MATLAB Language Performance Issues when Passing Data Around User Interface


Two main techniques allow passing data between GUI functions and Callbacks: setappdata/getappdata and guidata (read more about it). The former should be used for larger variables as it is more time efficient. The following example tests the two methods' efficiency.

A GUI with a simple button is created and a large variable (10000x10000 double) is stored both with guidata and with setappdata. The button reloads and stores back the variable using the two methods while timing their execution. The running time and percentage improvement using setappdata are displayed in the command window.

function gui_passing_data_performance()
    % A basic GUI with a button to show performance difference between
    % guidata and setappdata

    %  Create a new figure.
    f = figure('Units' , 'normalized');

    % Retrieve the handles structure
    handles = guidata(f);

    % Store the figure handle
    handles.figure = f;

    handles.hbutton = uicontrol('Style','pushbutton','String','Calculate','units','normalized',...
               'Position',[0.4 , 0.45 , 0.2 , 0.1] , 'Callback' , @ButtonPress);

    % Create an uninteresting large array
    data = zeros(10000);

    % Store it in appdata
    setappdata(handles.figure , 'data' , data);

    % Store it in handles = data;

    % Save handles
    guidata(f, handles);

function  ButtonPress(hObject, eventdata)

    % Calculate the time difference when using guidata and appdata
    t_handles = timeit(@use_handles);
    t_appdata = timeit(@use_appdata);

    % Absolute and percentage difference
    t_diff = t_handles - t_appdata;
    t_perc = round(t_diff / t_handles * 100);

    disp(['Difference: ' num2str(t_diff) ' ms / ' num2str(t_perc) ' %'])

function  use_appdata()  

    % Retrieve the data from appdata
    data = getappdata(gcf , 'data');

    % Do something with data %

    % Store the value again
    setappdata(gcf , 'data' , data);

function use_handles()

    % Retrieve the data from handles
    handles = guidata(gcf);
    data =;

    % Do something with data %

    % Store it back in the handles = data;
    guidata(gcf, handles);

On my Xeon W3530@2.80 GHz I get Difference: 0.00018957 ms / 73 %, thus using getappdata/setappdata I get a performance improvement of 73%! Note that the result does not change if a 10x10 double variable is used, however, result will change if handles contains many fields with large data.