3 Managing Data Frames with the
3.1 Data Frames
The data frame is a key data structure in statistics and in R. The basic structure of a data frame is that there is one observation per row and each column represents a variable, a measure, feature, or characteristic of that observation. R has an internal implementation of data frames that is likely the one you will use most often. However, there are packages on CRAN that implement data frames via things like relational databases that allow you to operate on very very large data frames (but we won’t discuss them here).
Given the importance of managing data frames, it’s important that we have good tools for dealing with them. R obviously has some built-in tools like the
subset() function and the use of
$ operators to extract subsets of data frames. However, other operations, like filtering, re-ordering, and collapsing, can often be tedious operations in R whose syntax is not very intuitive. The
dplyr package is designed to mitigate a lot of these problems and to provide a highly optimized set of routines specifically for dealing with data frames.
dplyr package was developed by Hadley Wickham of RStudio and is an optimized and distilled version of his
plyr package. The
dplyr package does not provide any “new” functionality to R per se, in the sense that everything
dplyr does could already be done with base R, but it greatly simplifies existing functionality in R.
One important contribution of the
dplyr package is that it provides a “grammar” (in particular, verbs) for data manipulation and for operating on data frames. With this grammar, you can sensibly communicate what it is that you are doing to a data frame that other people can understand (assuming they also know the grammar). This is useful because it provides an abstraction for data manipulation that previously did not exist. Another useful contribution is that the
dplyr functions are very fast, as many key operations are coded in C++.
Some of the key “verbs” provided by the
dplyr package are
select: return a subset of the columns of a data frame, using a flexible notation
filter: extract a subset of rows from a data frame based on logical conditions
arrange: reorder rows of a data frame
rename: rename variables in a data frame
mutate: add new variables/columns or transform existing variables
summarize: generate summary statistics of different variables in the data frame, possibly within strata
%>%: the “pipe” operator is used to connect multiple verb actions together into a pipeline
dplyr package as a number of its own data types that it takes advantage of. For example, there is a handy
dplyr Function Properties
All of the functions that we will discuss in this Chapter will have a few common characteristics. In particular,
The first argument is a data frame.
The subsequent arguments describe what to do with the data frame specified in the first argument, and you can refer to columns in the data frame directly without using the $ operator (just use the column names).
The return result of a function is a new data frame
Data frames must be properly formatted and annotated for this to all be useful. In particular, the data must be tidy. In short, there should be one observation per row, and each column should represent a feature or characteristic of that observation.
3.4 Installing the
dplyr package can be installed from CRAN or from GitHub using the
devtools package and the
install_github() function. The GitHub repository will usually contain the latest updates to the package and the development version.
To install from CRAN, just run
To install from GitHub you can run
After installing the package it is important that you load it into your R session with the
You may get some warnings when the package is loaded because there are functions in the
dplyr package that have the same name as functions in other packages. For now you can ignore the warnings.
NOTE: If you ever run into a problem where R is getting confused over which function you mean to call, you can specify the full name of a function using the
:: operator. The full name is simply the package name from which the function is defined followed by
:: and then the function name. For example, the
filter function from the
dplyr package has the full name
dplyr::filter. Calling functions with their full name will resolve any confusion over which function was meant to be called.
For the examples in this chapter we will be using a dataset containing air pollution and temperature data for the city of Chicago in the U.S. The dataset is available from my web site.
After unzipping the archive, you can load the data into R using the
You can see some basic characteristics of the dataset with the
> dim(chicago)  6940 8 > str(chicago) 'data.frame': 6940 obs. of 8 variables: $ city : chr "chic" "chic" "chic" "chic" ... $ tmpd : num 31.5 33 33 29 32 40 34.5 29 26.5 32.5 ... $ dptp : num 31.5 29.9 27.4 28.6 28.9 ... $ date : Date, format: "1987-01-01" "1987-01-02" ... $ pm25tmean2: num NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA ... $ pm10tmean2: num 34 NA 34.2 47 NA ... $ o3tmean2 : num 4.25 3.3 3.33 4.38 4.75 ... $ no2tmean2 : num 20 23.2 23.8 30.4 30.3 ...
select() function can be used to select columns of a data frame that you want to focus on. Often you’ll have a large data frame containing “all” of the data, but any given analysis might only use a subset of variables or observations. The
select() function allows you to get the few columns you might need.
