Where were we? Giving some love to base-R and putting together the idea that it is possible to write R very clearly when using base. Two sets of typical issues:
Subsetting rows and columns
When running analyses we often want to work on a subset of all cases (rows) or variables (columns). People are used to
filter() (for rows) and
select() (for columns) in the
tidyverse but then search how to do that in base and get ugly responses. For example, if we had a number of trials in a data frame called
all_trials and we wanted to keep only a single one located in Christchurch we could try using sort of matrix notation, keeping the rows that meet the criterion, and all variables, as we don’t specify criteria for them:
my_trial <– all_trials[all_trials$location == "Christchurch", ] # better, by using with(). More below my_trial <- with(all_trials, all_trials[location == "Christchurch", ])
You could have been tempted to use
all_trials[location == "Christchurch", ] by itself, but R wouldn't have known to look for location inside
all_trials. Much clearer, though, would have been to use the
subset() function from base R, which does the job of both
select() in the tidyverse. It works like this:
subset(data_frame, conditions_for_rows, select = conditions_for_columns) # we keep all columns, as we aren't using select my_trial <– subset(all_trials, location == "Christchurch")
It is way clearer and pipe ready, as the first argument is the data frame name!
This code can easily be expanded to more complex conditions; for example to include all trees from Christchurch and (
&)that are also taller than 10 m:
my_trial <– subset(all_trials, location == "Christchurch" & height > 10)
The dataset contains multiple variables but we only want to keep, say, location, block, height and diameter:
my_trial <– subset(all_trials, location == "Christchurch" & height > 10, select = c(location, block, height, diameter))
with() and pipes
Another one. In the tidyverse functions are designed to receive the name of the data frame as the first argument, as in
some_function(data = ..., other arguments). Most of the time in base R data is not the first argument and, in some cases, the functions do not take
data = ... as an argument. The first case is not a problems, unless we want to use the base pipe
|>. The second leads to either going for
$ notation or, god helps us, using
attach() to make our variables global. Note: never do this.
Argh! What to do? Here is where
with() comes to life, being very useful for these two problematic cases. In essence,
with(data_frame, function) is saying "look for the function arguments in the specified data_frame".
For example, this blog post gives a lengthy comparison of the
|> pipes but, in my opinion, it complicates things a lot because is missing the use of
with(). The post starts "When I am feeling lazy, I use base R for quick plots
As a start, if I were feeling lazy I would've used
plot(mpg ~ hp, mtcars), highlighting that the
plot function already takes the
data argument. In fact, I'm using it as
plot(formula, data). If I needed data in the first place I could have simply used with(), which defaults to a data frame as the first argument:
mtcars |> with(plot(mpg ~ hp)) # This is simply calling with(mtcars, plot(mpg ~ hp))
Instead, the author chooses to use anonymous (lambda) functions, which do have their place in R, but ends up with nasty looking code:
mtcars |> (\(x) plot(x$mpg ~ x$hp))() # vs mtcars |> with(plot(mpg ~ hp)) # or even mtcars |> with(plot(hp, mpg))
I'm partial to using a formula in plot because I can easily visualise the underlying model in my head.
mean() for example, don't take a data frame argument. Again,
with() is your friend.
# This produces an error mtcars |> mean(mpg) # while this one works mtcars |> with(mean(mpg))
within() (used in part 1) and
with() will make your base code mucho moar readable (pun intended) and pipe ready.
7 responses to “Some love for Base R. Part 2”
And when webR upgrades to 4.2.0, then we get the base pipe AND _ as placeholder.
https://davidbudzynski.github.io/general/2022/04/23/r-native-placeholder.html (Note: I’ve updated your link, as it was pointing to the wrong place Thanks for the information! Luis)
What do you think about poorman packages?
I’ve never used it; however, I’m trying to write code without any other external package dependency (including
Using attach()/detach() commands instead of with() | within() are proper alternatives?
Not really. Using
attach()/detach()is considered risky (loading lots of variables in the main space) and prone to mistakes, particularly when dealing with more than one dataset. I stopped teaching it ~15 years ago.
[…] the reminders of base-R functionality covered in “Some love for Base R” Part 1 and Part 2. So I will keep on mentioning a few bits and pieces that you may find handy when going back to Base […]