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Documentation / Mathematica / Add-ons & Links / Working with Add-ons /

Using Add-ons

Loading An Add-on

In order to use the functions defined in an add-on, you must first load the add-on package into Mathematica. If you do not load the add-on first, you will generate multiple conflicting definitions for the same function (see Shadowing Conflicts). To load an add-on, you need to know its name and the directory in which it is located. All the standard packages that come with Mathematica are located in several subdirectories inside the AddOns/StandardPackages directory. Other add-ons should be located in either the Applications or Autoload subdirectories of $BaseDirectory or $UserBaseDirectory. See Installing New Add-Ons for more information about these installation locations.

For example, the add-on ContourPlot3D.m is located inside the Graphics directory in StandardPackages. To load ContourPlot3D.m, use the command Needs.


The two backquotes in the above command should not be confused with the single quote character. The backquote character can be found on the same key as the ~ character on most keyboards.

In the above command, it was not necessary to specify the StandardPackages directory because it is on Mathematica's search path. You can get a list of directories on this search path at any time by evaluating $Path. For more information about and $Path, see The Mathematica Book: Section 1.11.2 and Section 2.12.4.


Now that ContourPlot3D.m is loaded, its context appears on the search path, and we can use ContourPlot3D as we would use any built-in Mathematica function.


The command Needs will load the specified add-on only if it has not already been loaded during a session. You can also use the Get command, which is represented by <<. This command will also load the ContourPlot3D.m add-on.


The << command always loads the specified add-on, even if has already been loaded during a session. You should be careful not to load the same add-on twice during a session since this may cause problems using the add-on. You can check what add-ons you have loaded at any time by evaluating $Packages.



Shadowing Conflicts

Shadowing conflicts between function names are created when you try to use an add-on function without first loading the corresponding package. For example, you might try to fill in the area between two curves by using FilledPlot.



However, FilledPlot is not a built-in function, and so Mathematica does not recognize it. Instead, it creates an empty symbol within the Global` context called FilledPlot. If you now load the package FilledPlot.m, the generated error message will inform you that FilledPlot is "shadowed" by its Global` context definition, since Mathematica starts from the Global` context and moves to other contexts only if a definition does not exist in the Global`context.


To fix this problem, use the command Remove in order to clear empty definitions from the Global` context.


Now Mathematica finds the correct definition and FilledPlot behaves as expected.



Add-ons can be installed in either the Applications or Autoload subdirectories of $BaseDirectory or $UserBaseDirectory. Add-ons installed in the Autoload subdirectory are automatically loaded when the front end and kernel are started (see Autoloaded Add-ons). Add-ons installed in the Applications subdirectory can be loaded manually when needed (see Using Add-ons).