax(1,2));
line(x, cos(x),   'Parent',ax(2,1));
line(x, cos(5*x), 'Parent',ax(2,2));
% Link the relevant axes
linkaxes(ax(:,1),'x');  % left column
linkaxes(ax(:,2),'x');  % right column
linkaxes(ax(1,:),'y');  % top row
linkaxes(ax(2,:),'y');  % bottom row

The problem was that the plots didn’t behave as expected: when zooming in on the bottom-left axes, for example, only the bottom-right axes was updated (Y-limits synced), whereas the top-left axes’ X-limits remained unchanged:

Badly-synced axes limits

Badly-synced axes limits

Apparently, the second set of two linkaxes commands (to sync the rows’ Y-limits) overrode the first set of two linkaxes commands (to sync the columns’ X-limits).


The reason for this unexpected behavior is that under the hood, linkaxes attaches property-change listeners to the corresponding axes, and stores these listeners in the axes’ hidden ApplicationData property (which is typically accessible via the getappdata / setappdata / isappdata / rmappdata set of functions). Specifically, up to a certain Matlab release (R2013b?), the listeners were placed in a field called ‘listener__’, and since then in a field called ‘graphics_linkaxes’. In either case, the field name was constant.

Therefore, when we placed the first set of linkaxes commands, the axes were correctly synced vertically (ax(1,1) with ax(2,1) in their X-limits, and similarly ax(1,2) with ax(2,2)). But when we placed the second set of linkaxes commands, the internal field in the axes’ ApplicationData property was overriden with the new listeners (that synced the rows’ Y-limits).

It so happens that Matlab listeners have a very nasty feature of being deleted when they are no longer referenced anywhere (within a workspace variable or object property). So when we overrode the first set of listener handles, we effectively deleted them, as if they were never set in the first place.

Some people may possibly complain about both issues at this point:

  • That Matlab listeners get deleted so easily without so much as a console warning, and certainly against naive intuition.
  • That repeated calls to linkaxes should override (rather than complement) each other.

As a side note, the addlistener function creates a listener and then persists it in the object’s hidden AutoListeners__ property. However, unlike the linkaxes behavior, addlistener‘s listener handles are always appended to AutoListeners__‘s contents, rather than replacing it. This ensures that all listeners are accessible and active until their container is deleted or they are specifically modified/removed. I wish that linkaxes used this mechanism, rather than its current ApplicationData one.

Workaround: linkprop

Luckily, there is a very easy and simple workaround, namely to use linkprop rather than linkaxes. The linkprop function is a lower-level function that creates a property-change listener that syncs corresponding properties in any specified array of object handles. In fact, linkaxes uses linkprop in order to create the necessary listeners. In our case, we can use linkprop directly, to independently attach such listeners to the axes’ XLim and YLim properties. We just need to ensure that all these listeners remain accessible to Matlab throughout the corresponding objects’ life-cycle. This is easily done using ApplicationData, as is done by linkaxes.m but in a smarter manner that does not override the previous values. The benefit of this is that when the axes are deleted, then so are the listeners; as long as the axes are accessible then so are the listeners. We just need to ensure that we don’t override these listener values:

setappdata(ax(1,1), 'YLim_listeners', linkprop(ax(1,:),'YLim')); 
setappdata(ax(2,1), 'YLim_listeners', linkprop(ax(2,:),'YLim'));
setappdata(ax(1,1), 'XLim_listeners', linkprop(ax(:,1),'XLim'));
setappdata(ax(1,2), 'XLim_listeners', linkprop(ax(:,2),'XLim'));

This results in the expected behavior:

properly-linked axes

properly-linked axes


The design decision by MathWorks to automatically delete Matlab listeners as soon as their reference count is zeroed and they get garbage-collected, causes a myriad of unexpected run-time behaviors, one of which is exemplified in today’s post on linkaxes. This would still have not caused any problem had the developers of linkaxes been aware of this listener feature and taken care to store the linked listener handles in an accumulating repository (e.g., adding the listener handle to an array of existing handles, rather than replacing a scalar handle).

Luckily, now that we know how Matlab listeners behave, we can easily identify abnormal behavior that results from listener handles going out of scope, and can easily take steps to persist the handles somewhere, so that they will remain active.

I wish to stress here that the listeners’ limited scope is fully documented in several places in the documentation (e.g., here as well as the linkprop doc page). The non-additive behavior of linkaxes is also documented, albeit in an almost-invisible footnote on its doc-page.

However, I humbly contend that the fact that these behaviors are documented doesn’t meant that they are correct. After all, figure windows or timers aren’t deleted when their handle goes out of scope, are they? At the very least, I hope that MathWorks will improve the relevant doc pages, to highlight these non-intuitive behaviors, and in the case of linkaxes to present a linkprop usage example as a workaround.

If you are interested in the topic of Matlab listeners, note that I’ve written quite a few listener-related posts over the years (about property-change listeners as well as event listeners). I urge you to take a look at the list of related articles presented below, or to use the search box at the top of the page.

https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/using-linkaxes-vs-linkprop/feed 5
Undocumented view transformation matrixhttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/undocumented-view-transformation-matrix https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/undocumented-view-transformation-matrix#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 21:21:51 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=5711
Related posts:
  1. Multi-column (grid) legend This article explains how to use undocumented axes listeners for implementing multi-column plot legends...
  2. Getting default HG property values Matlab has documented how to modify default property values, but not how to get the full list of current defaults. This article explains how to do this. ...
  3. Customizing axes part 3 – Backdrop Matlab HG2 axes can be customized in many different ways. This article explains some of the undocumented aspects. ...
  4. Customizing axes part 4 – additional properties Matlab HG2 axes can be customized in many different ways. This article explains some of the undocumented aspects. ...
Everyone knows Matlab’s view function, right? You know, the function that can set a 3D plot to the proper orientation angles and/or return the current plot’s azimuth/elevation angles. I’ve used it numerous times myself in the past two decades. It’s one of Matlab’s earliest functions, dating back to at least 1984. Still, as often as I’ve used it, it was not until I came across Bruce Elliott’s post on CSSM last week that I realized that this seamingly-innocent stock Matlab function holds a few interesting secrets.

view()’s transformation matrix output

First, while view‘s 2-output syntax ([az,el]=view()) is well known and documented, there is also a single-output syntax (T=view()) that is neither. To be exact, this syntax is not mentioned in the official documentation pages, but it does appear in the help section of view.m, which is viewable (no pun intended…) if you type the following in your Matlab console (R2014a or earlier, note the highlighted lines):

>> help view
 view   3-D graph viewpoint specification.
    view(AZ,EL) and view([AZ,EL]) set the angle of the view from which an
    observer sees the current 3-D plot.  AZ is the azimuth or horizontal
    rotation and EL is the vertical elevation (both in degrees). Azimuth
    revolves about the z-axis, with positive values indicating counter-
    clockwise rotation of the viewpoint. Positive values of elevation
    correspond to moving above the object; negative values move below.
    view([X Y Z]) sets the view angle in Cartesian coordinates. The
    magnitude of vector X,Y,Z is ignored.
    Here are some examples:
    AZ = -37.5, EL = 30 is the default 3-D view.
    AZ = 0, EL = 90 is directly overhead and the default 2-D view.
    AZ = EL = 0 looks directly up the first column of the matrix.
    AZ = 180 is behind the matrix.
    view(2) sets the default 2-D view, AZ = 0, EL = 90.
    view(3) sets the default 3-D view, AZ = -37.5, EL = 30.
    [AZ,EL] = view returns the current azimuth and elevation.
    T = view returns the current general 4-by-4 transformation matrix. 
    view(AX,...) uses axes AX instead of the current axes.
    See also viewmtx, the axes Properties view, Xform. 
    Reference page in Help browser
       doc view
>> surf(peaks); T=view
T =
      0.79335     -0.60876            0    -0.092296
      0.30438      0.39668      0.86603     -0.78354
       0.5272      0.68706         -0.5       8.3031
            0            0            0            1

Note that the extra highlighted information is probably a documentation oversight by some MathWorker many years ago, since it was removed from the help section in R2014b and does not appear in the doc pages (not even in R2014a). Perhaps it was documented in the early years but then someone for who-knows-what-reason decided that it shouldn’t be, and then forgot to remove all the loose ends until R2014b. Or maybe it was this way from the very beginning, I don’t know.

In any case, just to be clear on this, the transformation matrix out is still returned by view in the latest Matlab release (R2015a), just as it has for the past who-knows-how-many releases.

There are several interesting things to note here:

view()’s vs. viewmtx()’s transformation matrices

First, MathWorks have still not done a good job of removing all loose ends. Specifically, the T=view syntax is discussed in the doc page (and help section) of the viewmtx function.

To make things worse (and even more confusing), the usage example shown in that doc page is wrong: it says that view(az,el); T=view returns the same transformation matrix T as T=viewmtx(az,el). Close, but not the same:

>> view(30,60); T=view
T =
      0.86603          0.5            0     -0.68301
     -0.43301         0.75          0.5     -0.40849
        -0.25      0.43301     -0.86603       9.0018
            0            0            0            1
>> T2=viewmtx(30,60)
T2 =
      0.86603          0.5            0            0
     -0.43301         0.75          0.5            0
         0.25     -0.43301      0.86603            0
            0            0            0            1

Tough luck I guess for anyone who relies on viewmtx‘s output for complex 3D graphics…

T and T2 appear to be related via a transformation matrix (XT=[1,0,0,0; 0,1,0,0; 0,0,-1,0; 0,0,0,1], we’ll use it again below) that fixes the signs of the first 3 columns, and another translation matrix (camera viewpoint?) that provides the 4th column of T.

HG1’s undocumented axes transformation properties

Another tidbit that should never have been placed in view‘s help section in the first place, is the reference to the axes property Xform (read: “transform”, not “X-Form”). Xform is a hidden undocumented property, and as far as I can tell has always been this way. It is therefore surprising to see it mentioned in the official help section of a highly-visible function such as view. In fact, I don’t remember any other similar case.

In HG1 (R2014a and earlier), the axes’ Xform property held the transformation matrix that view returns. Alongside Xform, the HG1 axes contained several additional transformation vectors (x_RenderOffset, x_RenderScale) and matrices (x_NormRenderTransform, x_ProjectionTransform, x_RenderTransform, x_ViewPortTransform, x_ViewTransform – the latter (x_ViewTransform) is the same as Xform) that could be used for various purposes (example, technical details). All of these properties were removed in HG2 (R2014b or newer).

A complete usage example for some of these properties can be found in MathWorker Joe Conti’s select3d utility, which was removed from the File exchange, but can still be found online (note that it croacks on HG2=R2014b+ due to the removal of the hidden properties):

function [p] = local_Data2PixelTransform(ax,vert)
% Transform vertices from data space to pixel space.
% Get needed transforms
xform  = get(ax,'x_RenderTransform');
offset = get(ax,'x_RenderOffset');
scale  = get(ax,'x_RenderScale');
% Equivalent: nvert = vert/scale - offset;
nvert(:,1) = vert(:,1)./scale(1) - offset(1);
nvert(:,2) = vert(:,2)./scale(2) - offset(2);
nvert(:,3) = vert(:,3)./scale(3) - offset(3);
% Equivalent xvert = xform*xvert;
w = xform(4,1) * nvert(:,1) + xform(4,2) * nvert(:,2) + xform(4,3) * nvert(:,3) + xform(4,4);
xvert(:,1) = xform(1,1) * nvert(:,1) + xform(1,2) * nvert(:,2) + xform(1,3) * nvert(:,3) + xform(1,4);
xvert(:,2) = xform(2,1) * nvert(:,1) + xform(2,2) * nvert(:,2) + xform(2,3) * nvert(:,3) + xform(2,4);
% w may be 0 for perspective plots 
ind = find(w==0);
w(ind) = 1; % avoid divide by zero warning
xvert(ind,:) = 0; % set pixel to 0
p(:,1) = xvert(:,1) ./ w;
p(:,2) = xvert(:,2) ./ w;

We could even set these hidden properties directly, as Bruno Luong showed back in 2009 (the bug he reported in the R2009b prerelease was temporary, it still worked ok in R2014a):


HG2’s transformations

In HG2 (R2014b onward), we no longer have access to the hidden properties above. I’m still not exactly sure how to get all the transformations above, but at least the following can be used to replicate the transformation matrix T:

% "standard" way to get the transformation matrix
T = view;
% internal way
XT = [1,0,0,0; 0,1,0,0; 0,0,-1,0; 0,0,0,1];
hCamera = get(gca, 'Camera');
T = XT * GetViewMatrix(hCamera);

I’m guessing there are probably similar ways to get the other transformation matrices, but I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader. Anyone who is up to the task is welcome to leave a comment below. Don’t come asking for my help here – I’m off to solve another puzzle. After all, there’s only a week left before my next blog post is due, so I better get started.

In summary, MathWorks have apparently done some cleanup for the new HG2 in R2014b, but I guess there’s still some work left to do (at least on the documentation). More importantly, much more work is needed to provide simple documented/supported ways of doing 3D transformations without banging our heads at all these hidden corners. Or maybe there already is such a way and I’m simply not aware of it, there’s always that possibility…

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Customizing Matlab uipanelshttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/customizing-matlab-uipanels https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/customizing-matlab-uipanels#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 21:24:50 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=5595
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  3. The javacomponent function Matlab's built-in javacomponent function can be used to display Java components in Matlab application - this article details its usages and limitations...
  4. Enable/disable entire figure window Disabling/enabling an entire figure window is impossible with pure Matlab, but is very simple using the underlying Java. This article explains how....
The major innovation in Matlab release R2014b was the introduction of the new handle-based graphics system (HG2). However, this release also included a few other improvements to graphics/GUI that should not be overlooked. The most notable is that uitabs are finally officially documented/supported, following a decade or being undocumented (well, undocumented in the official sense, since I took the time to document this functionality in this blog and in my Matlab-Java book).

