Variables in MEL
General Rules -- Defining variables -- Strings -- Vectors -- Arrays -- Matrices -- Scope -- Global/Local

General Rules

  • always preceded with a "$" symbol ( "$myVar" )
  • no white spaces allowed
  • can not start with a number ( "$2" )
  • a variable's type cannot be redefined once it is created, until the maya session is ended.

Defining variables

automatic assignment
You can declare a variable using the above rules and simply give it a value, as in the example below. Maya will look at the value and automatically determine the data type of the variable.

$myVar = 3.14;      // this variable will be a float from now on.
$myVar2 = 3;         // this will be an integer

Once a variable is assigned, you need to treat it accordingly. Otherwise you may get undesired results:

$myVar2 = 3 + 3.14     // the result will be "6" since the variable is an integer as it was defined above.

In some cases you may be getting the value as a return result from another mel command. You will probably then want to do some operation to that returned result, so it's a good idea to already know the datatype in order to know what you can do with it.

Use the data type keyword to declare the variable:

int $myInteger;
float $myFloat;
string $myString;
vector $myVector;

If you do as above, each variable will inherit a default "zero" value.

$myInteger = 0
$myFloat = 0.0
$myString = ""
$myVector = <<0,0,0>>

You may want to set the inititial value at the time you declare the variable:

int $myInteger = 3;
float $myFloat = 3.14;
string $myString = "hello";
vector $myVector = <<0,0,0>>;


string $myString = "hello world" ;

concatenate using "+"

string $myString = "hello";
$myString = ( $myString + " and goodbye" ) ;

// $myString now equals "hello and goodbye"

use the "\" to denote special characters:

\t = tab
\n = new line
\r = carriage return
\\ = backslash
\" = a quote character you want in the actual string

A common special characer is the new line, often concatenated to a variable for printing out messages from your script:

print ($myString + "\n") ;


vector $myVector = << 12, 3, 5 >> ;

Always a set of three floats.
Use "<<" and ">>" when defining

vector $myVector = <<12, 3, 5>> ;

You can get the value of any one component of the vector:

vector $myVector = <<12, 3, 5>> ;
float $myX = $newVector.x ;

// $myX now equals "12"

You cannot set the value of one component in the same way, however:

vector $myVector = <<12, 3, 5>> ;
$myVector.x = 52 ;    // this will not work and Maya will give you an error message

Set the value of one or more components of a vector like this:

vector $myVector = <<12, 3, 5>> ;
$myVector = << 52, $myVector.y, $myVector.z >>;

// $myVector now equals "<< 52, 3, 5 >>"



float $floatArray[] = {3.14, 5.0, 32.3, 56.43} ;

Arrays are a list of variables, all of the same type, so you define an array with a data type keyword:

float $floatArray[];
string $stringArray[];
float $floatArray[] = {3.14, 5.0, 32.3, 56.43};
string $stringArray[] = {"sphere", "cube", "torus"};

Assign values to single elements of an array (only after the array has been defined):

float $floatArray[] = {3.14, 5.0, 32.3, 56.43};
$floatArray[0] = 1.55 ;

// this changes the first element of the array, "3.14", to "1.55"

A common usage of arrays in mel is when you need to determine what is selected:

$selectionList[] = `ls -sl`;

// note the type of array is not defined here, but it could be, in either case the result will be strings

Or to get the transform node name of a newly created object:

$newObj[] = `sphere`;
select $newObj[0];

// this retrieves the first element of the array (which is the transform node, while the second element is the shape node)

Append to an array of a unknown size using the "size" command:

$array[ size[$array] ] = 1.55 ;

Clear the contents of an array:




matrix $myMatrix[2] [4] ;

A matrix is a two-dimensional array, with any number of rows and columns:

matrix $myMatrix[2] [4] ;
// this defines a matrix with two rows and four columns

Initialize the values in a matrix:

matrix $myMatrix[2] [4] = << 3,4,6,7 ; 3,9,0,1 >>;

Visualize it like a spreadsheet layout:



SCOPE of a variable:

A local variable only exists within a procedure or a statement block within braces.

int $myVar = 5;

for ($i = 1; $i <= 10; $i++) {
      $myVar = $i;

{ float $myVar = 3.14; }

print ( $myVar + "\n" );

// the result is "10" from the "for" loop. Since the "float $myVar = 3.14" statement was
// enclosed in braces, the value of 3.14 is not printed, as well as being able to declare
// $myVar as a float!



Once a variable is declared as global, it can exist and be addressed between different scripts and procedures.

global int $myVar = 5;

You can remind yourself a variable is global with consistent naming conventions. A common practice is to use a leading lower case 'g'.

global int $gMyVar = 5;

To refer to the variable elsewhere, you need to include the "global" keyword:

global int $gMyVar;

// if the variable was initialized previously, it will not be initialized again

then you can simply refer to "$gMyVar" in the rest of the procedure, block, or script.