4 R Nuts and Bolts
4.1 Entering Input
At the R prompt we type expressions. The
<- symbol is the assignment
The grammar of the language determines whether an expression is complete or not.
The # character indicates a comment. Anything to the right of the # (including the # itself) is ignored. This is the only comment character in R. Unlike some other languages, R does not support multi-line comments or comment blocks.
When a complete expression is entered at the prompt, it is evaluated and the result of the evaluated expression is returned. The result may be auto-printed.
 shown in the output indicates that
x is a vector and
is its first element.
Typically with interactive work, we do not explicitly print objects
When an R vector is printed you will notice that an index for the
vector is printed in square brackets
 on the side. For example,
see this integer sequence of length 20.
The numbers in the square brackets are not part of the vector itself, they are merely part of the printed output.
With R, it’s important that one understand that there is a difference between the actual R object and the manner in which that R object is printed to the console. Often, the printed output may have additional bells and whistles to make the output more friendly to the users. However, these bells and whistles are not inherently part of the object.
Note that the
: operator is used to create integer sequences.
4.3 R Objects
R has five basic or “atomic” classes of objects:
numeric (real numbers)
The most basic type of R object is a vector. Empty vectors can be
created with the
vector() function. There is really only one rule
about vectors in R, which is that A vector can only contain objects
of the same class.
But of course, like any good rule, there is an exception, which is a list, which we will get to a bit later. A list is represented as a vector but can contain objects of different classes. Indeed, that’s usually why we use them.
There is also a class for “raw” objects, but they are not commonly used directly in data analysis and I won’t cover them here.
Numbers in R are generally treated as numeric objects (i.e. double precision real numbers). This means that even if you see a number like “1” or “2” in R, which you might think of as integers, they are likely represented behind the scenes as numeric objects (so something like “1.00” or “2.00”). This isn’t important most of the time…except when it is.
If you explicitly want an integer, you need to specify the
suffix. So entering
1 in R gives you a numeric object; entering
explicitly gives you an integer object.
There is also a special number
Inf which represents infinity. This
allows us to represent entities like
1 / 0. This way,
Inf can be
used in ordinary calculations; e.g.
1 / Inf is 0.
NaN represents an undefined value (“not a number”); e.g. 0
NaN can also be thought of as a missing value (more on that
R objects can have attributes, which are like metadata for the object. These metadata can be very useful in that they help to describe the object. For example, column names on a data frame help to tell us what data are contained in each of the columns. Some examples of R object attributes are
dimensions (e.g. matrices, arrays)
class (e.g. integer, numeric)
other user-defined attributes/metadata
Attributes of an object (if any) can be accessed using the
attributes() function. Not all R objects contain attributes, in
which case the
attributes() function returns
4.6 Creating Vectors
c() function can be used to create vectors of objects by
concatenating things together.
Note that in the above example,
F are short-hand ways to
FALSE. However, in general one should try to use
FALSE values when indicating logical
F values are primarily there for when you’re
You can also use the
vector() function to initialize vectors.
4.7 Mixing Objects
There are occasions when different classes of R objects get mixed together. Sometimes this happens by accident but it can also happen on purpose. So what happens with the following code?
In each case above, we are mixing objects of two different classes in a vector. But remember that the only rule about vectors says this is not allowed. When different objects are mixed in a vector, coercion occurs so that every element in the vector is of the same class.
In the example above, we see the effect of implicit coercion. What R tries to do is find a way to represent all of the objects in the vector in a reasonable fashion. Sometimes this does exactly what you want and…sometimes not. For example, combining a numeric object with a character object will create a character vector, because numbers can usually be easily represented as strings.
4.8 Explicit Coercion
Objects can be explicitly coerced from one class to another using the
as.* functions, if available.
Sometimes, R can’t figure out how to coerce an object and this can
NAs being produced.
When nonsensical coercion takes place, you will usually get a warning from R.
Matrices are vectors with a dimension attribute. The dimension attribute is itself an integer vector of length 2 (number of rows, number of columns)
Matrices are constructed column-wise, so entries can be thought of starting in the “upper left” corner and running down the columns.
Matrices can also be created directly from vectors by adding a dimension attribute.
Matrices can be created by column-binding or row-binding with the
Lists are a special type of vector that can contain elements of different classes. Lists are a very important data type in R and you should get to know them well. Lists, in combination with the various “apply” functions discussed later, make for a powerful combination.
Lists can be explicitly created using the
list() function, which
takes an arbitrary number of arguments.
We can also create an empty list of a prespecified length with the
Factors are used to represent categorical data and can be unordered or
ordered. One can think of a factor as an integer vector where each
integer has a label. Factors are important in statistical modeling
and are treated specially by modelling functions like
Using factors with labels is better than using integers because factors are self-describing. Having a variable that has values “Male” and “Female” is better than a variable that has values 1 and 2.
Factor objects can be created with the
Often factors will be automatically created for you when you read a
dataset in using a function like
read.table(). Those functions often
default to creating factors when they encounter data that look like
characters or strings.
The order of the levels of a factor can be set using the
factor(). This can be important in linear modelling
because the first level is used as the baseline level.
4.12 Missing Values
Missing values are denoted by
NaN for q undefined
is.na()is used to test objects if they are
is.nan()is used to test for
NAvalues have a class also, so there are integer
NaNvalue is also
NAbut the converse is not true
4.13 Data Frames
Data frames are used to store tabular data in R. They are an important type of object in R and are used in a variety of statistical modeling applications. Hadley Wickham’s package dplyr has an optimized set of functions designed to work efficiently with data frames.
Data frames are represented as a special type of list where every element of the list has to have the same length. Each element of the list can be thought of as a column and the length of each element of the list is the number of rows.
Unlike matrices, data frames can store different classes of objects in each column. Matrices must have every element be the same class (e.g. all integers or all numeric).
In addition to column names, indicating the names of the variables or
predictors, data frames have a special attribute called
which indicate information about each row of the data frame.
Data frames are usually created by reading in a dataset using the
read.csv(). However, data frames can also be
created explicitly with the
data.frame() function or they can be
coerced from other types of objects like lists.
Data frames can be converted to a matrix by calling
data.matrix(). While it might seem that the
should be used to coerce a data frame to a matrix, almost always, what
you want is the result of
R objects can have names, which is very useful for writing readable code and self-describing objects. Here is an example of assigning names to an integer vector.
Lists can also have names, which is often very useful.
Matrices can have both column and row names.
Column names and row names can be set separately using the
Note that for data frames, there is a separate function for setting
the row names, the
row.names() function. Also, data frames do not
have column names, they just have names (like lists). So to set the
column names of a data frame just use the
names() function. Yes, I
know its confusing. Here’s a quick summary:
|Object||Set column names||Set row names|
There are a variety of different builtin-data types in R. In this chapter we have reviewed the following
atomic classes: numeric, logical, character, integer, complex
data frames and matrices
All R objects can have attributes that help to describe what is in the object. Perhaps the most useful attribute is names, such as column and row names in a data frame, or simply names in a vector or list. Attributes like dimensions are also important as they can modify the behavior of objects, like turning a vector into a matrix.