A less-visible improvement occurred with uipanels: Panels are very important containers when designing GUIs. They enable a visual grouping of related controls and introduce order to an otherwise complex GUI. Unfortunately, until R2014b panels were drawn at the canvas level, and did not use a standard Java Swing controls like other uicontrols. This made it impossible to customize uipanels in a similar manner to other GUI uicontrols (example).

In R2014b, uipanels have finally become standard Java Swing controls, a com.mathworks.hg.peer.ui.UIPanelPeer$UIPanelJPanel component that extends Swing’s standard javax.swing.JPanel and Matlab’s ubiquitous com.mathworks.mwswing.MJPanel. This means that we can finally customize it in various ways that are not available in plain Matlab.

We start the discussion with a simple Matlab code snippet. It is deliberately simple, since I wish to demonstrate only the panel aspects:

figure('Menubar','none', 'Color','w');
hPanel = uipanel('Title','Panel title', 'Units','norm', 'Pos',[.1,.1,.6,.7]);
hButton = uicontrol('String','Click!', 'Parent',hPanel);

Standard Matlab uipanel

Standard Matlab uipanel

Notice the default ‘etchedin’ panel border, which I hate (note the broken edges at the corners). Luckily, Swing includes a wide range of alternative borders that we can use. I’ve already demonstrated customizing Matlab uicontrols with Java borders back in 2010 (has it really been that long? wow!). In R2014b we can finally do something similar to uipanels:

The first step is to get the uipanel‘s underlying Java component’s reference. We can do this using my findjobj utility, but in the specific case of uipanel we are lucky to have a direct shortcut by using the panel’s undocumented hidden property JavaFrame and its PrintableComponent property:

>> jPanel = hPanel.JavaFrame.getPrintableComponent
jPanel =

Let’s now take a look at the jPanel‘s border:

>> jPanel.getBorder
ans =
>> jPanel.getBorder.get
                Border: [1x1 com.mathworks.hg.peer.ui.borders.EtchedBorderWithThickness]
          BorderOpaque: 0
                 Class: [1x1 java.lang.Class]
                 Title: 'Panel title'
            TitleColor: [1x1 java.awt.Color]
             TitleFont: [1x1 java.awt.Font]
    TitleJustification: 1
         TitlePosition: 2

Ok, simple enough. Let’s replace the border’s EtchedBorderWithThickness with something more appealing. We start with a simple red LineBorder having rounded corners and 1px width:

jColor = java.awt.Color.red;  % or: java.awt.Color(1,0,0)
jNewBorder = javax.swing.border.LineBorder(jColor, 1, true);  % red, 1px, rounded=true
jPanel.repaint;  % redraw the modified panel

Rounded-corners LineBorder

Rounded-corners LineBorder

Or maybe a thicker non-rounded orange border:

jColor = java.awt.Color(1,0.5,0);
jNewBorder = javax.swing.border.LineBorder(jColor, 3, false);  % orange, 3px, rounded=false
jPanel.repaint;  % redraw the modified panel

Another LineBorder example

Another LineBorder example

Or maybe a MatteBorder with colored insets:

jColor = java.awt.Color(0,0.3,0.8);  % light-blue
jNewBorder = javax.swing.border.MatteBorder(2,5,8,11,jColor)  % top,left,bottom,right, color
jPanel.repaint;  % redraw the modified panel

MatteBorder with solid insets

MatteBorder with solid insets

MatteBorder can also use an icon (rather than a solid color) to fill the border insets. First, let’s load the icon. We can either load a file directly from disk, or use one of Matlab’s standard icons. Here are both of these alternatives:

% Alternative #1: load from disk file
icon = javax.swing.ImageIcon('C:\Yair\star.gif');
% Alternative #2: load a Matlab resource file
jarFile = fullfile(matlabroot,'/java/jar/mlwidgets.jar');
iconsFolder = '/com/mathworks/mlwidgets/graphics/resources/';
iconURI = ['jar:file:/' jarFile '!' iconsFolder 'favorite_hoverover.png'];  % 14x14 px
icon = javax.swing.ImageIcon(java.net.URL(iconURI));

We can now pass this icon reference to MatteBorder‘s constructor:

w = icon.getIconWidth;
h = icon.getIconHeight;
jNewBorder = javax.swing.border.MatteBorder(h,w,h,w,icon)  % top,left,bottom,right, icon
jPanel.repaint;  % redraw the modified panel

MatteBorder with icon insets

MatteBorder with icon insets

Additional useful Swing borders can be found in the list of classes implementing the Border interface, or via the BorderFactory class. For example, let’s create a dashed border having a 3-2 ratio between the line lengths and the spacing:

jColor = java.awt.Color.blue;  % or: java.awt.Color(0,0,1);
lineWidth = 1;
relativeLineLength = 3;
relativeSpacing = 2;
isRounded = false;
jNewBorder = javax.swing.BorderFactory.createDashedBorder(jColor,lineWidth,relativeLineLength,relativeSpacing,isRounded);
jPanel.repaint;  % redraw the modified panel

StrokeBorder (dashed)

StrokeBorder (dashed)

After seeing all these possibilities, I think you’ll agree with me that Matlab’s standard uipanel borders look pale in comparison.

Have you used any interesting borders in your Matlab GUI? Or have you customized your panels in some other nifty manner? If so, then please place a comment below.

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Draggable plot data-tipshttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/draggable-plot-data-tips https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/draggable-plot-data-tips#comments Wed, 23 Oct 2013 22:01:32 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=4294
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  2. New information on HG2 More information on Matlab's new HG2 object-oriented handle-graphics system...
  3. getundoc – get undocumented object properties getundoc is a very simple utility that displays the hidden (undocumented) properties of a specified handle object....
  4. Handle Graphics Behavior HG behaviors are an important aspect of Matlab graphics that enable custom control of handle functionality. ...
A couple of years ago, I was asked by a client to figure out a way to make Matlab plot data-tips movable. The problem was that he had a very crowded plot and Matlab’s standard data-tips are displayed immediately adjacent to the data, thereby overlapping the plot parts. Matlab’s standard data-tips enable dragging to a very limited extent (only to the 4 corners of the data-point), and in any case the displayed textbox remains directly attached to the data point.

So I developed a small utility for my client that solves this problem. I then forgot all about it until a few days ago when I came across it again. Yesterday I uploaded this draggableDataTips utility to the File Exchange, where you can download it.

draggableDataTips enables the user to interactively drag any newly-created data-tip, anywhere in the Matlab figure. A dashed line connects the dragged data-tip with the original data point. Simple, intuitive, and effective. At 300 lines, the draggableDataTips.m source code is compact and easy to follow, and you’re welcome to take a look and further customize this utility for your specific needs.

draggableDataTips utility in action

draggableDataTips utility in action

Technical implementation

The implementation of draggableDataTips relies on undocumented aspects of the data-cursor object exposed via the datacursormode function. I have already shown how these can be used to customize and control data-tips programmatically (rather than interactively). For draggableDataTips, we first get the cursor object’s meta-data classhandle (a schema.class object), then use it to find the meta-data for its hidden CurrentDataCursor property (a schema.prop object). There is also a more direct approach, using the findprop function.

Whichever alternative we choose, we finally use this object to set the property’s SetFunction meta-property. Quite straight-forward, I should say:

% Get the cursor-mode object
cursorObj = datacursormode(hFig);
% Alternative #1: the indirect route to the meta-property
ch = classhandle(cursorObj);
hPropIdx = strcmpi(get(ch.Properties,'Name'), 'CurrentDataCursor');
hProp = ch.Properties(hPropIdx);
% Alternative #2: the direct approach
hProp = findprop(cursorObj, 'CurrentDataCursor');
% Update the meta-property to use a custom function whenever new data-tips are created
hProp.SetFunction = @installNewMoveFcn;

This has the effect that all new data-tips that will be created from then on will call our custom installNewMoveFcn function when the data-tip object is created. This installNewMoveFcn function, in turn, simply replaces the data-tips standard default callback for mouse movement (which is used while dragging), to a new custom function textBoxUpdateFcn:

% Install a replacement callback function for datatip textbox mouse movement
function hDataTip = installNewMoveFcn(cursorObj, hDataTip)
    srcObjs = get(hDataTip.SelfListenerHandles,'SourceObject');
    for srcIdx = 1 : length(srcObjs)
        if strcmpi(srcObjs{srcIdx}.Name,'Orientation')
            hDataTip.SelfListenerHandles(srcIdx).Callback = @textBoxUpdateFcn;
            hDataTip.MarkerHandle.Marker = 'none';

The textBoxUpdateFcn function basically moves the datatip textbox to the new mouse location, without limiting its positions as Matlab’s standard default callback function did. A dashed connector line is then drawn to connect the center of the textbox with the data-point. It’s a bit long to include here, but interested readers are welcome to look at the code (lines #99 onward in draggableDataTips.m).

As can be seen from the screenshot above, standard and draggable data-tips can be used in the same plot. This is done by simply turning the draggability functionality on and off by draggableDataTips before creating a new data-tip (using either alt-click or programmatically):

draggableDataTips on    % or: draggableDataTips('on')  or: draggableDataTips(true)
draggableDataTips off   % or: draggableDataTips('off') or: draggableDataTips(false)


  1. The actual code of draggableDataTips naturally contains more sanity checks, exception handling etc. I have only presented the core code in the snippets above, but you should always include such extra checks in any real-life program.
  2. There is a minor bug that causes the connector line to be on top of the box rather than beneath it, but aside from this all works ok. For some reason, uistack did not work. If anyone has a fix for this bug, please let me know.
  3. Did you notice that Java was not mentioned anywhere above? Mode managers, such as the data-cursor mode, use pure-Matlab functionality.


Unfortunately, when I tested draggableDataTips on HG2, Matlab’s upcoming new graphics engine, the utility failed. Data-cursors have undergone a significant reengineering in HG2 (about time!), causing multiple properties and methods to change names and functionality. But this could be overcome (see lines #43-53 in draggableDataTips.m).

However, I could not overcome the apparent fact that unlike HG1 (or more specifically, schema objects, that HG1 uses for its data-tips functionality), in HG2 (or rather, MCOS class objects) we cannot override an object’s meta-properties, specifically its SetMethod (which is the MCOS equivalent of schema.prop‘s SetFunction meta-property).

So for the moment, draggableDataTips does not work on HG2. I hope to find a solution for this by the time HG2 launches. If anyone finds a fix for the problem, please let me know. If I ever find or receive a fix, I will update this post with the relevant technical details.

For the moment there is no rush, since HG2 is still relatively far away in the distant future, and draggableDataTips works splendidly in the current HG1.

Have you used plot data-tips in some nifty way? If so, please share your experience in a comment below.

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HG2 updatehttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/hg2-update https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/hg2-update#comments Thu, 16 May 2013 00:38:19 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=3789
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Exactly three years ago, I posted information (here and here) about Matlab’s upcoming new graphics engine, so-called HG2 (Handle Graphics version 2). At the time, I was sure that HG2 was just around the corner. But three years and six releases have passed, Matlab 7 turned into Matlab 8, and HG1 is still in use. I decided that it was time to revisit the latest state of HG2, as reflected in the latest release, R2013a (Matlab 8.1).

In the past few years, development of HG2 has apparently progressed to a stage where most of the kinks were ironed out. The latest HG2 appears to be quite stable, and in my experience most GUI/graphics utilities run as-is, without any need for tweaking. This is good news, which leads me to think that HG2 will be released soon. It is possible that this could happen as early as the upcoming release (R2013b, 8.2) but I have a gut feeling that it will be in R2014a. I also have a gut feeling that MathWorks will name that release 9.0 rather than 8.3, in keeping with its arch-rival Mathematica.

HG2 has improved grid lines, plot anti-aliasing and customizable everything (more on this below). Here’s a simple plot line as it appears in both HG1 and HG2:

hFig = figure('pos',[100,100,300,250]);
x = -10:0.1:10;
y = 1e7*sin(x)./x; 
hLine = plot(x,y);
box off; grid on;
title('HG2 plot');

HG1 plotHG2 plot

Same plot in HG1 and HG2

We can see that MathWorks has invested heavily in improving usability. The graphics are now much more visually appealing than before. A lot of thought has gone into small details such as the plot colors and the axes gray shades. The changes are small when taken separately, but the overall gestalt is striking. HG2 will definitely justify my license maintenance cost.

Addendum Oct 3 2014: HG2 is finally released in Matlab release R2014b (8.4 – not 9.0 as I surmised above). However, many of the advanced customizations shown in this article are still unsupported and undocumented. I plan to detail them in a separate upcoming series of articles.

Highly customizable

Matlab in HG2 mode acts and behaves pretty much as you would expect. There are no visible changes to the Desktop or the graphics interface. The major difference is that all graphics handles, whether interactive controls (figure, uicontrols, uitables, etc.) or graph elements (axes, lines, patches, etc.) are instances of class objects (e.g., matlab.ui.Figure or matlab.graphics.chart.primitive.Line) rather than numeric values. This makes it easy to issue commands such as:

hFig.Color = 'w';
hAxes = gca;
hAxes.Title.Color = 'm';  % default: [0,0,0] = black
hAxes.YRuler.SecondaryLabel.String = 'millions';  % original: 'x10^{6}'
hAxes.YRuler.SecondaryLabel.FontAngle = 'italic';  % default: 'normal'
hAxes.YRuler.Axle.LineStyle = 'dotted';  % default: 'solid'
hAxes.YRuler.Axle.ColorData = uint8([0,100,0,255])';  %=dark green; default: [51 51 51 255], corresponding to [0.2 0.2 0.2 1]
hAxes.YBaseline.Color = 'b';  % default: [0.2 0.2 0.2]
hAxes.YBaseline.Visible = 'on';  % default: 'off'
hAxes.XRuler.Axle.Visible = 'off';  % default: 'on'
hLine.Color = [1,0,0];  %='red'

rather than using the corresponding set(…) or get(…) functions, which are still supported for backward compatibility.

