2 min read

merge on factor column

library("forcats")
library("data.table")
library("magrittr")

I recently started working with factors in R and found the forcats package amazing. However, I did not found much documentation on merging two data frames on a factor column so I made small examples and observed the behavior.

same levels, different order

In abc order: natural if converting from already ordered character.

dt_abc <- data.table(size = as_factor(c("big", "medium", "tiny")))
levels(dt_abc$size)
## [1] "big"    "medium" "tiny"

We can define the natural order:

dt_lg <- data.table(size = fct_reorder(as_factor(c("big", "medium", "tiny")), c(3, 2, 1)))
levels(dt_lg$size)
## [1] "tiny"   "medium" "big"
merge(dt_abc, dt_lg, by = "size") %T>%
{print(levels(.$size))}
## [1] "big"    "medium" "tiny"
##      size
## 1:    big
## 2: medium
## 3:   tiny
merge(dt_lg, dt_abc, by = "size") %T>%
    {print(levels(.$size))}
## [1] "tiny"   "medium" "big"
##      size
## 1:   tiny
## 2: medium
## 3:    big

From this it seems that with merge the left table has precedence.

different levels

dt_abc <- data.table(size = as_factor(c("big", "medium", "small", "tiny")))
dt_lg <- data.table(size = fct_reorder(as_factor(c("big", "medium", "tiny")), c(3, 2, 1)))
merge(dt_abc, dt_lg, by = "size", all = TRUE) %T>%
    {print(levels(.$size))}
## [1] "big"    "medium" "small"  "tiny"
##      size
## 1:    big
## 2: medium
## 3:  small
## 4:   tiny
merge(dt_lg, dt_abc, by = "size", all = TRUE) %T>%
    {print(levels(.$size))}
## [1] "tiny"   "medium" "big"    "small"
##      size
## 1:   tiny
## 2: medium
## 3:    big
## 4:  small

In this case the levels of the factors in the two table are concatenated: first left then right.

merge factor with character

dt_chr <- data.table(size = c("big", "medium", "tiny"))
dt_fct <- data.table(size = fct_reorder(as_factor(c("big", "medium", "tiny")), c(3, 2, 1)))
merge(dt_fct, dt_chr, by = "size") %T>%
    {print(levels(.$size))}
## NULL
##      size
## 1:    big
## 2: medium
## 3:   tiny
merge(dt_chr, dt_fct, by = "size") %T>%
    {print(levels(.$size))}
## [1] "big"    "medium" "tiny"
##      size
## 1:    big
## 2: medium
## 3:   tiny

From this it seems that in this case the right side of the join has precedence.