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IDL Basics


IDL (Interactive Data Language) is a general-purpose scientific computing package which supports data manipulation, curve-fitting, triangulation, gridding, matrix manipulation, statistics, image processing and solution of systems of equations. Supported means of graphical display of data include graphing, surface plotting, contouring, volume visualization and animation. IDL uses a command-driven/programming-like interface and displays graphics using X Windows. Data input and output is simple. Graphics output can be sent to a number of devices, including: X, CGM, HP-GL, PostScript, Mac display and Microsoft Windows.
Highlights: IDL is a mature packaged evolved through years of use by scientists. Runs under X Windows. If users are at all comfortable with programming, they will be able to perform calculations and produce graphics without many of the ‘irrelevant’ aspects of programming. Graphic output quality is pretty good and the annotation capabilities are better than some other packages.

Availability and Setup

IDL (Interactive Data Language) version 8.2.2 is available on the Shared Computing Cluster (SCC).

Set things up so that you can run IDL as an X application on the SCC and have it display to your local machine/terminal.

Then, to run IDL on the SCC, type:

    scc1% idl

A graphical IDL development environment is also available on the SCC and can be accessed by typing:

    scc1% idlde

Using IDL

At the IDL prompt you can type commands like:

    IDL> orig = sin((findgen(200)/35)^2.5)
    IDL> plot,orig
    IDL> exit

or run an interactive demo program

    IDL> demo

Additional Help/Documentation

On-line help from within IDL: type a question mark (?) at the IDL prompt. This will open a window, providing access to all the online manuals that come with IDL. (Note that the command HELP exists but only gives information on the current IDL session and not on the commands). You can also visit the IDL Tutorial WWW Page, for an online version of an SCV IDL Tutorial.

Online documentation is also available by typing idlhelp from the command line. Version 6.4 pdf documenation is also available here. Older hardcopy IDL documentation is available in the Computer Graphics Lab (Room 203, 111 Cummington Mall). For additional information on IDL on the WWW, visit the IDL home page. This website may also be helpful: Coyote’s Guide to IDL Programming.

There are SCV-written examples which go with the SCV IDL tutorial mentioned above.

Document Name: idl
Author/Maintainer: Aaron D. Fuegi ( and Wayne Gilmore (
Executable: /usr/local/bin/idl
Keywords: idl, data, analysis, visualization, language
Machines List: SCC
Related Help Pages: IDL Tutorial, IDL Examples
Created May 22, 1995; Last Revised August 6, 2009; Last Modified August 11, 2009
URL of this document:
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