Customized HG2 plot

Customized HG2 plot

Notice how much more customizable HG2 is compared to HG1. I am pretty excited from the huge number of additional possible customizations in HG2 compared to HG1. It is real a pity that many of these customizations rely on hidden/undocumented properties (see below). Hopefully this will change when HG2 is officially released.

Some observations

Here are a few observations that I collected on the latest HG2, as reflected in R2013a:

  1. Java is still supported (hurray!). The warnings about the figure’s JavaFrame property becoming deprecated have fortunately not been fulfilled (hopefully never). All the Java-based GUI tricks shown on this blog and in my book still work, excluding some minor things here and there which are due to inter-release changes rather than to the new HG2 engine.
  2. In order to access the top-level Java Frame of a figure window, we now need to use javaFrame.fHG2Client rather than javaFrame.fHG1Client. The relevant code should now look something like this, in order to be fully-compatible with older Matlab releases:
    jFrame = get(handle(hFig), 'JavaFrame');
        % This works up to R2011a
            % This works from R2008b and up, up to HG2
            % This works in HG2
  3. Anti-aliasing of plot elements (a.k.a. line -smoothing) is now ‘on’ by default (double hurray!). Apparently, MathWorks solved the problems with the existing undocumented LineSmoothing property. Still, for some unknown reason, LineSmoothing remains a hidden/undocumented property. Note that for some objects the property name is different. For example, the axes title (which is a text object of class matlab.graphics.primitive.Text) has a new property called Smoothing that controls anti-aliasing (unlike LineSmoothing, Smoothing appears to be an un-hidden fully-documented property).
    R2013b addendum: The figure handle now includes a property called GraphicsSmoothing that controls anti-aliasing at the entire figure level (default=’on’). No more need to set individual graphic elements, although we still can if we want (alas, this flexibility may be removed soon – see item #6 below). I would have liked to see the anti-aliasing feature use the same property name for all graphic elements, rather than GraphicsSmoothing/LineSmoothing/Smoothing, but maybe I’m just being an ungrateful spoil-sport… The good news about GraphicsSmoothing is that this is a non-hidden property. This means it can be seen with get(gcf) and once HG2 becomes live it will become fully documented/supported – hurray!
  4. Many new properties have been added to graphic objects, that enable customization of different aspects. For example, we can customize the axes grid-lines, containing box and exponent labels in ways that were impossible in HG1 (triple hurray!). Note that many of these new properties are hidden/undocumented (why the hell for???), so we need a utility such as my uiinspect or getundoc to detect them. Some of the useful new axes properties include *Ruler, *Baseline, *GridHandle, BoxFrame and BackDrop (I showed an example usage of *Ruler and *Baseline above). I have absolutely no idea why these so-useful properties are kept hidden, it simply makes no sense.
  5. Some existing HG1 properties are missing. For example, the UserData property is no longer available for some Java objects (this is a real pity — I depended on it for many functionalities, such as storing node-specific data in uitree/JTree nodes). Similarly, axes no longer have *LimInclude properties (this actually makes sense – these properties are still available in plot lines, where they actually have a use).
  6. Some existing HG1 properties now issue a warning, although they still work. For example:
    >> hAxes.DrawMode = 'fast';
    Warning: The DrawMode property will be removed in a future release.
    (Type "warning off MATLAB:hg:willberemoved" to suppress this warning.) 
    >> hLine.LineSmoothing
    Warning: The LineSmoothing property will be removed in a future release.
    (Type "warning off MATLAB:hg:willberemoved" to suppress this warning.) 
    ans =

    R2013b addendum: hAxes.DrawMode no longer issues a warning, although hLine.LineSmoothing does.

  7. There is an open bug on R2012b and R2013a whereby the clf function does not delete javacomponent objects. This bug does not affect HG2, where clf works properly.
  8. Some GUI components are being placed a pixel or two sideways in HG2 compared to HG1. This has no visual importance except in very rare cases, but it does affect my findjobj utility, which relies on the component’s position to find its underlying Java object. I have updated findjobj for the upcoming HG2 and it should work with both HG1 and HG2.
  9. The default axes and labels color has changed from black to gray ([0.2 0.2 0.2]). Grid lines now use an even lighter gray shade. Visually I think that this is a great change, since it directs the viewer’s focus on the plot contents rather than the external decorations.
  10. The default axes plot color order has changed. The standard plot color is no longer blue (as it was for ages in Matlab), but a bluish tint; the second color is no longer red but light green; the third color is reddish rather than dark green, etc.:
    % HG1
    >> get(0,'defaultAxesColorOrder')
    ans =
                0            0            1
                0          0.5            0
                1            0            0
                0         0.75         0.75
             0.75            0         0.75
             0.75         0.75            0
             0.25         0.25         0.25
    >> get(0,'defaultAxesColorOrder')
    ans =
         0.070588      0.40784      0.70196
          0.92941      0.14118      0.14902
          0.60784       0.7451      0.23922
          0.48235      0.17647       0.4549
                1      0.78039            0
          0.30196       0.7451      0.93333
          0.82353       0.4549            0

    R2013b addendum: The default colors have changed a bit (for the better I think). I still think that the relative order should more closely match the current order (blue-green-red-etc.), for compatibility with existing apps. A small utility function could be added that modifies the color-order to something that may be better suited for color-differentiation (see Tim Holy’s excellent utility for an example).

  11. HG2 axes no longer forget the previous plot color (unless we used hold all) — in HG2 color cycling is on by default. Note that this causes some visual discrepancies between HG1 and HG2 in plots that use hold on and have multiple plot lines: In HG1 they were all blue; in HG2 the first is bluish, the second is greenish, then reddish etc.
  12. GUIDE is still the same-ol’ GUIDE (sigh!). The figure toolbar and menubar have likewise not been upgraded, as far as I could tell.
  13. HG2 performance appears to be generally slower than HG1. Hopefully this will improve by the time HG2 is released, since performance has been one of HG1’s drawbacks all along. In my tests, most GUI/graphic aspects ran only slightly slower in HG2, except for 2D plots that were significantly slower. This is corroborated by running bench: on my computer, HG1 yields 0.4 for 2D and 0.22 for 3D; in HG2 the performance is 2.1 for 2D and 0.18 for 3D. Looks like the 2D performance still needs some work…

Testing HG2

As noted in my original article, we can start Matlab in HG2 mode by simply adding the startup (command-line) switch -hgVersion 2 to the Matlab command (note the space between the -hgVersion and the “2”). For example, in Windows, all you need to do is to copy your Matlab shortcut sideways (so that you will always have the standard HG1 version available), then right-click the shortcut, select “Properties”, then add -hgVersion 2 to the Target field (note the space between “hgVersion” and “2”). You will probably want to also add the “HG2” descriptor to the shortcut name, in the “General” tab:

Matlab startup switch for HG2

Matlab startup switch for HG2

If you have any Matlab application that relies on GUI or graphics, I urge you to test it on the new HG2 system. It’s trivially simple and your application should work exactly the same, or better. If you do detect some incompatibility, please post a comment or shoot me an email. In due course I expect that MathWorks will open an official channel for this, but in the meantime I’ll be sure to pass the information to the relevant person.

Do take a moment for testing HG2 – we can all contribute to ensure that when HG2 does come out it will be perfect. It’s in our interest.

NYC visit

If you happen to be in New York next week, I urge you to attend the MATLAB Computational Conference on Thursday May 23 (free registration; my presentation is scheduled for 4:50pm). I would be happy to meet you to discuss how I could bring value to your needs, either financial-oriented or not. We could meet at the conference, or anywhere in New York on Wednesday May 22 or Friday May 24.

Matlab Computational Finance Conference - 23 May 2013

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Handle Graphics Behaviorhttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/handle-graphics-behavior https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/handle-graphics-behavior#comments Wed, 06 Mar 2013 18:00:19 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=3665
Related posts:
  1. Plot LimInclude properties The plot objects' XLimInclude, YLimInclude, ZLimInclude, ALimInclude and CLimInclude properties are an important feature, that has both functional and performance implications....
  2. Uitable sorting Matlab's uitables can be sortable using simple undocumented features...
  3. Draggable plot data-tips Matlab's standard plot data-tips can be customized to enable dragging, without being limitted to be adjacent to their data-point. ...
  4. Customizing print setup Matlab figures print-setup can be customized to automatically prepare the figure for printing in a specific configuration...
Matlab’s Handle Graphics (HG) have been around for ages. Still, to this day it contains many hidden gems. Today I discuss HG’s Behavior property, which is a standard undocumented hidden property of all HG objects.

Behavior is not normally updated directly (although there is absolutely nothing to prevent this), but rather via the semi-documented built-in accessor functions hggetbehavior and hgaddbehavior. This manner of accessing Behavior is similar to its undocumented sibling property ApplicationData, which is accessed by the corresponding getappdata and setappdata functions.

Using HB behaviors

hggetbehavior with no input args displays a list of all pre-installed HG behaviors:

>> hggetbehavior
   Behavior Object Name         Target Handle
   'Plotedit'...................Any Graphics Object   
   'Print'......................Any Graphics Object   
   'DataCursor'.................Axes and Axes Children
   'MCodeGeneration'............Axes and Axes Children
   'DataDescriptor'.............Axes and Axes Children
   'PlotTools'..................Any graphics object   
   'Linked'.....................Any graphics object   
   'Brush'......................Any graphics object

hggetbehavior can be passed a specific behavior name (or cell array of names), in which case it returns the relevant behavior object handle(s):

>> hBehavior = hggetbehavior(gca, 'Zoom')
hBehavior =
>> hBehavior = hggetbehavior(gca, {'Zoom', 'Pan'})
hBehavior =
	handle: 1-by-2

As the name indicates, the behavior object handle controls the behavior of the relevant action. For example, the behavior object for Zoom contains the following properties:

>> hBehavior = hggetbehavior(gca, 'Zoom');
>> get(hBehavior)
       Enable: 1        % settable: true/false
    Serialize: 1        % settable: true/false
         Name: 'Zoom'   % read-only
        Style: 'both'   % settable: 'horizontal', 'vertical' or 'both'

By setting the behavior’s properties, we can control whether the axes will have horizontal, vertical, 2D or no zooming enabled, regardless of whether or not the toolbar/menu-bar zoom item is selected:

hBehavior.Enable = false;         % or: set(hBehavior,'Enable',false)
hBehavior.Style  = 'horizontal';  % or: set(hBehavior,'Style','horizontal')

This mechanism is used internally by Matlab to disable zoom/pan/rotate3d (see %matlabroot%/toolbox/matlab/graphics/@graphics/@zoom/setAllowAxesZoom.m and similarly setAllowAxesPan, setAllowAxesRotate).

At this point, some readers may jump saying that we can already do this via the zoom object handle that is returned by the zoom function (where the Style property was renamed Motion, but never mind). However, I am just trying to show the general usage. Not all behaviors have similar documented customizable mechanisms. In fact, using behaviors we can control specific behaviors for separate HG handles in the same figure/axes.

For example, we can set a different callback function to different HG handles for displaying a plot data-tip (a.k.a. data cursor). I have explained in the past how to programmatically control data-tips, but doing so relies on the figure datacursormode, which is figure-wide. If we want to display different data-tips for different plot handles, we would need to add logic into our custom update function that would change the returned string based on the clicked handle. Using HG behavior we can achieve the same goal much easier:

% Use dataCursorLineFcn() for the line data-tip
bh = hggetbehavior(hLine,'DataCursor');
% Use dataCursorAnnotationFcn() for the annotation data-tip
bh = hggetbehavior(hAnnotation,'DataCursor');

Note: there is also the related semi-documented function hgbehaviorfactory, which is used internally by hggetbehavior and hgaddbehavior. I do not see any need for using hgbehaviorfactory directly, only hggetbehavior and hgaddbehavior.