Suppose we wanted to take the first 3 columns only. There are a few ways to do this. We could for example use numerical indices. But we can also use the names directly.
Note that the
: normally cannot be used with names or strings, but inside the
select() function you can use it to specify a range of variable names.
You can also omit variables using the
select() function by using the negative sign. With
select() you can do
which indicates that we should include every variable except the variables
The equivalent code in base R would be
Not super intuitive, right?
select() function also allows a special syntax that allows you to specify variable names based on patterns. So, for example, if you wanted to keep every variable that ends with a “2”, we could do
Or if we wanted to keep every variable that starts with a “d”, we could do
You can also use more general regular expressions if necessary. See the help page (
?select) for more details.
filter() function is used to extract subsets of rows from a data frame. This function is similar to the existing
subset() function in R but is quite a bit faster in my experience.
Suppose we wanted to extract the rows of the
chicago data frame where the levels of PM2.5 are greater than 30 (which is a reasonably high level), we could do
> chic.f <- filter(chicago, pm25tmean2 > 30) > str(chic.f) 'data.frame': 194 obs. of 8 variables: $ city : chr "chic" "chic" "chic" "chic" ... $ tmpd : num 23 28 55 59 57 57 75 61 73 78 ... $ dptp : num 21.9 25.8 51.3 53.7 52 56 65.8 59 60.3 67.1 ... $ date : Date, format: "1998-01-17" "1998-01-23" ... $ pm25tmean2: num 38.1 34 39.4 35.4 33.3 ... $ pm10tmean2: num 32.5 38.7 34 28.5 35 ... $ o3tmean2 : num 3.18 1.75 10.79 14.3 20.66 ... $ no2tmean2 : num 25.3 29.4 25.3 31.4 26.8 ...
You can see that there are now only 194 rows in the data frame and the distribution of the
pm25tmean2 values is.
We can place an arbitrarily complex logical sequence inside of
filter(), so we could for example extract the rows where PM2.5 is greater than 30 and temperature is greater than 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
> chic.f <- filter(chicago, pm25tmean2 > 30 & tmpd > 80) > select(chic.f, date, tmpd, pm25tmean2) date tmpd pm25tmean2 1 1998-08-23 81 39.60000 2 1998-09-06 81 31.50000 3 2001-07-20 82 32.30000 4 2001-08-01 84 43.70000 5 2001-08-08 85 38.83750 6 2001-08-09 84 38.20000 7 2002-06-20 82 33.00000 8 2002-06-23 82 42.50000 9 2002-07-08 81 33.10000 10 2002-07-18 82 38.85000 11 2003-06-25 82 33.90000 12 2003-07-04 84 32.90000 13 2005-06-24 86 31.85714 14 2005-06-27 82 51.53750 15 2005-06-28 85 31.20000 16 2005-07-17 84 32.70000 17 2005-08-03 84 37.90000
Now there are only 17 observations where both of those conditions are met.
arrange() function is used to reorder rows of a data frame according to one of the variables/columns. Reordering rows of a data frame (while preserving corresponding order
of other columns) is normally a pain to do in R. The
arrange() function simplifies the process quite a bit.
Here we can order the rows of the data frame by date, so that the first row is the earliest (oldest) observation and the last row is the latest (most recent) observation.
We can now check the first few rows
and the last few rows.
Columns can be arranged in descending order too by useing the special
Looking at the first three and last three rows shows the dates in descending order.
Renaming a variable in a data frame in R is surprisingly hard to do! The
rename() function is designed to make this process easier.
