Getting Started With Optimization in MATLAB

August 23, 2021

Optimization refers to combining inputs to achieve the optimum output subject to satisfying certain specified constraints and conditions. It involves choosing the best among given data using given criteria or combining the inputs to obtain the optimal working condition.

It is a mathematical discipline that works to get the maxima and minima. Thus, optimization forms a part of linear programming.

Optimization problems generally maximize or minimize a real function. They do this by systematically choosing input values from within an allowed set and computing the value of the function.


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Optimization problems of all sorts occur in all quantitative disciplines such as computer science, engineering, and economics. Hence, it is an essential tool used in everyday life, with its impact felt by billions of people daily.

This article will look at the basics of optimization and how to apply them in Matlab. We will also look at its application in various fields.

An optimization problem is defined by df(x)/dx=0. Finding the minimum point in a curve can be done using a while loop.

For example, given a function y(x)= 2x^2+20x-22, you can find it’s minimum point using a while loop as shown below:

x = -20: 0.1: 20;                  %x values
y = 2.*x.^2 + 20.*x - 22;          % the function
plot(x,y)                          %plotting the output


Here, we plot the equation using the plot function as shown above. Then use the while loop to iterate over all the data points in the curve. The point at which the current value is larger than the previous value is identified as the curve’s minimum.

Once done, the output is printed using the fprintf function. This printed output is the minimum point of our function.

i = 1;                    %initializing i to 1.
while (y(i) > y(i + 1))    % when the initial i is greater than i+1
    i = i + 1;             % The new value of i

x (i);                        % x position of i
y(i)                          % y position of i
fprintf('the minimum of the curve is %d and %d\n', x(i), y(i))

plotted function

Obtained results

The while loop method is used in simple mathematical functions. For complex equations, we use Matlab in-built functions. The in-built functions used in optimization in Matlab are as follows:

  • fminbnd() - is for finding the minimum of single-varied functions on a fixed interval. Single-varied functions are functions with one variable.
  • fminsearch()- This function is similar to fminbnd() except that it handles functions with more than one variable.

Let us apply the fminbnd function in the mathematical equation we used in the while loop method earlier. To get more information about the in-built function, type help fminbnd in the command window.

Matlab displays the details about it in the command window. But, first create a script where you define your functions.

Note that the function name and the script’s name should be the same.

function f = mysimplefunc(x)

f = 2.*x.^2 + 20.*x - 22;

In this case, mysimplefunc is the name of the defined function in the script. It means that the name of our script should be mysimplefunc.m. f is the function variable. In this script, you define how you are the finding the minimum point.

Now create another script to define the variable and call the mysimplefunc function here. The code in this script should be as follows:

x = -20:0.1:20;       % The x values

f = mysimplefunc(x);   % The values of f mysimplefunc.m function we created.


The code above plots the function; with the f values used as the y-axis. Use the fminbnd function to obtain the minimum point.

xmin = fminbnd(@mysimplefunc, -20, 20);

ymin = mysimplefunc(xmin);

When using the fmibnd function, give it the inputs, @mysimplefunc and the range of x-axis minimum and maximum values respectively.

After obtaining the minimum point in the x-axis, Matlab gets the minimum y by referring to the x minimum value.

We ask Matlab to display the results using the disp function:


Matlab gets a similar result as that obtained when using the while loop method. So again, the equation that we are finding its minimum point is similar for both methods.

Example 2

Now let’s introduce a more complex equation and find its lowest point.

In this example, f(x)=x^3-4x is the function. The first step is plotting this function and then finding its lowest point.

Now, use the fminbnd function to see how it applies in these complex equations.

Create a script function mysimplefunc.m to define the mathematical equation.

The script function code is shown below:

function f = mysimplefunc(x)

f = x.^3 - 4*x;

Create another script and call the mysimplefunc function; which contains our mathematical equation in this new script.

Plot the mathematical function and obtain Its minimum point as follows:

x = -3:0.1:3;

f = mysimplefunc(x);


xmin = fminbnd(@mysimplefunc, -3, 3);

ymin = mysimplefunc(xmin);


After running the code, the result should be as follows:

plot of the function

minimum point

Rosenbrock’s banana function

It is a function that is a famous test case for optimization software.

Given a function f(x,y) = (1-x)^2 + 100(y-x^2)^2 (Rosenbrock’s banana function), we first plot this function and then find its minimum point. In this case, we have two variables in our function, i.e. x and y.

You cannot use the previous fminbnd function, but instead, use the fminsearch function to obtain this.

Note that the fminbnd function can only handle one variable while fminsearch can take more than one variable. The first step is always plotting your function. For the Rosenbrock's banana function, plot the surf and mesh plots of it.


[x,y] = meshgrid(-2:0.1:2, -1:0.1:3);

f = (1-x).^2 + 100.*(y-x.^2).^2;  % our defined function

surf(x,y,f) %use surf function to plot the surf of the function

mesh(x,y,f)   %use mesh function to plot the surf of the function

surf(x,y,f)    %use surf function to plot the surf of the function, but in this case, color the plotting
shading interp;
colormap (hot);     %used to color the plot

plot of the banana function

Use the fminsearch function to find the minimum of the given mathematical function.

Once done, create a function script to define the function:

function f = bananafunc(x)

f = (1-x(1)).^2 + 100.*(x(2)-x(1).^2).^2;

In the previous example, x and y were the variables, but we use vectors instead for this case. This is why we replace x with the first value of x, which is x(1) and x(2) for y.

Now execute the fminsearch in the command window to find this point. The code will be as shown below:

[x, fval] = fminsearch(@bananafunc, [-1.2; 1])  %fval is the f function values.

Note that you first run your function script before executing the above command in the command window.

minimum point of banana function

In our result, x has two values. The first value is the x value, and the second is the y value. fval is the z value.


Optimization is an essential tool in the science and engineering section. It is applicable in a wide area such as model-based design, machine learning, and data analysis.

Matlab is an excellent language for optimization. As we see above, the in-built functions make it so easy to carry out this optimization.

Moreover, the code is easy to understand and use. This makes it a suitable tool for working out this problem.

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Peer Review Contributions by: Lalithnarayan C