Custom behaviors

The standard behavior objects are UDD schema objects (i.e., the old object-oriented mechanism in MATLAB). They are generally located in a separate folder beneath %matlabroot%/toolbox/matlab/graphics/@graphics/. For example, the Zoom behavior object is located in %matlabroot%/toolbox/matlab/graphics/@graphics/@zoombehavior/. These behavior object folders generally contain a schema.m file (that defines the behavior object class and its properties), and a dosupport.m function that returns a logical flag indicating whether or not the behavior is supported for the specified handle. These are pretty standard functions, here is an example:

% Zoom behavior's schema.m:
function schema
% Copyright 2003-2006 The MathWorks, Inc.
pk = findpackage('graphics');
cls = schema.class(pk,'zoombehavior');
p = schema.prop(cls,'Enable','bool');
p.FactoryValue = true;
p = schema.prop(cls,'Serialize','MATLAB array');
p.FactoryValue = true;
p.AccessFlags.Serialize = 'off';
p = schema.prop(cls,'Name','string');
p.AccessFlags.PublicSet = 'off';
p.AccessFlags.PublicGet = 'on';
p.FactoryValue = 'Zoom';
p.AccessFlags.Serialize = 'off';
% Enumeration Style Type
if (isempty(findtype('StyleChoice')))
p = schema.prop(cls,'Style','StyleChoice');
p.FactoryValue = 'both';
% Zoom behavior's dosupport.m:
function [ret] = dosupport(~,hTarget)
% Copyright 2003-2009 The MathWorks, Inc.
% axes 
ret = ishghandle(hTarget,'axes');

All behaviors must define the Name property, and most behaviors also define the Serialize and Enable properties. In addition, different behaviors define other properties. For example, the DataCursor behavior defines the CreateNewDatatip flag and no less than 7 callbacks:

function schema
% Copyright 2003-2008 The MathWorks, Inc.
pk = findpackage('graphics');
cls = schema.class(pk,'datacursorbehavior');
p = schema.prop(cls,'Name','string');
p.AccessFlags.PublicSet = 'off';
p.AccessFlags.PublicGet = 'on';
p.FactoryValue = 'DataCursor';
schema.prop(cls,'StartDragFcn','MATLAB callback');
schema.prop(cls,'EndDragFcn','MATLAB callback');
schema.prop(cls,'UpdateFcn','MATLAB callback');
schema.prop(cls,'CreateFcn','MATLAB callback');
schema.prop(cls,'StartCreateFcn','MATLAB callback');
schema.prop(cls,'UpdateDataCursorFcn','MATLAB callback');
schema.prop(cls,'MoveDataCursorFcn','MATLAB callback');
p = schema.prop(cls,'CreateNewDatatip','bool');
p.FactoryValue = false;
p.Description = 'True will create a new datatip for every mouse click';
p = schema.prop(cls,'Enable','bool');
p.FactoryValue = true;
p = schema.prop(cls,'Serialize','MATLAB array');
p.FactoryValue = true;
p.AccessFlags.Serialize = 'off';

Why am I telling you all this? Because in addition to the standard behavior objects we can also specify custom behaviors to HG handles. All we need to do is mimic one of the standard behavior object classes in a user-defined class, and then use hgaddbehavior to add the behavior to an HG handle. Behaviors are differentiated by their Name property, so we can either use a new name for the new behavior, or override a standard behavior by reusing its name.


If you wish the behavior to be serialized (saved) to disk when saving the figure, you should add the Serialize property to the class and set it to true, then use hgaddbehavior to add the behavior to the relevant HG handle. The Serialize property is searched-for by the hgsaveStructDbl function when saving figures (I described hgsaveStructDbl here). All the standard behaviors except DataDescriptor have the Serialize property (I don’t know why DataDescriptor doesn’t).

Just for the record, you can also use MCOS (not just UDD) class objects for the custom behavior, as mentioned by the internal comment within the hgbehaviorfactory function. Most standard behaviors use UDD schema classes; an example of an MCOS behavior is PlotEdit that is found at %matlabroot%/toolbox/matlab/graphics/+graphics/+internal/@PlotEditBehavor/PlotEditBehavor.m.

ishghandle‘s undocumented type input arg

Note that the Zoom behavior’s dosupport function uses an undocumented format of the built-in ishghandle function, namely accepting a second parameter that specifies a specific handle type, which presumably needs to correspond to the handle’s Type property:

ret = ishghandle(hTarget,'axes');

The hasbehavior function

Another semi-documented built-in function called hasbehavior is located right next to hggetbehavior and hgaddbehavior in the %matlabroot%/toolbox/matlab/graphics/ folder.

Despite its name, and the internal comments that specifically mention HG behaviors, this function is entirely independent of the HG behavior mechanism described above, and in fact makes use of the ApplicationData property rather than Behavior. I have no idea why this is so. It may be a design oversight or some half-baked attempt by a Mathworker apprentice to emulate the behavior mechanism. Even the function name is misleading: in fact, hasbehavior not only checks whether a handle has some “behavior” (in the 2-input args format) but also sets this flag (in the 3-input args format).

hasbehavior is used internally by the legend mechanism, to determine whether or not an HG object (line, scatter group, patch, annotation etc.) should be added to the legend. This can be very important for plot performance, since the legend would not need to be updated whenever these objects are modified in some manner:

hLines = plot(rand(3,3));
hasbehavior(hLines(1), 'legend', false);   % line will not be in legend
hasbehavior(hLines(2), 'legend', true);    % line will be in legend

(for anyone interested, the relevant code that checks this flag is located in %matlabroot%/toolbox/matlab/scribe/private/islegendable.m)

hasbehavior works by using a dedicated field in the handle’s ApplicationData struct with a logical flag value (true/false). The relevant field is called [name,'_hgbehavior'], where name is the name of the so-called “behavior”. In the example above, it creates a field called “legend_hgbehavior”.

Do you know of any neat uses for HG behaviors? If so, please post a comment below.

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Getting default HG property valueshttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/getting-default-hg-property-values https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/getting-default-hg-property-values#comments Wed, 13 Feb 2013 18:00:01 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=3622
Related posts:
  1. Multi-column (grid) legend This article explains how to use undocumented axes listeners for implementing multi-column plot legends...
  2. Undocumented view transformation matrix Matlab's view function returns an undocumented output transformation matrix....
  3. FIG files format FIG files are actually MAT files in disguise. This article explains how this can be useful in Matlab applications....
  4. HG2 update HG2 appears to be nearing release. It is now a stable mature system. ...
All Matlab’s Handle Graphics (HG) property have default values. These values are used unless we specifically override the property value. For example, in R2012a, Matlab figure handles have 62 documented and 28 undocumented properties, all of which have some default value. When we create a new Matlab figure, we typically override only a handful of these properties.

How Matlab determines an HG property value

How Matlab determines an HG property value

For example, we might override the figure’s Name, NumberTitle, Position, Visible, Colormap and perhaps a few other properties. All the others are either read-only (i.e., un-settable), or left at their default values. This is also true for all HG objects: axes, images, plots, patches, uicontrols, annotations, Java control containers etc.

Matlab makes a distinction between factory and default values. Users can modify the default values, but not the factory values, which makes sense. In essence, user-specified property values override the default values, which in turn override the factory values. I find that this makes the process of using default values quite intuitive. I like this factory/default design.

Matlab has a dedicated doc page explaining how we can use, set and reset the default property values.

Unfortunately, MathWorks has not seen fit to explain how to get the full list of current default defaults, nor how to get the factory values. Today’s article provides the missing manual pages and completes the picture.

Accessing default and factory property values

To access any specific property’s default value, we need to compose a fictitious property name from the string ‘Default’ or ‘Factory’, followed by the object’s type (‘Figure’, ‘Axes’, ‘Line’ etc., as reported by the object’s Type property), and lastly the property name. For example: DefaultFigureColor or FactoryAxesUnits. As with all HG properties, these names are case insensitive. These fictitious properties all belong to Matlab’s root (0) handle.

We can now get and set the values of any of these fictitious properties (naturally, factory properties cannot be set):

>> get(0,'FactoryFigureUnits')
ans =
>> get(0,'FactoryFigureColor')
ans =
     0     0     0
>> get(0,'DefaultFigureColor')
ans =
                       0.8                       0.8                       0.8
>> set(0,'DefaultFigureColor','y');  % new figures will now have a yellow background color...
>> set(0,'DefaultFigureColor','factory');  % resets the default value to the factory value [0,0,0]=black

Note that since the default and factory property names are fictitious (i.e., dynamic properties that are parsed on-the-fly), they do not appear when you get(0), getundoc(0) or even uiinspect(0).

My uiinspect utility reports the factory values in its property-details panel, along with additional meta-data such as whether the properties are settable, readable etc.

uiinspect's 'Other properties' meta-data table

uiinspect's 'Other properties' meta-data table

Getting the full list of factory/default values

To get the long list of factory values, simply get a partial fictitious property name:

>> get(0,'factory')
ans = 
                         factoryFigureAlphamap: [1x64 double]
                       factoryFigureBusyAction: 'queue'
                    factoryFigureButtonDownFcn: ''
                         factoryFigureClipping: 'on'
                  factoryFigureCloseRequestFcn: 'closereq'
                            factoryFigureColor: [0 0 0]
                        (... 655 additional properties ...)
>> get(0,'default')
ans = 
               defaultTextColor: [0 0 0]
              defaultAxesXColor: [0 0 0]
              defaultAxesYColor: [0 0 0]
              defaultAxesZColor: [0 0 0]
          defaultPatchFaceColor: [0 0 0]
          defaultPatchEdgeColor: [0 0 0]
               defaultLineColor: [0 0 0]
    defaultFigureInvertHardcopy: 'on'
             defaultFigureColor: [0.8 0.8 0.8]
               defaultAxesColor: [1 1 1]
          defaultAxesColorOrder: [7x3 double]
          defaultFigureColormap: [64x3 double]
        defaultSurfaceEdgeColor: [0 0 0]
         defaultFigurePaperType: 'A4'
        defaultFigurePaperUnits: 'centimeters'
         defaultFigurePaperSize: [20.98404194812 29.67743169791]
          defaultFigurePosition: [200 200 560 420]
>> get(0,'DefaultAxes')
ans = 
        defaultAxesXColor: [0 0 0]
        defaultAxesYColor: [0 0 0]
        defaultAxesZColor: [0 0 0]
         defaultAxesColor: [1 1 1]
    defaultAxesColorOrder: [7x3 double]

We can see that the defaults list is much shorter than the factory list. There are very few actual default overrides of the factory values. In fact, if we try to get the default value of a property that was not overridden (e.g., DefaultFigureNumberTitle), Matlab is smart enough to return the factory value (in this case, FactoryFigureNumberTitle=’on’).

Hidden properties

Hidden (undocumented) properties are not shown by default, but you can always access them directly, and their list can also be seen if we set the root handle’s HideUndocumented property:

>> get(0,'FactoryAxesLooseInset')
ans =
         0.13         0.11         0.095         0.075
>> get(0,'DefaultPatchLineSmoothing')
ans =
>> set(0,'DefaultLineLineSmoothing','on');  % default appears to be 'off' for Windows, 'on' for Macs
>> set(0,'HideUndocumented','off')
>> allPropDefaults = get(0,'factory');
>> length(fieldnames(allPropDefaults))   % 661 documented + 277 undocumented properties
ans =

Factory values internals

For those interested in some internals, the factory values are stored (and can be accessed) via the object’s UDD reference, or rather the schema.prop reference of the properties (additional information on UDD properties can be found here). For example:

>> get(0,'FactoryFigurePosition')
ans =
   100   100   660   520
>> hProp = findprop(handle(gcf),'pos')
hProp =
>> get(hProp)
            Name: 'Position'
     Description: ''
        DataType: 'figurePositionType'
    FactoryValue: [100 100 660 520]
     AccessFlags: [1x1 struct]
         Visible: 'on'
     GetFunction: []
     SetFunction: []
>> hProp.FactoryValue
ans =
   100   100   660   520

Note that in this example, the FactoryFigurePosition value ([100 100 660 520]) is different than the DefaultFigurePosition value ([200 200 560 420]), which overrides it.


Setting default values enables easy setup of property values for all instances of an HG property in a Matlab session. It could be very tempting to add such setup to the startup.m file, so that such customizations automatically occur for all Matlab sessions. However, I strongly suggest against this: the moment you will try to run your application on any other computer or Matlab installation, you may find that your GUI/graphics look entirely different.

A much safer approach is to understand how these default values affect your application and then specifically set the desired property values in your m-code. This way, whatever the installation’s default values are, your application will always retain a consistent look-and-feel.

Have you found or ever used any interesting default or factory property value? If so, please share your experience in a comment.

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uiinspecthttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/uiinspect https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/uiinspect#comments Wed, 23 Jan 2013 18:00:09 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=3477
Related posts:
  1. Minimize/maximize figure window Matlab figure windows can easily be maximized, minimized and restored using a bit of undocumented magic powder...
  2. Uitable sorting Matlab's uitables can be sortable using simple undocumented features...
  3. Date selection components The JIDE package, pre-bundled in Matlab, contains several GUI controls for selecting dates - this article explains how they can be used...
  4. Uitable customization report Matlab's uitable can be customized in many different ways. A detailed report explains how. ...
After several years in which I have mentioned my uiinspect utility in posts, I figured it is high time to actually describe this utility in detail.

uiinspect in action (Java, HG, COM)

uiinspect in action (Java, HG, COM)

uiinspect, downloadable from the Matlab file Exchange, is a Matlab GUI utility that inspects the specified object and provides detailed information about its super-classes, methods, properties, static fields and callbacks in a unified Matlab window. uiinspect works on a very wide variety of inputs: Matlab/Java/Dot-Net class names and class objects; COM/DCOM objects, Handle Graphics handles etc.

In essence, uiinspect incorporates the information presented by the following built-in Matlab functions: inspect, get, and methodsview. uiinspect also presents additional aspects that are not available in any built-in Matlab function (for example, inheritance information, undocumented hidden properties, properties meta-data, grouping of callbacks by type).

uiinspect displays hidden properties and fields that are not normally displayed in Matlab (see my related getundoc utility). Property meta-data such as type, accessibility, visibility and default value are also displayed. Object properties and callbacks may be modified interactively within the uiinspect window.

Of over 40 utilities that I have so-far submitted to the File Exchange, uiinspect is one of my most complex (together with findjobj). It has undergone 24 revisions since its initial release in 2007. The latest revision has nearly 3000 source-code lines, of which 75% are code lines, 20% are comment lines and the rest are empty spacer lines. That’s a pretty complex utility to describe, and it relies on plenty of undocumented aspects, so today’s post will only highlight the important aspects. Readers are more than welcome to have a look at the source code for additional details. It is pretty-well documented, if I may say so myself.