Here you can see the names of the first five variables in the
chicago data frame.
dptp column is supposed to represent the dew point temperature and the
pm25tmean2 column provides the PM2.5 data. However, these names are pretty obscure or awkward and probably be renamed to something more sensible.
The syntax inside the
rename() function is to have the new name on the left-hand side of the
= sign and the old name on the right-hand side.
I leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure how you do this in base R without
mutate() function exists to compute transformations of variables in a data frame. Often, you want to create new variables that are derived from existing variables and
mutate() provides a clean interface for doing that.
For example, with air pollution data, we often want to detrend the data by subtracting the mean from the data. That way we can look at whether a given day’s air pollution level is higher than or less than average (as opposed to looking at its absolute level).
Here we create a
pm25detrend variable that subtracts the mean from the
> chicago <- mutate(chicago, pm25detrend = pm25 - mean(pm25, na.rm = TRUE)) > head(chicago) city tmpd dewpoint date pm25 pm10tmean2 o3tmean2 no2tmean2 1 chic 35 30.1 2005-12-31 15.00000 23.5 2.531250 13.25000 2 chic 36 31.0 2005-12-30 15.05714 19.2 3.034420 22.80556 3 chic 35 29.4 2005-12-29 7.45000 23.5 6.794837 19.97222 4 chic 37 34.5 2005-12-28 17.75000 27.5 3.260417 19.28563 5 chic 40 33.6 2005-12-27 23.56000 27.0 4.468750 23.50000 6 chic 35 29.6 2005-12-26 8.40000 8.5 14.041667 16.81944 pm25detrend 1 -1.230958 2 -1.173815 3 -8.780958 4 1.519042 5 7.329042 6 -7.830958
There is also the related
transmute() function, which does the same thing as
mutate() but then drops all non-transformed variables.
Here we detrend the PM10 and ozone (O3) variables.
> head(transmute(chicago, + pm10detrend = pm10tmean2 - mean(pm10tmean2, na.rm = TRUE), + o3detrend = o3tmean2 - mean(o3tmean2, na.rm = TRUE))) pm10detrend o3detrend 1 -10.395206 -16.904263 2 -14.695206 -16.401093 3 -10.395206 -12.640676 4 -6.395206 -16.175096 5 -6.895206 -14.966763 6 -25.395206 -5.393846
Note that there are only two columns in the transmuted data frame.
group_by() function is used to generate summary statistics from the data frame within strata defined by a variable. For example, in this air pollution dataset, you might want to know what the average annual level of PM2.5 is. So the stratum is the year, and that is something we can derive from the
date variable. In conjunction with the
group_by() function we often use the
summarize() function (or
summarise() for some parts of the world).
The general operation here is a combination of splitting a data frame into separate pieces defined by a variable or group of variables (
group_by()), and then applying a summary function across those subsets (
First, we can create a
year varible using
Now we can create a separate data frame that splits the original data frame by year.
Finally, we compute summary statistics for each year in the data frame with the
> summarize(years, pm25 = mean(pm25, na.rm = TRUE), + o3 = max(o3tmean2, na.rm = TRUE), + no2 = median(no2tmean2, na.rm = TRUE)) # A tibble: 19 x 4 year pm25 o3 no2 * <dbl> <dbl> <dbl> <dbl> 1 1987 NaN 63.0 23.5 2 1988 NaN 61.7 24.5 3 1989 NaN 59.7 26.1 4 1990 NaN 52.2 22.6 5 1991 NaN 63.1 21.4 6 1992 NaN 50.8 24.8 7 1993 NaN 44.3 25.8 8 1994 NaN 52.2 28.5 9 1995 NaN 66.6 27.3 10 1996 NaN 58.4 26.4 11 1997 NaN 56.5 25.5 12 1998 18.3 50.7 24.6 13 1999 18.5 57.5 24.7 14 2000 16.9 55.8 23.5 15 2001 16.9 51.8 25.1 16 2002 15.3 54.9 22.7 17 2003 15.2 56.2 24.6 18 2004 14.6 44.5 23.4 19 2005 16.2 58.8 22.6
summarize() returns a data frame with
year as the first column, and then the annual averages of
In a slightly more complicated example, we might want to know what are the average levels of ozone (
o3) and nitrogen dioxide (
no2) within quintiles of
pm25. A slicker way to do this would be through a regression model, but we can actually do this quickly with
First, we can create a categorical variable of
pm25 divided into quintiles.
