Tips for Matlab on GNU/Linux

(Last modified: 2020-04-05)

This post was intended as a note to myself, but I put it online in the hope it can be useful to others. Feel free to report any error, or to share your tips and tricks.

I don’t really like Matlab, especially because it’s a closed-source proprietary software. However, as most researchers in my field use it to implement their algorithms, I often have to use it. And it doesn’t always work well with GNU/Linux, so here is a list of issues I had and how they were solved. I use Matlab on Linux Mint 19, but this should work for any Debian-based distribution, such as Ubuntu.

Package matlab-support

The package called matlab-support1 is a must-have. It configures existing Matlab installations to integrate smoothly in your GNU/Linux environment, and behave like any other package. In short:

  • It creates menu shortcuts for the installed versions of Matlab.
  • It solves the conflicts between the libraries shipped with Matlab and some GNU/Linux libraries.
  • It is used by other packages, for example to compile MEX files.

To install it, open a terminal and type apt update && apt install matlab-support. A configuration menu should appear, where you have to tell the location of Matlab on your disk.

If you want to change something, or if you install a new version of Matlab, update the package configuration with the command dpkg-reconfigure matlab-support.

Crash at startup

I experienced crashes at startup (that is, Matlab crashes a moment after I open it) for different reasons. Here, I present the solutions that worked for me.

You don’t have rights on the config folder of Matlab

Just change the rights of the folder. Open a terminal, and type sudo chmod -R 755 ~/.matlab.

Some libraries are not linked properly

If libraries appear to be missing to Matlab, they may be installed but not visible. To solve this, open a terminal, and type sudo ln -s /usr/local/MATLAB/R2019b/extern/include/mex.h /usr/include/

This is an example with the mex.h library, but you can replace it by the libraries your Matlab installation is missing.

The startup folder doesn’t work

You defined a startup folder in Matlab’s preferences, or configured it to open the last working folder, and it didn’t work?

Try to open the launcher file (usually, /usr/share/applications/matlab.desktop) and add -useStartupFolderPref at the end of the line Exec. It worked for me!

Matlab and emacs

If you use emacs to work with Matlab code files, the package matlab-mode is way nicer than the default mode. You can install it via the usual list-packages.

You can configure emacs to automatically open .m files in this mode by adding the following line to your .emacs:
(add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.m\\'" . matlab-mode))

  1. Links for Debian, Ubuntu, and Mint ↩︎

Nicolas Nadisic
Postdoc Researcher