Usage syntax

The basic syntax is:

hFig = uiinspect(handle)


hFig = uiinspect(0);                         % the root handle
hFig = uiinspect(handle(0));
hFig = uiinspect(gcf);                       % current figure
hFig = uiinspect(handle(gcf));
uiinspect('java.lang.String');               % Java classname
uiinspect(java.lang.String('yes'));          % Java object
uiinspect(get(gcf,'JavaFrame'));             % Java object
uiinspect(classhandle(handle(gcf)));         % UDD class object
uiinspect(findprop(handle(gcf),'MenuBar'));  % UDD property
uiinspect(actxserver('Excel.Application'));  % COM object
uiinspect(Employee)                          % Matlab class object
uiinspect(?handle)                           % Matlab metaclass object
uiinspect('meta.class')                      % Matlab class name
uiinspect(System.DateTime.Now)               % Dot-Net object

uiinspect returns a handle to the created figure window. uiinspect opens a regular Matlab figure window which may be accessed via hFig (unlike Matlab’s methodsview and inspect functions which open Java frame that is not accessible from Matlab).

Unlike Matlab’s functions, multiple uiinspect windows can be opened simultaneously, for different objects. The differentiation is done based on figure title, which contains the inspected object’s name (if available) and its class – reinspecting the same object will reuse the existing figure window, but in all other cases a new figure window will be created.

Main panels

uiinspect includes the following information panels, that shall be described separately below:

  • Class information (including superclasses, if applicable)
  • Methods (for objects) or graphic handle hierarchy (for Handle Graphics)
  • Callbacks (where applicable)
  • Inspectable properties
  • Other properties plus full meta-data (where applicable)

The panels are fully resizable. We can drag the divider lines up/down or left/right and the contents automatically adjust accordingly. Each panel has a minimal viewable width/height, and the dividers cannot be dragged to squeeze the panels below these minimums – they can only be minimized, which hides the relevant panel entirely. To minimize a panel, simply click the relevant small arrow mark on the divider. The opposite arrow mark next to it maximizes the panel, effectively minimizing the panel on the other side. Once minimized/maximized, the divider can be restored by simply clicking it once, or by dragging it (again, panel minimum sizes apply).

uiinspect only uses Java panels, so implementing the dividers required use of the simple JSplitPane. In a general case where we might wish to embed Matlab graphs in one of the side panels, we would need to employ a more sophisticated solution (see my UISplitPane utility).

Class information

The top-left panel displays a label with information about the object’s class and super-classes inheritance (where applicable).

The class name itself is hyper-linked to the class’s documentation: if this is a standard Java class, then to the official online javadoc for this class which opens up in Matlab’s internal web browser. In fact, since different Matlab releases use different JVM versions (1.3 through 1.6), the link points to the documentation page corresponding to the JVM version actually used.

If the class is non-Java, the hyperlink displays the class’s help section in Matlab’s Command Window / console. The panel’s tooltip displays the same information in a slightly different manner.

The hyperlink in the label is actually an optical illusion. In fact, the entire label is hyper-linked, and clicking any part of it will display the relevant documentation (a similar optical illusion is used to display the hyperlink at the footer of the utility window). The illusion is achieved using Matlab’s HTML formatting, where the part of the label string consisting of the class name is underlined. The cursor was dynamically modified to a pointed hand-finger when the mouse hovers over the label, using the following simple Java-based command:


Special treatment is done to extract the class’s superclass, the interfaces that it implements and any possible class qualifiers (for example, “final”).

For those interested to dig within the code, all this is done in uiinspect‘s getMethodsPane function.

Next to the class label, a checkbox is presented (“Extra”). Clicking this checkbox displays additional meta-data information (qualifiers, interrupts and inheritance) in the methods pane beneath. Not all classes have all these extra meta-data fields – only the relevant extra meta-information fields are displayed. If there are is extra meta-data, then the checkbox is not displayed. This is done in the getMethodsTable function.

Methods or HG hierarchy panel

The utility’s main panel displays either a table of methods (functions) for a class object, or a tree hierarchy for an HG handle.

Class object methods

The methods table takes the information from the getObjMethods function, which is an adaptation of Matlab’s built-in methodsview function. Part of the adaptation is to hyperlink all class references (used in the methods’ inputs, outputs and meta-data), such that clicking them will open new corresponding uiinspect windows.

Class object methods panel

Class object methods panel

The methods data is displayed within a non-editable Java table (in the getMethodsTable function) that auto-resizes the columns. The table columns are sortable, even sortable on multiple columns by CTRL-clicking (methodsview allows only simple sorting). This is done using JIDE’s TreeTable component. The table is placed within a scroll-pane having automatic scrollbars that only appear as needed.

The table’s MouseMovedCallback property is set to tbMouseMoved, which updates the mouse cursor (either regular or pointed finger) based on the current mouse position in the table (whether over a hyperlinked cell or not).

The table’s MousePressedCallback property is set to tbMousePressed, which opens new uiinspect figure windows for the hyperlinked classes (if any) in the clicked cell.

HG hierarchy tree

For HG handles, getHandleTree creates a Java tree that displays the hierarchy of HG children (as recursively reported by any HG handle’s Children property). For convenience, I have chosen to use the built-in component com.mathworks.hg.peer.UITreePeer that underlies the built-in uitree function. For performance reasons, the tree is not fully evaluated: the inspected handle’s Parent is set as the tree’s Root. The root node is expanded to get all the parent’s Children (i.e., the inspected handle’s siblings), and then the inspected handle’s tree node is again expanded to display its direct descendents.

Normal dynamic HG handle tooltip

Normal dynamic HG handle tooltip

A MouseMovedCallback is set on the tree to process mouse hover events in the treeMouseMovedCallback function. This function updates the tree tooltip dynamically, in the sense that it presents a different tooltip for different handles (tree nodes).

Invalid HG handles (this can happen if the HG handle was deleted since the time that uiinspect generated the tree) are displayed with a special warning message.

Invalid HG handle tooltip

Invalid HG handle tooltip

This dynamic tree behavior is achieved by storing the relevant handle information in the UserData of the different tree nodes. Unfortunately, starting in R2012a, Matlab has made a change in the internal support of Java objects, and the UserData property is no longer available. Such a case is detected and the data is stored in the tree nodes’ ApplicationData property instead (using setappdata(node,’userdata’,…) ).

Dynamic context (right-click) menu

Dynamic context (right-click) menu

A MousePressedCallback is set on the tree to process context (right-click) events in the treeMousePressedCallback function. The context-menu is also dynamic, in the sense that it presents a different context menu for different handles (tree nodes), again based on their user-data.

Left-clicking a node is not processed by treeMousePressedCallback, but rather by the tree’s NodeSelectedCallback which is processed in nodeSelected, and by NodeExpandedCallback which is processed by nodeExpanded. nodeSelected reloads uiinspect for the selected handle; nodeExpanded merely displays the expanded handle’s children.

Since the ‘+’ sign (which triggers nodeExpanded) and the handle icon (which triggers nodeSelected) are so close, we should be careful to click the ‘+’, otherwise the entire uiinspect window will reload the tree based on the clicked node… If anyone has a good idea how to solve this dilemma, then I’m all ears.

Like the methods table, the tree is also placed in a dynamic scroll-pane that displays scrollbars only as needed.

Callbacks panel

The callbacks panel, computed in getCbsData is based on a reflection of the object’s data as reported by the undocumented built-in classhandle function. I aggregate all the object’s events, as well as all the object property names that end with ‘Fcn’ or ‘Callback’. This takes care (I hope) of all the different manners by which different kinds of objects raise events that are trappable in Matlab callbacks. Specifically, it takes care of Java/Matlab classes as well as HG handles and COM objects. If anyone thinks that I have forgotten something, please let me know.

The getCbsPane function then displays the callbacks data (callbacks’ property name and value) in a Java table (JIDE PropertyTable, JIDE TreeTable, or failing those a simple JTable).

Modifiable object callbacks

Modifiable object callbacks

The callbacks are automatically grouped by name into logical groups (in getTreeData). For example, all callbacks whose names start with “Mouse*” are grouped in the “Mouse callbacks” group. The last group is always called “Other callbacks” and contains all callbacks for which a matching sibling callback has not been found. The groups are automatically collapsed by default; if only a single group is found then this group is automatically opened (for example, in the case of uiinspect(0) ).

The callbacks table’s toolbar enables displaying the callbacks by groups or sorted alphabetically. It also has “expand” and “collapse” icons that affect all the groups.

A checkbox next to the table’s toolbar enables hiding standard Java Swing callbacks. This is important when we inspect Java controls and only wish to see its unique callbacks. When using this checkbox, red Java exceptions are sometimes displayed in the Matlab console – these are harmless and you can safely ignore them (I hope to find a way to prevent them one day).

The table’s right column displays the callback properties values (if available). This column is editable and we can interactively modify any callback’s property. As shown, we can enter callback value in either of Matlab’s supported formats: string, function handle and (for non-COM objects only!) a cell array of function handle and additional data. An error message will be displayed if the callback value is invalid or cannot be set for some reason.

If it is determined that there are no callbacks, then the callbacks panel is automatically minimized, to enable maximum space for the methods panel above it.

Properties inspector panel

The properties inspection panel, prepared in getPropsPane, is actually composed of two separate panes: the top pane uses the built-in Matlab component com.mathworks.mlwidgets.inspector.PropertyView, which in turn uses JIDE’s PropertyTable. PropertyView is the same component used by Matlab’s standard inspect function (that’s how I came to know it, if anyone wonders).

uiinspect's property inspector table

uiinspect's property inspector table

The benefit of using Matlab’s PropertyView component rather than JIDE’s PropertyTable is that PropertyView has the very useful method setObject which I use to point the component at the inspected object, which automatically infers its non-hidden properties and updates the table, saving me a lot of work.

There are two drawbacks of using Matlab’s PropertyView:

  • PropertyView only displays non-hidden properties. One day when I have time, I intent to add the hidden properties to the resulting JIDE PropertyTable. But for now it only shows non-hidden properties.
  • PropertyView causes a Matlab crash on some Matlab releases, in case dbstop if error is active (this can be replicated using Matlab’s standard inspect). I therefore regrettably need to disable this specific dbstop.

I’ve been meaning to do these two fixes ever since I released uiinspect back in 2007, but for now that’s the way it is…

The properties data is retrieved via the getPropsData function. This function uses the built-in Matlab functions meta.class.fromName(className) and metaclass(classObject) to get the class handle of Matlab classes (in getMetaClass); similarly, loadClass loads the class definition for a Java class. I inspect these class handles for their contained properties. I then use the fieldnames function to add static class fields, which are not standard properties (for example, “RED” is a static field of the java.awt.Color class).

From the class handle, I retrieve the full definition of each property. This includes meta-data such as whether the property is regular or hidden (undocumented); settable or not; gettable or not; and any additional qualifiers (e.g., Sealed, Dependent, Constant, Abstract, Transient, Default (factory) value).

Object properties tooltip

Object properties tooltip

We now have a list of all properties and static fields, and this is used to display the entire properties data in the properties panel’s title (“Inspectable object properties”) tooltip. This tooltip, created in updateObjTooltip and getPropsHtml, uses some fancy HTML formatting to display all the object’s properties and values, color- and font-style-coded to show which of the properties is read-only, hidden, undefined etc.

The 'Other properties' meta-data table

The 'Other properties' meta-data table

The entire information is also displayed in the properties meta-data pane (“Other properties”) beneath JIDE’s inspector pane. Here we use a simple Java table to display the information in color-coding (gray for read-only properties; blue for static fields; red for irretrievable properties).

Separate checkboxes enable displaying all properties (by default only the properties that are NOT displayed in JIDE’s inspector table are displayed); and whether or not to display the extra meta-data in the properties table (by default only the property name and current value are displayed).

In some cases (e.g., Dot-Net objects), Matlab’s inspector does not know how to extract the property-bean information and so the PropertyView inspector is not shown, only the “other properties” table.

Both JIDE’s inspector table and the “other properties” table enable the user to modify existing values. Note that in some cases Matlab prevents interactive update of some properties, and in some other cases I have seen Matlab hang when trying to update a few specific properties. But in most cases updating the value does work as expected.

The combination of the inspector table, the meta-data table and the tooltip, enable users to fully understand the accessible properties of the inspected object. Of course, it would have been much better to merge the JIDE inspector table with the hidden properties (=additional rows) and meta-data (=additional columns). But let’s leave something for the future, shall we?

Auto-update mechanism

uiinspect auto-update notice

uiinspect auto-update notice

uiinspect employs the same auto-update background mechanism used by findjobj – after presenting the GUI, the utility silently checks the File Exchange webpage to see whether any newer version of this utility has been uploaded. If so, then a popup notice is presented with the date and description of the latest version. The popup enables users to download the newer version into their Matlab path, or skip. There is also an option to skip the update and not to remind ever again.

I find this background auto-update mechanism quite useful and generic. In fact, I uploaded it as a separate File Exchange utility today, following Brett Shoelson’s suggestion last month. You can find the underlying code in the checkVersion function.


  • cleanup internal functions, remove duplicates etc.
  • link property objects to another uiinspect window for these objects
  • display object children (& link to them) – COM/Java
  • find a way to merge the other-properties table with the inspector table (hidden props + meta-data)
  • find a way to use the inspector without disabling dbstop if error
  • Fix: some fields generate a Java Exception from: com.mathworks.mlwidgets.inspector.PropertyRootNode$PropertyListener$1$1.run
  • Fix: using the “Hide standard callbacks” checkbox sometimes issues Java Exceptions on the console
  • Fix: In HG tree view, sometimes the currently-inspected handle is not automatically selected

I would be happy if anyone can help with any of these.


