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Indexed Reference

How Indexed Reference Works

Object indexed references are in three forms — parentheses, braces, and dot-name:


Each of these statements results in a call by MATLAB® to the subsref of class A, or a call to the built-in subsref function if the class of A does not implement a subsref method.

MATLAB passes two arguments to subsref and requires subsref to return the result of the indexed reference:

B = subsref(A,S)

The first argument is the object being referenced, A. The second argument, S, is a substruct with two fields:

  • S.type is a char vector containing '()', '{}', or '.' specifying the indexing type used.

  • S.subs is a cell array or char vector containing the actual index or name. A colon used as an index is passed in the cell array as the colon character ':'. Ranges specified using a colon (e.g., 2:5) are expanded to 2 3 4 5.

For example, the expression:


Causes MATLAB to call subsref(A,S), where S is a 1-by-1 structure with a two-element cell array. The cell array contains the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and the colon character :.

S.type = '()'
S.subs = {1:4,':'} 

Returning the contents of each cell of S.subs gives the index values for the first dimension and a char vector ':' for the second dimension:

ans =

     1     2     3     4

ans =


The default subsref returns all array elements in rows 1 through 4 and all the columns in the array.

Similarly, this expression:


Uses a cell array containing the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4.

S.type ='{}'
S.subs = {1:4} 

The default subsref returns the contents of all cell array elements in rows 1 through 4 and all the columns in the array.

This expression:


Calls subsref(A,S), where the struct S has these values:

S.type = '.'
S.subs = 'Name'

Compound Indexed References

These simple calls are combined for more complicated indexing expressions. In such cases, length(S) is the number of indexing levels. For example,


calls subsref(A,S), where S is a 3-by-1 array of structs with the values:

S(1).type = '()'    S(2).type = '.'              S(3).type = '()'
S(1).subs = {1,2}   S(2).subs = 'PropertyName'   S(3).subs = {1:4}

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