Matlab – Read and write from/to a binary file in Matlab


My knowledge of matlab is merely on a need to know basis, so this is probably an elementary question. Nevertheless here it comes:

I have got a file containing data (16-bit integers) stored in binary format. How do I read it into a vector /an array in matlab? How do I write this data to a file in matlab? Is there any smart tweak to increase the performance speed when reading/writing a huge amount of data (gigabytes)?

Best Solution

As Bill the Lizard wrote you can use fread to load the data into a vector. I just want to expand a little on his answer.

Reading Data

>> fid=fopen('data.bin','rb') % opens the file for reading
>> A = fread(fid, count, 'int16') % reads _count_ elements and stores them in A.

The commands fopen and fread default to Little-endian[1] encoding for the integers. If your file is Big-endian encoded you will need to change the fread to

>> A = fread(fid, count, 'int16', 'ieee-be');

Also, if you want to read the whole file set

>> count=inf;

and if you want to read the data into matrix with n columns use

>> count=[n inf];

Writing Data

As for witting the data to a file. The command, fwrite, in Bill's answer will write to a binary file. If you want to write the data to a text file you can use dlmwrite

>> dlmwrite('data.csv',A,',');




  1. The machine format (IE, ieee-be, ieee-le, vaxd etc.) of the binary data can be specified in either the fopen or the fread commands in Matlab. Details of the supported machine format can be found in Matlab's documentation of fopen.

  2. Scott French's comment to Bill's answer suggests reading the data into an int16 variable. To do this use

    >> A = int16(fread(fid,count,precision,machineFormat));

    where count is the size/shape of the data to be read, precision is the data format, and machineformat is the encoding of each byte.

  3. See commands fseek to move around the file. For example,

    >> fseek(fid,0,'bof');

    will rewind the file to the beginning where bof stands for beginning of file.