I believe that this has been my longest blog post ever; certainly the one that I have labored most over. This correlates well with the uiinspect utility, which has been one of my most complex tasks. I’m guessing I must have invested 100-200 man-hours developing and improving it over the years.

I hope you find uiinspect as useful and as fun as I do. I believe that its source-code is certainly worth reading if you are interested in any advanced Matlab GUI programming, showing how Java GUI components can be combined in Matlab. Go ahead and download uiinspect from the Matlab file Exchange.

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Determining axes zoom statehttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/determining-axes-zoom-state https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/determining-axes-zoom-state#comments Thu, 10 Nov 2011 18:45:38 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=2529
Related posts:
  1. Multi-column (grid) legend This article explains how to use undocumented axes listeners for implementing multi-column plot legends...
  2. Controlling plot data-tips Data-tips are an extremely useful plotting tool that can easily be controlled programmatically....
  3. getundoc – get undocumented object properties getundoc is a very simple utility that displays the hidden (undocumented) properties of a specified handle object....
  4. Getting default HG property values Matlab has documented how to modify default property values, but not how to get the full list of current defaults. This article explains how to do this. ...
A couple of days ago, a reader of Matlab’s official Desktop blog asked whether it is possible to determine if an axes has been zoomed or not.

I have encountered this question myself some time ago, when I tried to customize a radar plot: The grid in radar plots does not automatically re-draw when the plot is zoomed, as in regular rectangular plots. Instead, the radial (angle) and circular (range) grid lines are statically painted when the plot is created, and remain fixed when the plot is zoomed or panned. Therefore, if we zoom in on a small-enough plot segment, we will not see any grid lines at all. It would be beneficial to repaint the grid-lines upon every zoom and pan event. I will not dive into the details today, but the important thing for today’s article is that the algorithm needed to know whether or not the axes is currently zoomed or not.

The official response is that this information is not readily available. We could of course store the axes limits somewhere and then compare them to the current limits in run-time. This will cause complications if the plotted data (and thereby the axes limits) change automatically during program use, even without any zooming/panning. It is also problematic if the user resets the zoom limits (as Jiro has correctly pointed out).

Today I’ll highlight another possible solution, that perhaps not many Matlab users are familiar with: Apparently, whenever zooming or panning occur, a hidden ApplicationData object is automatically added to the affected axes, with information about the original axes meta-data: limits, aspect ratio, camera info and view angles. This object is also automatically updated whenever we use zoom reset to reset the zoom limits.

So basically, all we have to do in run-time is to compare our current access limits with the stored info: if they are the same (or if the app-data object is missing) then the plot is unzoomed and unpanned; otherwise it is. So simple.

origInfo = getappdata(gca, 'matlab_graphics_resetplotview');
if isempty(origInfo)
   isZoomed = false;
elseif isequal(get(gca,'XLim'), origInfo.XLim) && ...
       isequal(get(gca,'YLim'), origInfo.YLim) && ...
       isequal(get(gca,'ZLim'), origInfo.ZLim)
   isZoomed = false;
   isZoomed = true;

This still does not solve the problem of limit changes when the plot data is changed, but it may perhaps be a bit easier to use than manually storing the limits before plotting. (And yes, of course the if-else statement above could be made a one-liner logical construct, but I think this way is more readable).

Zooming and panning add some additional data to ApplicationData, and also use/modify some other hidden properties of the axes handle (use the getundoc function to see them). If you use one of them for any useful purpose, please report your usage in a comment below.

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getundoc – get undocumented object propertieshttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/getundoc-get-undocumented-object-properties https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/getundoc-get-undocumented-object-properties#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2011 19:00:16 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=2437
Related posts:
  1. Multi-column (grid) legend This article explains how to use undocumented axes listeners for implementing multi-column plot legends...
  2. Controlling plot data-tips Data-tips are an extremely useful plotting tool that can easily be controlled programmatically....
  3. Draggable plot data-tips Matlab's standard plot data-tips can be customized to enable dragging, without being limitted to be adjacent to their data-point. ...
  4. Undocumented view transformation matrix Matlab's view function returns an undocumented output transformation matrix....
Last week, I presented the list of undocumented properties available in Matlab’s cursor mode and data-tip objects. Over the past two years, I had posted quite a few other articles on this website that used such undocumented properties. So today I will show exactly how such properties can be discovered.

Hidden properties are object properties that for some reason or other MathWorks has decided not to expose to the general public. They can still be used by Matlab users, just like any other regular property. But if you use the built-in get and set functions to list the object’s properties, you will not find the hidden properties listed. You need to know the hidden properties’ exact name in order to use them. Which is where today’s post can help, by showing you how to list these hidden properties. I wrote about this a couple of years ago, and today’s article will expand on that original post.

Hidden properties are by their very nature undocumented and not officially supported. For this reason, you should take extra care when relying on them in your code. They could change functionality or even be removed without prior notice in any future Matlab release. Still, some of these properties enable very important functionality, as I have often shown on this website.


There are two distinct manners by which undocumented properties can be seen in Matlab. The simplest was reported by Hans Olsson all the way back in 1997, in one of the very earliest posts on the CSSM newsgroup (there is no earlier public report, as far as I could tell). Since then, this method was mentioned in about a dozen other CSSM posts.

By setting the Matlab root (handle 0)’s HideUndocumented property to ‘off’ (default=’on’), subsequent calls to the built-in get and set functions list the hidden properties in addition to the regular ones. Note that HideUndocumented is itself a hidden property, which is why Hans’ post is so important – he presented us with the loose end that then enabled us to untangle the hidden properties in any other HG object.

Here is a simple example, showing HideUndocumented‘s effect on the root (handle 0) object handle itself (hidden properties are highlighted):

% Display only regular properties
>> get(0)
	CallbackObject = []
	CommandWindowSize = [86 51]
	CurrentFigure = []
	Diary = off
	DiaryFile = diary
	Echo = off
	FixedWidthFontName = Courier New
	Format = longG
	FormatSpacing = compact
	Language = he_il
	MonitorPositions = [ (2 by 4) double array]
	More = off
	PointerLocation = [1084 590]
	RecursionLimit = [500]
	ScreenDepth = [32]
	ScreenPixelsPerInch = [96]
	ScreenSize = [1 1 1440 900]
	ShowHiddenHandles = off
	Units = pixels
	BeingDeleted = off
	ButtonDownFcn = 
	Children = []
	Clipping = on
	CreateFcn = 
	DeleteFcn = 
	BusyAction = queue
	HandleVisibility = on
	HitTest = on
	Interruptible = on
	Parent = []
	Selected = off
	SelectionHighlight = on
	Tag = 
	Type = root
	UIContextMenu = []
	UserData = []
	Visible = on
% Display ALL properties (including hidden ones, which are highlighted below)
>> set(0,'HideUndocumented','off')
>> get(0)
	BlackAndWhite = off	CallbackObject = []
	CommandWindowSize = [86 51]
	CurrentFigure = []
	Diary = off
	DiaryFile = diary
	Echo = off
	ErrorMessage = [ (1 by 79) char array]	FixedWidthFontName = Courier New
	Format = longG
	FormatSpacing = compact
	HideUndocumented = off	Language = he_il
	MonitorPositions = [ (2 by 4) double array]
	More = off
	PointerLocation = [1022 82]
	PointerWindow = [0]	RecursionLimit = [500]
	ScreenDepth = [32]
	ScreenPixelsPerInch = [96]
	ScreenSize = [1 1 1440 900]
	ShowHiddenHandles = off
	Units = pixels
	AutomaticFileUpdates = on 
	BeingDeleted = off
	PixelBounds = [0 0 0 0]	ButtonDownFcn = 
	Children = []
	Clipping = on
	CreateFcn = 
	DeleteFcn = 
	BusyAction = queue
	HandleVisibility = on
	HelpTopicKey = 	HitTest = on
	Interruptible = on
	Parent = []
	Selected = off
	SelectionHighlight = on
	Serializable = on	Tag = 
	Type = root
	UIContextMenu = []
	UserData = []
	ApplicationData = [ (1 by 1) struct array]	Behavior = [ (1 by 1) struct array]	Visible = on
	XLimInclude = on	YLimInclude = on	ZLimInclude = on	CLimInclude = on	ALimInclude = on	IncludeRenderer = on

Property definitions

An entirely different mechanism uses the schema.prop definitions that were presented here by Donn Scull at the beginning of 2011. The idea is to get the object’s classhandle reference, from it to get the list of properties definitions, and for each property look at its Visible meta-property: hidden properties will simply have Visible=’off’, whereas regular properties will have ‘on’.

It turns out that there is not always a full correspondence between these two mechanism. I can’t remember specific examples, and perhaps these were fixed in the latest Matlab releases. It doesn’t matter, because merging the list of hidden properties reported by these two methods is always safe to do. Which is exactly what my getundoc utility does:

getundoc utility

The getundoc utility is based on another utility by the same name, posted by Duane Hanselman to the Matlab File Exchange in 2006 (Duane has elected to remove all his submissions from FEX a year or two ago, but that’s an entirely separate [and extremely heated] topic for a different discussion). Duane’s original getundoc utility relied only on the first (HideUndocumented) mechanism.

I have since expanded this utility to include support for the second mechanism, as well as support for the upcoming HG2 (see below). The updated getundoc is now available for download on the File Exchange. Since it’s a very short utility, I will digress from my norm and simply present its code, in its present form, here:

function c = getundoc(arg)
%GETUNDOC Get Undocumented Object Properties.
% GETUNDOC('OBJECT') or GETUNDOC(H) returns a structure of
% undocumented properties (names & values) for the object having handle
% H or indentified by the string 'OBJECT'.
% For example, GETUNDOC('axes') or GETUNDOC(gca) returns undocumented
% property names and values for the axes object.
% Extension of Duane Hanselman's original utility (which is no longer
% available on the File Exchange):
% D.C. Hanselman, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469
% MasteringMatlab@yahoo.com
% Mastering MATLAB 7
% 2006-01-06
if nargin~=1
   error('One Input Required.')
if ischar(arg) % GETUNDOC('OBJECT')
   switch lower(arg)
   case 'root'                                                       % root
   case 'figure'                                                   % figure
   otherwise                          % some other string name of an object
         error('Unknown Object Type String Provided.')         
elseif ishandle(arg) % GETUNDOC(H)
   error('Unknown Object Handle Provided.')
warning off                                      % supress warnings about obsolete properties
try set(0,'HideUndocumented','off'); catch; end  % Fails in HG2
undocfnames=fieldnames(get(h));                  % get props including undocumented
try set(0,'HideUndocumented','on'); catch; end   % Fails in HG2
docfnames=fieldnames(get(h));                    % get props excluding undocumented
% Yair 18/3/2010 - add a few more undocs:
    % This works in HG1
    props = get(classhandle(handle(h)),'properties');
    undocfnames = [undocfnames; get(props(strcmp(get(props,'Visible'),'off')),'Name')];
    % Yair 18/9/2011: In HG2, the above fails, so use the following workaround:
        prop = findprop(handle(h),undocfnames{1});
        props = prop.DefiningClass.PropertyList;
        undocfnames = [undocfnames; {props.Name}'];   % {props([props.Hidden]).Name}
        % ignore...
c = setdiff(undocfnames,docfnames);      % extract undocumented
% Get the values in struct format, if relevant
if ~isempty(c)
  s = struct;
  for fieldIdx = 1 : length(c)
          fieldName = c{fieldIdx};
          s.(fieldName) = get(h,fieldName);
          s.(fieldName) = '???';
  c = s;
% Yair end
if hf~=0                     % delete hidden figure holding selected object

Usage of this utility is extremely simple:

>> getundoc(0)
ans = 
             ALimInclude: 'on'
         ApplicationData: [1x1 struct]
    AutomaticFileUpdates: 'on'
                Behavior: [1x1 struct]
           BlackAndWhite: 'off'
             CLimInclude: 'on'
            ErrorMessage: [1x79 char]
            HelpTopicKey: ''
        HideUndocumented: 'on'
         IncludeRenderer: 'on'
             PixelBounds: [0 0 0 0]
           PointerWindow: 0
            Serializable: 'on'
             XLimInclude: 'on'
             YLimInclude: 'on'
             ZLimInclude: 'on'
>> getundoc(gcf)
ans = 
               ALimInclude: 'on'
    ActivePositionProperty: 'position'
           ApplicationData: [1x1 struct]
              BackingStore: 'on'
                  Behavior: [1x1 struct]
               CLimInclude: 'on'
                CurrentKey: ''
           CurrentModifier: {1x0 cell}
                 Dithermap: [64x3 double]
             DithermapMode: 'manual'
              DoubleBuffer: 'on'
            ExportTemplate: []
               FixedColors: [3x3 double]
                   HelpFcn: ''
              HelpTopicKey: ''
              HelpTopicMap: ''
           IncludeRenderer: 'on'
                 JavaFrame: [1x1 com.mathworks.hg.peer.HG1FigurePeer]
               MinColormap: 64
             OuterPosition: [436 374 568 502]
               PixelBounds: [0 0 560 420]
             PrintTemplate: []
              Serializable: 'on'
                    UseHG2: 'off'
                WaitStatus: []
               XLimInclude: 'on'
               YLimInclude: 'on'
               ZLimInclude: 'on'

Fixes for HG2

Unfortunately, in the new HG2 (which is still not in production, but we must be prepared, mustn’t we?), the original mechanism above (HideUndocumented) fails completely (there is no such property in the new matlab.ui.root object), whereas the second mechanism (UDD property defs) needs to be modified: Apparently, classhandle fails for HG2 object handles. Instead, we use the workaround of using findprop to get the property definition for any regular property, then get its parent (the requested class definition), and then down again to list all available properties. Note that in HG2, the relevant meta-property is Hidden which holds logical (true/false) values, as opposed to Visible and ‘off’/’on’ values for HG1 above.