Now we can group the data frame by the
Finally, we can compute the mean of
no2 within quintiles of
From the table, it seems there isn’t a strong relationship between
o3, but there appears to be a positive correlation between
no2. More sophisticated statistical modeling can help to provide precise answers to these questions, but a simple application of
dplyr functions can often get you most of the way there.
The pipeline operater
%>% is very handy for stringing together multiple
dplyr functions in a sequence of operations. Notice above that every time we wanted to apply more than one function, the sequence gets buried in a sequence of nested function calls that is difficult to read, i.e.
This nesting is not a natural way to think about a sequence of operations. The
%>% operator allows you to string operations in a left-to-right fashion, i.e.
Take the example that we just did in the last section where we computed the mean of
no2 within quintiles of
pm25. There we had to
- create a new variable
- split the data frame by that new variable
- compute the mean of
no2in the sub-groups defined by
That can be done with the following sequence in a single R expression.
> mutate(chicago, pm25.quint = cut(pm25, qq)) %>% + group_by(pm25.quint) %>% + summarize(o3 = mean(o3tmean2, na.rm = TRUE), + no2 = mean(no2tmean2, na.rm = TRUE)) # A tibble: 6 x 3 pm25.quint o3 no2 * <fct> <dbl> <dbl> 1 (1.7,8.7] 21.7 18.0 2 (8.7,12.4] 20.4 22.1 3 (12.4,16.7] 20.7 24.4 4 (16.7,22.6] 19.9 27.3 5 (22.6,61.5] 20.3 29.6 6 <NA> 18.8 25.8
This way we don’t have to create a set of temporary variables along the way or create a massive nested sequence of function calls.
Notice in the above code that I pass the
chicago data frame to the first call to
mutate(), but then afterwards I do not have to pass the first argument to
summarize(). Once you travel down the pipeline with
%>%, the first argument is taken to be the output of the previous element in the pipeline.
Another example might be computing the average pollutant level by month. This could be useful to see if there are any seasonal trends in the data.
> mutate(chicago, month = as.POSIXlt(date)$mon + 1) %>% + group_by(month) %>% + summarize(pm25 = mean(pm25, na.rm = TRUE), + o3 = max(o3tmean2, na.rm = TRUE), + no2 = median(no2tmean2, na.rm = TRUE)) # A tibble: 12 x 4 month pm25 o3 no2 * <dbl> <dbl> <dbl> <dbl> 1 1 17.8 28.2 25.4 2 2 20.4 37.4 26.8 3 3 17.4 39.0 26.8 4 4 13.9 47.9 25.0 5 5 14.1 52.8 24.2 6 6 15.9 66.6 25.0 7 7 16.6 59.5 22.4 8 8 16.9 54.0 23.0 9 9 15.9 57.5 24.5 10 10 14.2 47.1 24.2 11 11 15.2 29.5 23.6 12 12 17.5 27.7 24.5
Here we can see that
o3 tends to be low in the winter months and high in the summer while
no2 is higher in the winter and lower in the summer.
dplyr package provides a concise set of operations for managing data frames. With these functions we can do a number of complex operations in just a few lines of code. In particular, we can often conduct the beginnings of an exploratory analysis with the powerful combination of
Once you learn the
dplyr grammar there are a few additional benefits
dplyrcan work with other data frame “backends” such as SQL databases. There is an SQL interface for relational databases via the DBI package
dplyrcan be integrated with the
data.tablepackage for large fast tables
dplyr package is handy way to both simplify and speed up your data frame management code. It’s rare that you get such a combination at the same time!