What Is Cell Data Type in MATLAB?


Heather Bennett

The cell data type in MATLAB is a versatile container that can hold different types of data, including numbers, characters, and even other variables. It is an essential feature of MATLAB that allows you to store and manipulate heterogeneous data structures efficiently. In this tutorial, we will explore the cell data type in detail and understand how it can be used effectively in MATLAB programming.

Creating a Cell Array

To create a cell array in MATLAB, you can use the curly braces { }. Inside these braces, you can include any combination of data types or variables separated by commas. Let’s look at an example:

cellArray = {'apple', 42, [1 2 3], true};

In the above example, we have created a cell array named cellArray that contains four elements: a string ‘apple’, a numeric value 42, a vector [1 2 3], and a logical value true. Notice how each element is enclosed within single quotes (for strings) or square brackets (for vectors).

Accessing Cell Array Elements

You can access individual elements of a cell array using indexing. The indexing for cell arrays starts from 1.

To access an element, simply specify the index inside curly braces after the variable name. For example:

element = cellArray{2};

In this case, the variable element will store the value at index 2 of the cellArray, which is the number 42.

Manipulating Cell Arrays

The cell data type provides several built-in functions for manipulating and operating on cell arrays. Let’s explore some commonly used functions:


The cellfun function allows you to apply a specific function or operation to each element of a cell array. This can be useful when you want to perform the same operation on multiple elements. Here’s an example:

result = cellfun(@length, cellArray);

In this case, the @length is a function handle that calculates the length of each element in the cellArray. The resulting values will be stored in the result variable.


The cell2mat function converts a cell array into a matrix or an array of the same data type. This can be useful when you want to perform matrix operations on the data stored in a cell array. For example:

matrix = cell2mat(cellArray);

In this case, the variable matrix will store the values from the cellArray as an array.

Nested Cell Arrays

The flexibility of MATLAB’s cell data type allows you to create nested cell arrays, where each element itself can be another cell array. This feature is particularly useful for organizing and managing complex data structures. Here’s an example:

nestedCellArray = {1, {'apple', 'banana'}, [true false]};

In this case, we have created a nested cell array named nestedCellArray. The second element of this array itself is another cell array containing two strings ‘apple’ and ‘banana’.


In this tutorial, we have explored the cell data type in MATLAB and learned how it can be used to store and manipulate heterogeneous data structures. We have seen how to create a cell array, access its elements, and perform various operations on it using built-in functions.

The ability to create nested cell arrays provides an additional level of flexibility and organization in managing complex data. With these techniques, you can efficiently handle and process diverse types of data in your MATLAB programs.

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