All of these fixes are now incorporated in the getundoc code that is listed above.

When comparing the list of hidden properties in the existing HG1 and the new HG2, we see many interesting differences. And yes: the figure’s JavaFrame property was indeed removed in HG2. Bummer! (don’t worry – there are several workarounds up my sleeve…)

Do you have any favorite hidden property that you use in your code? If so, please tell us about it in a comment below.

p.s. – For all the numerous good people telling me about cprintf – Yes: I am aware that the latest R2011b release has broken cprintf‘s functionality. I plan to release a workaround sometime soon, when I have some spare time. I’ll keep everybody posted of course. Please be patient. (if you can’t wait, you can always hire me to fix it sooner; otherwise I need to give priority to my paying clients…)

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Controlling plot data-tipshttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/controlling-plot-data-tips https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/controlling-plot-data-tips#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2011 20:42:40 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=2432
Related posts:
  1. Matlab’s HG2 mechanism HG2 is presumably the next generation of Matlab graphics. This article tries to explore its features....
  2. Multi-column (grid) legend This article explains how to use undocumented axes listeners for implementing multi-column plot legends...
  3. getundoc – get undocumented object properties getundoc is a very simple utility that displays the hidden (undocumented) properties of a specified handle object....
  4. Inactive Control Tooltips & Event Chaining Inactive Matlab uicontrols cannot normally display their tooltips. This article shows how to do this with a combination of undocumented Matlab and Java hacks....
Plot data tips are a great visualization aid for Matlab plots. They enable users to interactively click on a plot location and see a tool-tip that contains the clicked location’s coordinates. The displayed tooltip text is even customizable using documented properties of the datacursormode object.

plot data tips

plot data tips

A client has recently asked me to automatically display an attached data-tip to the last data point of a plotted time series of values. The idea was to immediately see what the latest value of the data series is.

Unfortunately, the official documentation clearly says that:

You place data tips only by clicking data objects on graphs. You cannot place them programmatically (by executing code to position a data cursor).

Well, this has never stopped us before, has it?

Creating new data tips

Under the hood, data tips use a data-cursor mode, which shares many similarities in behavior and programming code with the other plot modes (zoom, pan, data-brushing, etc.). At any one time, only a single such mode can be active in any figure window (this is a known limitation of the design). The code itself it actually quite complex and handles numerous edge-cases. Understanding it by simply reading the code (under %matlabroot%\toolbox\matlab\graphics\) is actually pretty difficult. A much easier way to understand the programming flow is to liberally distribute breakpoints (start in datacursormode.m) and interactively activate the functionality, then debug the code step-by-step.

Luckily, it turns out that the code to create a new data-tip is actually quite simple: first get the data-cursor mode object, then create a new data tip using the mode’s createDatatip() method, update some data-tip properties and finally update the data-tip’s position:

% First plot the data
hLine = plot(xdata, ydata);
% First get the figure's data-cursor mode, activate it, and set some of its properties
cursorMode = datacursormode(gcf);
set(cursorMode, 'enable','on', 'UpdateFcn',@setDataTipTxt);
% Note: the optional @setDataTipTxt is used to customize the data-tip's content text
% Note: the following code was adapted from %matlabroot%\toolbox\matlab\graphics\datacursormode.m
% Create a new data tip
hTarget = handle(hLine);
hDatatip = cursorMode.createDatatip(hTarget);
% Create a copy of the context menu for the datatip:
% Set the data-tip orientation to top-right rather than auto
% Update the datatip marker appearance
set(hDatatip, 'MarkerSize',5, 'MarkerFaceColor','none', ...
              'MarkerEdgeColor','k', 'Marker','o', 'HitTest','off');
% Move the datatip to the right-most data vertex point
position = [xdata(end),ydata(end),1; xdata(end),ydata(end),-1];
update(hDatatip, position);

Note: If you don’t like messing with the code, consider using Tim Farajian’s MakeDataTip utility, which basically does all this behind the scenes. It is much easier to use as a stand-alone utility, although it does not give you the flexiblility with all the data-tip properties as in the code above.

Updating an existing data tip

To modify the appearance of a data-tip, we first need to get access to the hDatatip object that we created earlier, either programmatically, or interactively (or both). Since we can access pre-stored handles only of programmatically-created (not interactively-created) data-tips, we need to use a different method. There are actually two ways to do this:

The basic way is to search the relevant axes for objects that have Tag=’DataTipMarker’. For each data-tip, we will get two such handles: one for the marker (Type=’line’) and the other for the text box tooltip (Type=’text’). We can use these to update (for example) the marker size, color and style; and the text’s font, border and colors.

A better way is to access the graphics.datatip object itself. This can be done using two hidden properties of the datacursormode object:

% Get the list of all data-tips in the current figure
>> cursorMode = datacursormode(gcf)
cursorMode =
>> cursorMode.DataCursors
ans =
	graphics.datatip: 2-by-1
>> cursorMode.CurrentDataCursor
ans =
>> cursorMode.CurrentDataCursor.get
            Annotation: [1x1 hg.Annotation]
           DisplayName: ''
           HitTestArea: 'off'
          BeingDeleted: 'off'
         ButtonDownFcn: []
              Children: [2x1 double]
              Clipping: 'on'
             CreateFcn: []
             DeleteFcn: []
            BusyAction: 'queue'
      HandleVisibility: 'off'
               HitTest: 'off'
         Interruptible: 'on'
                Parent: 492.005493164063
    SelectionHighlight: 'on'
                   Tag: ''
                  Type: 'hggroup'
              UserData: []
              Selected: 'off'
             FontAngle: 'normal'
              FontName: 'Helvetica'
              FontSize: 8
             FontUnits: 'points'
            FontWeight: 'normal'
             EdgeColor: [0.8 0.8 0.8]
       BackgroundColor: [1 1 0.933333333333333]
             TextColor: [0 0 0]
                Marker: 'o'
            MarkerSize: 5
       MarkerEdgeColor: 'k'
       MarkerFaceColor: 'none'
       MarkerEraseMode: 'normal'
             Draggable: 'on'
                String: {'Date: 01/09/11'  'Value: 573.24'}
               Visible: 'on'
             StringFcn: []
             UpdateFcn: []
         UIContextMenu: [1x1 uicontextmenu]
                  Host: [1x1 graph2d.lineseries]
           Interpolate: 'off'

We can see that the returned graphics.datatip object includes properties of both the text-box and the marker, making it easy to modify. Moreover, we can use its aforementioned update method to move the datatip to a different plot position (see example in the code above). In addition, we can also use the self-explanatory getCursorInfo(), getaxes(), makeCurrent(), movetofront() methods, and a few others.

Cursor mode and data-tip properties

The graphics.datacursormanager and the graphics.datatip objects have several public properties that we can use:

>> cursorMode.get
              Enable: 'off'
    SnapToDataVertex: 'on'
        DisplayStyle: 'datatip'
           UpdateFcn: @setDataTipTxt
              Figure: [1x1 figure]
>> cursorMode.CurrentDataCursor.get
            Annotation: [1x1 hg.Annotation]
           DisplayName: ''
           HitTestArea: 'off'
      ... % See the list above

Both these objects have plenty of additional hidden properties. You can inspect them using my uiinspect utility. Here is a brief list for reference (R2011b):


  • CurrentDataCursor
  • DataCursors
  • Debug
  • DefaultExportVarName
  • DefaultPanelPosition
  • EnableAxesStacking
  • EnableZStacking
  • ExternalListeners
  • HiddenUpdateFcn
  • NewDataCursorOnClick
  • OriginalRenderer
  • OriginalRendererMode
  • PanelDatatipHandle
  • PanelHandle
  • PanelTextHandle
  • UIContextMenu
  • UIState
  • ZStackMinimum


  • ALimInclude
  • ApplicationData
  • Behavior
  • CLimInclude
  • DataCursorHandle
  • DataManagerHandle
  • Debug
  • DoThrowStartDragEvent
  • EmptyArgUpdateFcn
  • EnableAxesStacking
  • EnableZStacking
  • EraseMode
  • EventObject
  • ExternalListenerHandles
  • HelpTopicKey
  • HostAxes
  • HostListenerHandles
  • IncludeRenderer
  • Invalid
  • IsDeserializing
  • MarkerHandle
  • MarkerHandleButtonDownFcn
  • Orientation
  • OrientationMode
  • OrientationPropertyListener
  • OriginalDoubleBufferState
  • PixelBounds
  • PointsOffset
  • Position
  • SelfListenerHandles
  • Serializable
  • TextBoxHandle
  • TextBoxHandleButtonDownFcn
  • Version
  • ViewStyle
  • XLimInclude
  • YLimInclude
  • ZLimInclude
  • ZStackMinimum
  • uistate

As can be seen, if we really want, we can always use the MarkerHandle or TextBoxHandle directly.

Deleting data tips

To delete a specific data-tip, simply call the cursor mode’s removeDataCursor() method; to delete all data-tips, call its removeAllDataCursors() method:

% Delete the current data-tip
% Delete all data-tips

Have you used plot data-tips in some nifty way? If so, please share your experience in a comment below.

p.s. – did you notice that Java was not mentioned anywhere above? Mode managers use pure-Matlab functionality.

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Uitable sortinghttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/uitable-sorting https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/uitable-sorting#comments Tue, 26 Jul 2011 18:00:01 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=2391
Related posts:
  1. Uitable customization report Matlab's uitable can be customized in many different ways. A detailed report explains how. ...
  2. Tab panels – uitab and relatives This article describes several undocumented Matlab functions that support tab-panels...
  3. treeTable A description of a sortable, groupable tree-table control that can be used in Matlab is provided. ...
  4. FindJObj GUI – display container hierarchy The FindJObj utility can be used to present a GUI that displays a Matlab container's internal Java components, properties and callbacks....
uitable is probably the most complex basic GUI controls available in Matlab. It displays data in a table within a figure, with settable properties as with any other Matlab Handle-Graphics (HG) control. After many years in which the uitable was available but semi-documented and not officially supported in Matlab, it finally became fully documented and supported in R2008a (aka Matlab 7.6). At that time its internal implementation has changed from a MathWorks-developed Java table to a JIDE-based Java table (another JIDE-derived table was described here last year). Since R2008a, both versions of uitable are available – the old version is available by adding the ‘v0’ input arg.

Matlab’s uitable exposes only a very limited subset of functionalities and properties to the user. Numerous other functionalities are available by accessing the underlying Java table and hidden Matlab properties. Today I will describe a very common need in GUI tables, that for some unknown reason is missing in Matlab’s uitable: Sorting table data columns.

Last week I explained how we can modify table headers of an ActiveX table control to display sorting icons. In that case, sorting was built-in the control, and the question was just how to display the sorting arrow icon. Unfortunately, Matlab’s uitable does not have sorting built-in, although it’s quite easy to add it, as I shall now show.

Old uitable sorting

The old uitable is the default control used until R2007b, or that can be selected with the ‘v0’ input arg since R2008a. It was based on an internal MathWorks extension of the standard Java Swing JTable – a class called com.mathworks.widgets.spreadsheet.SpreadsheetTable.

Users will normally try to sort columns by clicking the header. This has been a deficiency of JTable for ages. To solve this for the old (pre-R2008a) uitable, download one of several available JTable sorter classes, or my TableSorter class (available here). Add the TableSorter.jar file to your static java classpath (via edit('classpath.txt')) or your dynamic classpath (javaaddpath('TableSorter.jar')).

% Display the uitable and get its underlying Java object handle
[mtable,hcontainer] = uitable('v0', gcf, magic(3), {'A', 'B', 'C'});   % discard the 'v0' in R2007b and earlier
jtable = mtable.getTable;   % or: get(mtable,'table');
% We want to use sorter, not data model...
% Unfortunately, UitablePeer expects DefaultTableModel not TableSorter so we need a modified UitablePeer class
% But UitablePeer is a Matlab class, so use a modified TableSorter & attach it to the Model
if ~isempty(which('TableSorter'))
   % Add TableSorter as TableModel listener
   sorter = TableSorter(jtable.getModel());
   % Set the header tooltip (with sorting instructions)
   jtable.getTableHeader.setToolTipText('<html>&nbsp;<b>Click</b> to sort up; <b>Shift-click</b> to sort down<br />&nbsp;...</html>');
   % Set the header tooltip (no sorting instructions...)
   jtable.getTableHeader.setToolTipText('<html>&nbsp;<b>Click</b> to select entire column<br />&nbsp;<b>Ctrl-click</b> (or <b>Shift-click</b>) to select multiple columns&nbsp;</html>');

Sorted uitable - old version

Sorted uitable - old version

New uitable sorting

The new uitable is based on JIDE’s com.jidesoft.grid.SortableTable and so has built-in sorting support – all you need to do is to turn it on. First get the underlying Java object using my FindJObj utility:

% Display the uitable and get its underlying Java object handle
mtable = uitable(gcf, 'Data',magic(3), 'ColumnName',{'A', 'B', 'C'});
jscrollpane = findjobj(mtable);
jtable = jscrollpane.getViewport.getView;
% Now turn the JIDE sorting on
jtable.setSortable(true);		% or: set(jtable,'Sortable','on');

Note: the Matlab mtable handle has a hidden Sortable property, but it has no effect – use the Java property mentioned above instead. I assume that the hidden Sortable property was meant to implement the sorting behavior in R2008a, but MathWorks never got around to actually implement it, and so it remains this way to this day.

