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Exposing MATLAB data with JFrame & JTextArea

without comments

Today, I’ll describe my first foray into MATLAB. My task is simple — there’s already a GUI developed as a toolbox. The user inputs a bunch of data, and it crunches it away and provides a graph and displays a dialogue box about the moments of the data. The issue here is that we’d like to know more about the data — particularly, we’d like to retrieve the ordered pairs corresponding to each of the plotted points in the graph.

In this exercise, I’ll show you how to use JFrame & JTextArea to display the coordinates of a graph in an already existing MATLAB GUI toolbox or plugin.

The reason why I’ve decided on this approach rather than outputting directly to the MATLAB console is because I eventually want to add additional functions to reshape and reformat the text, and also to save the text that appears in its own window using additional Java swing components. But that’s a story for another day.

The Quick How-To … ( 3 steps )

Choose the toolbox or plugin you’d like to modify and open up its “.m” file. This is where you’ll want to add your custom code. There are three parts to this exercise — first, we need to get a few classes from Java; then, we need to store the data we want to display; finally, we make the display appear.

In this example, I’ll import the bare minimal amount of Java classes — you can extend this functionality by adding more swing classes if you like. I’ve arbitrarily prefixed my Java variables above with the prefix “expose”.

import javax.swing.JFrame;
import javax.swing.JTextArea;
import javax.swing.JScrollPane; // Scrollbars -- optional.
exposeReport = JFrame('Data Report');
exposeTa = JTextArea(24, 80);
exposeScroll = JScrollPane(exposeTa);
exposePane = exposeReport.getContentPane();

I’m not exactly sure why MATLAB doesn’t include scrollbars automatically.

Of the above, there are only two variables which we’ll need to refer to again later — “exposeReport” and “exposePane”.

The next step is to use your JTextArea as an output terminal. Just append strings to it as the graph is being built — you’ll have to look at your specific plugin to figure out the logic behind the graph — in general, you’ll be looking for a for-loop and a function that alters the graph.

// Look for a 'for' loop with a line that adds data to the graph.
// Here, I've used the variable SomeX for a point's x-coordinate,
// and SomeY for a point's y-coordinate.
exposeTa.append(sprintf('%d\t%d\n', SomeX, SomeY));

The loop spins around and incrementally adds all of the points. Note that I’ve used “%d” as a conversion to numbers expressed in base-ten (including floating point values). This is different from the conversion character in C where “%d” indicates only integers.

We add the final code after the loop exits. This next code makes your data report window visible — just as you’d expect from Java.


I opted to put this line after the code that reveals the toolbox’s original summary window — this causes my report to appear on top.

That’s all there is to it! Enjoy 😀

MATLAB from a CS student perspective

MATLAB has always been a bit of an oddball language for me. It’s dynamically typed but also exposes Java’s classes if you ask nicely. It’s C-looking and provides functions that the C-programmer would be happy accepting such as strcat and sprintf, but again — putting on the dynamic spin by returning the constructed string rather than modifying the contents of a buffer. All in all, the design choices do a good job of making MATLAB do what it’s intended to do; it gives scientists and engineers a way to succinctly express math to a machine without having to take too many computer science courses.

Eddie Ma

July 11th, 2011 at 1:18 am