In my data frame I assign values to the column Register by checking another column (Source) for specific values. Based on those values, the output in Register changes.

I am relatively new to R, but I have some coding knowledge. The following code contains lines that are all so similar that I can't help but wonder if it can't be done way simpler with a condition. In JavaScript, for instance, I'd do this with a case-function. I do not know, however, if something similar is possible in R.

d$Register <- "Banana placeholder"
d$Register[grep(".*/comp-a/.*", d$Source, perl=TRUE)] <- "a: spont-conv"
d$Register[grep(".*/comp-b/.*", d$Source, perl=TRUE)] <- "b: interv-ler-nl"
d$Register[grep(".*/comp-(c|d)/.*", d$Source, perl=TRUE)] <- "c/d: telefoon"
d$Register[grep(".*/comp-e/.*", d$Source, perl=TRUE)] <- "e: onderhandeling"
d$Register[grep(".*/comp-f/.*", d$Source, perl=TRUE)] <- "f: interv-radio-tv"
d$Register[grep(".*/comp-g/.*", d$Source, perl=TRUE)] <- "g: debat"
d$Register[grep(".*/comp-h/.*", d$Source, perl=TRUE)] <- "h: les"
d$Register[grep(".*/comp-i/.*", d$Source, perl=TRUE)] <- "i: spont-comm-radio-tv"
d$Register[grep(".*/comp-j/.*", d$Source, perl=TRUE)] <- "j: reportage-radio-tv"
d$Register[grep(".*/comp-k/.*", d$Source, perl=TRUE)] <- "k: nieuws-radio-tv"
d$Register[grep(".*/comp-l/.*", d$Source, perl=TRUE)] <- "l: comm-radio-tv"
d$Register[grep(".*/comp-m/.*", d$Source, perl=TRUE)] <- "m: misviering"
d$Register[grep(".*/comp-n/.*", d$Source, perl=TRUE)] <- "n: college"
d$Register[grep(".*/comp-o/.*", d$Source, perl=TRUE)] <- "o: voorgelezen"

2 Answers 2


It would be better to make a list of the parameters, and then use a loop to perform the assignments. That will reduce the duplication of logic, for example in the long grep(...).

params <- list(
  c("/comp-a/", "a: spont-conv"),
  c("/comp-b/", "b: interv-ler-nl"),
  c("/comp-(c|d)/", "c/d: telefoon"),
  c("/comp-e/", "e: onderhandeling"),
  c("/comp-f/", "f: interv-radio-tv"),
  c("/comp-g/", "g: debat"),
  c("/comp-h/", "h: les"),
  c("/comp-i/", "i: spont-comm-radio-tv"),
  c("/comp-j/", "j: reportage-radio-tv"),
  c("/comp-k/", "k: nieuws-radio-tv"),
  c("/comp-l/", "l: comm-radio-tv"),
  c("/comp-m/", "m: misviering"),
  c("/comp-n/", "n: college"),
  c("/comp-o/", "o: voorgelezen")

placeholder <- "PLACEHOLDER"
d$Register <- placeholder

for (i in 1:length(params)) {
  pattern.i <- params[[i]][1]
  label.i <- params[[i]][2]
  d$Register[grep(pattern.i, d$Source)] <- label.i

if (nrow(d[d$Register == placeholder]) > 0) stop('Register is not assigned in some rows')

Some other minor improvements:

  • Simplified the regular expressions: pattern will match the same things as .*pattern.*
  • No need for the perl = T parameter in grep
  • \$\begingroup\$ So, if I'm correct, your solution is more resource-friendly (and possibly faster) because it only once has to do a specific operation? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not really. It's not more resource friendly, and not any faster. But it's still better, because it doesn't have duplicated logic. Btw I just noticed a few more possible improvements, see my updated post \$\endgroup\$
    – janos
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 20:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ At first I got an error: Error in $<-.data.frame(*tmp*, "Register", value = c("a: spont-conv", : replacement has 7159 rows, data has 7373, but after assigning a placeholder value to register before running the command it works. E.g. d$Register <- "none". \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 9:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, you still need the placeholder to create the column. I omitted it earlier for brevity. I added it now, with a validation at the end to warn for data where a value was not assigned. \$\endgroup\$
    – janos
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 9:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Ah, and now I also know how to throw an error in R! Thanks again! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 10:06

This is more or less a code review. I am also learning R. There are some parts which you do "by hand", such as dealing with the duplication of topics ("c/d: telefoon"), but I coded a solution where everything is automated. Note however that it makes for a lot more code and you should probably stick to your original method, or @janos's, especially if you only have to build such a table once. But I am posting my solution here nonetheless since you might find something useful.

InvertListMapping <- function(list) {
  # Inverts the mapping relationship of a list: 
  # e.g. { 1 -> "a", 2 -> "a", 3 -> "b" } becomes { "a" -> c(1, 2), "b" -> 3} 
  inverted <- list()
      lapply(names(list), function (key) {
            value <- toString(list[[key]])
            inverted[[value]] <<- c(inverted[[value]], key)

ExtractAbbr <- function(groupname) {
  # Extract the source abbreviation: e.g. from "asdf/comp-b/asd" it extracts "b".
  res <- regexpr("/comp-(?<abbr>\\S+)/", groupname, perl=T)
  start <- attr(res, "capture.start")
  if (start < 1)
    stop(paste("Failed to extract the abbreviated newsgroup from:", groupname))
  length <- attr(res, "capture.length")
  return (substr(groupname, start, start + length - 1))

ConvertAbbrsToLegend <- function(topic2abbrs) {
  # Generates the map (list) from a set of abbreviations to the corresponding legend;
  # e.g. { a -> "a: spont-conv", c -> "c/d: telefoon", etc.}.
  abbrs2legend <- list()
  lapply(names(topic2abbrs), function (topic) {
        abbrs <- topic2abbrs[[topic]]
        legend <- paste(paste(abbrs, collapse = "/"), ": ", topic, sep = "")
        lapply(abbrs, function (abbr) { abbrs2legend[[abbr]] <<- legend })

SourceToLegend <- function(sources, abbrs2legend) {
  # For each source string, it extracts the abbrevation and outputs
  # the corresponding legend.
  GetLegend <- function(source) {
    abbr <- ExtractAbbr(source)

# Example:

abbr2topic <- list()
abbr2topic$a <- "spont-conv"
abbr2topic$b <- "interv-ler-nl"
abbr2topic$c <- "telefoon"
abbr2topic$d <- "telefoon"
sources <- c("aadf/comp-a/af", "vwef/comp-c/wefw")

topic2abbrs <- InvertListMapping(abbr2topic)
abbrs2legend <- ConvertAbbrsToLegend(topic2abbrs)

legends <- SourceToLegend(sources, abbrs2legend)

print(legends)  # "a: spont-conv"  "c/d: telefoon"

It throws an exception if it fails at some point, but maybe you could change that to have some dummy output value when a source is not recognized.


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