A more detailed report

I have prepared a 30-page report about using and customizing Matlab’s uitable, which greatly expands on the above. This report is available for a small fee here (please allow up to 48 hours for email delivery). The report includes the following (more details here):

  • comparison of the old vs. the new uitable implementations
  • description of the uitable properties and callbacks
  • alternatives to uitable using a variety of technologies
  • updating a specific cell’s value
  • setting background and foreground colors for a cell or column
  • using dedicated cell renderer and editor components
  • HTML processing
  • setting dynamic cell-specific tooltip
  • setting dynamic cell-specific drop-down selection options
  • using a color-selection drop-down for cells
  • customizing scrollbars
  • customizing column widths and resizing
  • customizing selection behavior
  • data sorting (expansion of today’s article)
  • data filtering (similar to Excel’s data filtering control)
  • merging table cells
  • programmatically adding/removing rows
  • numerous links to online resources
  • overview of the JIDE grids package, which contains numerous extremely useful GUI controls and components
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Minimize/maximize figure windowhttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/minimize-maximize-figure-window https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/minimize-maximize-figure-window#comments Wed, 18 May 2011 23:08:07 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=2310
Related posts:
  1. Detecting window focus events Matlab does not have any documented method to detect window focus events (gain/loss). This article describes an undocumented way to detect such events....
  2. Enable/disable entire figure window Disabling/enabling an entire figure window is impossible with pure Matlab, but is very simple using the underlying Java. This article explains how....
  3. Transparent Matlab figure window Matlab figure windows can be made fully or partially transparent/translucent or blurred - this article explains how...
  4. Blurred Matlab figure window Matlab figure windows can be blurred using a semi-transparent overlaid window - this article explains how...
Over the past couple of years, I posted several articles using the JavaFrame property of the figure handle, which enables access to the GUI’s underlying Java peer object. Today, I show how using JavaFrame we can solve a very frequent user request on the Matlab CSSM forum.

The problem

Matlab figures can be maximized, minimized and restored by interactively clicking the corresponding icon (or menu item) on the figure window’s frame (the title bar). However, we often need to create maximized main-application windows, and wish to save the users the need to manually maximize the window. Moreover, we may sometimes even wish to prevent users from resizing a maximized main window.

Unfortunately, Matlab does not contain any documented or supported way to programmatically maximize, minimize or restore a figure window.

This is very strange considering the fact that these are such elementary figure operations. Moreover, these operations are supported internally (and have been for many releases already), as shown below. It is therefore difficult for me to understand why they were not added to the documented Matlab HG wrapper functionality a long time ago. I fail to understand why obscure features such as docking were added to the wrapper, but standard minimization and maximization were not.


Several solutions have been presented to this problem over the years. Let us start with the pressing question of figure maximization:

Solutions that rely on documented Matlab features tend to compute the available screen size and resize the figure accordingly. The result is lacking in many respects: it does not account for the taskbar (neither in size nor in location, which is not necessarily at the bottom of the screen); it does not remove the window border as in regular maximized figures; and it often ignores extended desktops (i.e. an attached additional monitor).

The solutions that do work properly all rely on undocumented features: Some use platform-specific native Windows API in a mex-file (Jan Simon’s recent WindowAPI submission really pushes the limit in this and other regards). Alternately, we can easily use the platform-independent JavaFrame:

>> jFrame = get(handle(gcf),'JavaFrame')
jFrame =
>> jFrame.setMaximized(true);   % to maximize the figure
>> jFrame.setMaximized(false);  % to un-maximize the figure


To the best of my knowledge, there are no solutions for minimizing figure windows that use documented Matlab features. Again, this can be done using either native Windows API, or the platform-independent JavaFrame:

>> jFrame.setMinimized(true);   % to minimize the figure
>> jFrame.setMinimized(false);  % to un-minimize the figure

Usage notes

Maximized and Minimized are mutually-exclusive, meaning that no more than one of them can be 1 (or true) at any time. This is automatically handled – users only need to be aware that a situation in which a window is both maximized and minimized at the same time is impossible (duh!).

There are several equivalent manners of setting jFrame‘s Maximized and Minimized property values, and your choice may simply be a matter of aesthetics and personal taste:

% Three alternative possibilities of setting Maximized:
set(jFrame,'Maximized',true);   % note interchangeable 1< =>true, 0< =>false
jFrame.handle.Maximized = 1;

jFrame follows Java convention: the accessor method that retrieves boolean values is called is<Propname>() instead of get<Propname>. In our case: isMaximized() and isMinimized():

flag = jFrame.isMinimized;        % Note: isMinimized, not getMinimized
flag = get(jFrame,'Minimized');
flag = jFrame.handle.Minimized;

In some old Matlab releases, jFrame did not possess the Maximized and Minimized properties, and their associated accessor methods. In this case, use the internal FrameProxy which has always contained them:

>> jFrameProxy = jFrame.fFigureClient.getWindow() 
jFrameProxy =
com.mathworks.hg.peer.FigureFrameProxy$FigureFrame[fClientProxyFrame,227,25,568x502,invalid,layout=java.awt.BorderLayout,title=Figure 1,resizable,normal,defaultCloseOperation=DO_NOTHING_ON_CLOSE,...]
>> % Three alternative possibilities of setting Minimized:
>> jFrameProxy.setMinimized(true);
>> set(jFrameProxy,'Minimized',true);
>> jFrameProxy.handle.Minimized = true;

Using FrameProxy for figure minimization and maximization works correctly on both old and new Matlab releases; using jFrame is slightly simpler but only works on recent Matlab releases. Depending on your needs you may choose to use either of these. They are entirely equivalent.

When either the Maximized or Minimized properties are changed back to false, the window is restored to regular mode, which is the FrameProxy‘s RestoredLocation and RestoredSize.

Use of the JavaFrame property

Note that all this relies on the undocumented hidden figure property JavaFrame, which issues a standing warning (since Matlab release R2008a) of becoming obsolete in some future Matlab release (HG2?):

>> jFrame = get(gcf,'JavaFrame')
Warning: figure JavaFrame property will be obsoleted in a future release.
For more information see the JavaFrame resource on the MathWorks web site.
(Type "warning off MATLAB:HandleGraphics:ObsoletedProperty:JavaFrame" to suppress this warning.) 

jFrame =

To remove the above warning I have used (note the handle wrapper, as suggested by Donn Shull):

jFrame = get(handle(gcf),'JavaFrame')

If and when JavaFrame does become obsolete in some future Matlab version, be sure to look in this blog for workarounds.

You may also wish to inform MathWorks on the dedicated webpage that they have set up for specifically this reason (http://www.mathworks.com/javaframe), how you are using JavaFrame and why it is important for you. This may help them to decide whether to keep JavaFrame or possibly add the functionality using other means.

Do you have a smart use for the figure’s minimization or maximization feature? or another use for JavaFrame? If so, please share your ideas in a comment below.

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Transparent Matlab figure windowhttps://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/transparent-matlab-figure-window https://undocumentedmatlab.com/blog/transparent-matlab-figure-window#comments Wed, 13 Apr 2011 23:22:38 +0000 http://undocumentedmatlab.com/?p=2246
Related posts:
  1. Detecting window focus events Matlab does not have any documented method to detect window focus events (gain/loss). This article describes an undocumented way to detect such events....
  2. Enable/disable entire figure window Disabling/enabling an entire figure window is impossible with pure Matlab, but is very simple using the underlying Java. This article explains how....
  3. Minimize/maximize figure window Matlab figure windows can easily be maximized, minimized and restored using a bit of undocumented magic powder...
  4. Setting status-bar text The Matlab desktop and figure windows have a usable statusbar which can only be set using undocumented methods. This post shows how to set the status-bar text....
Every now and then, a user asks whether it is possible to make an entire Matlab window transparent (example). This could be used, for example, for window fade-in/fade-out effects. The short answer is that there is no supported way of doing this with pure documented Matlab, but it is trivially easy to achieve using just a bit of Java magic powder (surprise, surprise).

Matlab figure window transparency

Following an idea I got from Malcolm Lidierth’s MUtilities submission on the Matlab File Exchange, the solution for setting Matlab figure window transparency is quite simple: Get the figure’s underlying Java window reference handle, as in last week’s article. Then use Java’s setWindowOpacity method to set the window’s transparency value. Actually, setWindowOpacity sets the opacity level, rather than transparency, but they are obviously complementary and I personally find “transparency” to be more easily understandable.

By default, windows are created with an opacity of 1.0 (= not transparent). They can be set to any floating-point value between 0.0-1.0, where an opacity of 0.0 means full transparency, and any value in between means partial transparency (i.e., translucency):

jFigPeer = get(handle(gcf),'JavaFrame');
jWindow = jFigPeer.fFigureClient.getWindow;

Semi-transparent (translucent) Matlab figure (click to enlarge)

Semi-transparent (translucent) Matlab figure (click to enlarge)

Similarly, you can set the entire Matlab Desktop’s transparency/opacity value:

jDesktop = com.mathworks.mde.desk.MLDesktop.getInstance.getMainFrame;
com.sun.awt.AWTUtilities.setWindowOpacity(jDesktop, 0.8);

Note that the com.sun.awt.AWTUtilities class also enables other GUI effects that would make a Matlab GUI developer’s mouth to start drooling: shaped windows, per-pixel transparency values, mirroring/reflection, window shadows, gradients etc. Perhaps I’ll explore their adaptation for Matlab figures someday.

Fade-in / fade-out

Window fade-in/fade-out effects can easily be achieved using transparency: Simply invoke the setWindowOpacity method several times, with progressively higher or lower values. This is easily done in a simple blocking loop. For example, to fade-out a window:

for stepIdx = 1 : 5
   newAlpha = 1.0 - 0.2*stepIdx;
   pause(0.2);  % seconds

Gradual window fade-out

Gradual window fade-out

A more general example dynamically computes the opacity step size/duration and also enables non-blocking fade effects using an asynchronous timer:

% Compute the required opacity-setting steps
fadeDuration = 1.5;  % seconds
oldAlpha = com.sun.awt.AWTUtilities.getWindowOpacity(jWindow);
newAlpha = 0.0;
deltaAlpha = newAlpha - oldAlpha;
maxStepAlpha = 0.03;
steps = fix(abs(deltaAlpha) / maxStepAlpha) + 1;
stepAlpha = deltaAlpha / steps;
stepDuration = fadeDuration / (steps-1);
% If blocking, do the fade effect immediately
if blockingFlag || steps==1
   for stepIdx = 1 : steps
      newAlpha = oldAlpha + stepAlpha*stepIdx;
      if stepIdx < steps,  pause(stepDuration);  end
   % non-blocking: fade in/out asynchronously using a dedicated timer
   start(timer('ExecutionMode','fixedRate', 'Period',0.1, 'TasksToExecute',steps, ...
               'TimerFcn', {@timerFcn,jWindow,oldAlpha,stepAlpha}));
% Timer function for non-blocking fade-in/fade-out effect
function timerFcn(hTimer,eventData,jFrame,currentAlpha,stepAlpha)  %#ok<INUSL> eventData
  stepIdx = hTimer.TasksExecuted;
  newAlpha = currentAlpha + stepAlpha*stepIdx;
  if stepIdx == hTimer.TasksToExecute
end  % timerFcn

Of course, you can also fade-in/out to intermediate values such as 0.3 or 0.8. If you fade-out completely (i.e., to a value of 0.0), it might be a good idea to actually close the figure window once it gets the totally-transparent value of 0.0.

I’ve prepared a Matlab utility that contains all these options, including optional blocking/non-blocking fade effects, in my setFigTransparency utility, which is available for download on the Matlab File Exchange. You may also wish to use Malcolm Lidierth’s MUtilities, which also has similar functionalities (plus some other goodies).


Setting a figure window’s transparency requires using Java Run-time Engine (JRE) 1.6.0_10 (also called “Java 6 update 10”) or higher. This means that it’s supported on Matlab release 7.9 (R2009b) and higher by default, and on earlier releases using a JRE retrofit.

If you are using an earlier Matlab release, consider a retrofit of JRE 1.6.0_10 or any later version (e.g., the latest available version today is 1.6 update 24). The JRE can be downloaded from here, and you can configure Matlab to use it according to the instructions here. As noted, Matlab R2009b (7.9) and onward, at least on Microsoft Windows, pre-bundle a JRE version that does support transparency/opacity and so do not require a retrofit.

You can check your current Java version in Matlab as follows:

>> version -java
ans =
Java 1.6.0_17-b04 with Sun Microsystems Inc. Java HotSpot(TM) Client VM mixed mode

Unfortunately, Matlab plot axes cannot be made transparent. If you have any axes in your GUI, the axes area will simply appear as a shaded axes, whose intensity depends on the selected alpha (transparency) value; the contents beneath the window will not be merged in the axes area as it is in the non-axes areas.

Finally, note that com.sun.awt.AWTUtilities is itself an undocumented Java class. It is bundled with the standard Java release since 2008 (1.6.0_10), and yet is not part of the official release because its API has not yet settled. In fact, in the upcoming Java 7 release, which is expected in a few months, and which I expect to be available in Matlab sometime in 2012, the set of transparency/opacity methods have migrated to the fully-documented java.awt.Window class.

Blurred figure window

So here’s a riddle for you: using figure window transparency, can you guess how to make a Matlab figure appear blurred for disabled figures (see the screenshot there)? There are several possible ways to do this – can you find the simplest? The first one to post a comment with a correct answer gets a smiley… My answer will appear in next week’s article.

Upgraded website

Also, did you notice my new website design? It’s supposed to be much more readable (yes – also on Android…). It now also runs on a multi-server cloud, which means more stability and faster response times. Do you like the new design? hate it? I would love to hear your feedback via comment or email.

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