Main Content

Capturing Mouse Clicks

Properties That Control Response to Mouse Clicks

There are two properties that determine if and how objects respond to mouse clicks:

  • PickableParts — Determines if an object captures mouse clicks

  • HitTest — Determines if the object can respond to the mouse click it captures or passes the click to its closest ancestor.

Objects pass the click through the object hierarchy until reaching an object that can respond.

Programming a Response to a Mouse Click

When an object captures and responds to a mouse click, the object:

  • Executes its button down function in response to a mouse left-click — If the object defines a callback for the ButtonDownFcn property, MATLAB® executes this callback.

  • Displays context menu in response to a mouse right-click — If the object defined a context menu using the ContextMenu property, MATLAB invokes this context menu.


Figures do not have a PickableParts property. Figures execute button callback functions regardless of the setting of their HitTest property.


If the axes PickableParts property is set to 'none', the axes children cannot capture mouse clicks. In this case, all mouse clicks are captured by the figure.

Combinations of PickablePart/HitTest Values

Use the PickableParts and HitTest properties to implement the following behaviors:

  • Clicked object captures mouse click and responds with button down callback or context menu.

  • Clicked object captures mouse click and passes the mouse click to one of its ancestors, which can respond with button down callback or context menu.

  • Clicked object does not capture mouse click. Mouse click can be captured by objects behind the clicked object.

This table summarizes the response to a mouse click based on property values.

Axes PickablePartsPickablePartsHitTestResult of Mouse Click


visible (default)

on (default)

Clicking visible parts of object executes button down callback or invokes context menu




Clicking any part of the object, even if not visible, makes object current and executes button down callback or invokes context menu




Clicking the object never makes it the current object and can never execute button down callback or invoke context menu




Clicking any axes child objects never executes button down callback or invokes context menu

MATLAB searches ancestors using the Parent property of each object until finding a suitable ancestor or reaching the figure.

Passing Mouse Click Up the Hierarchy

Consider the following hierarchy of objects and their PickableParts and HitTest property settings.

This code creates the hierarchy:

function pickHit
f = figure;
ax = axes;
p = patch(rand(1,3),rand(1,3),'g');
l = line([1 0],[0 1]);

Click the Line

Left-click the line:

  • The line becomes the current object, but cannot execute its ButtonDownFcn callback because its HitTest property is off.

  • The line passes the hit to the closest ancestor (the parent axes), but the axes cannot execute its ButtonDownFcn callback, so the axes passes the hit to the figure.

  • The figure can execute its callback, so MATLAB displays figure in the Command Window.

Click the Patch

The patch FaceColor is none. However, the patch PickableParts is all, so you can pick the patch by clicking the empty face and the edge.

The patch HitTest property is on so the patch can become the current object. When the patch becomes the current object, it executes its button down callback.