with - r merge data frames by row names

How to join(merge) data frames(inner, outer, left, right)? (9)

Given two data frames:

df1 = data.frame(CustomerId = c(1:6), Product = c(rep("Toaster", 3), rep("Radio", 3)))
df2 = data.frame(CustomerId = c(2, 4, 6), State = c(rep("Alabama", 2), rep("Ohio", 1)))

#  CustomerId Product
#           1 Toaster
#           2 Toaster
#           3 Toaster
#           4   Radio
#           5   Radio
#           6   Radio

#  CustomerId   State
#           2 Alabama
#           4 Alabama
#           6    Ohio

How can I do database style, i.e., sql style, joins? That is, how do I get:

  • An inner join of df1 and df2:
    Return only the rows in which the left table have matching keys in the right table.
  • An outer join of df1 and df2:
    Returns all rows from both tables, join records from the left which have matching keys in the right table.
  • A left outer join (or simply left join) of df1 and df2
    Return all rows from the left table, and any rows with matching keys from the right table.
  • A right outer join of df1 and df2
    Return all rows from the right table, and any rows with matching keys from the left table.

Extra credit:

How can I do a SQL style select statement?

  1. Using merge function we can select the variable of left table or right table, same way like we all familiar with select statement in SQL (EX : Select a.* ...or Select b.* from .....)
  2. We have to add extra code which will subset from the newly joined table .

    • SQL :- select a.* from df1 a inner join df2 b on a.CustomerId=b.CustomerId

    • R :- merge(df1, df2, by.x = "CustomerId", by.y = "CustomerId")[,names(df1)]

Same way

  • SQL :- select b.* from df1 a inner join df2 b on a.CustomerId=b.CustomerId

  • R :- merge(df1, df2, by.x = "CustomerId", by.y = "CustomerId")[,names(df2)]

Update join. One other important SQL-style join is an "update join" where columns in one table are updated (or created) using another table.

Modifying the OP's example tables...

sales = data.frame(
  CustomerId = c(1, 1, 1, 3, 4, 6), 
  Year = 2000:2005,
  Product = c(rep("Toaster", 3), rep("Radio", 3))
cust = data.frame(
  CustomerId = c(1, 1, 4, 6), 
  Year = c(2001L, 2002L, 2002L, 2002L),
  State = state.name[1:4]

# CustomerId Year Product
#          1 2000 Toaster
#          1 2001 Toaster
#          1 2002 Toaster
#          3 2003   Radio
#          4 2004   Radio
#          6 2005   Radio

# CustomerId Year    State
#          1 2001  Alabama
#          1 2002   Alaska
#          4 2002  Arizona
#          6 2002 Arkansas

Suppose we want to add the customer's state from cust to the purchases table, sales, ignoring the year column. With base R, we can identify matching rows and then copy values over:

sales$State <- cust$State[ match(sales$CustomerId, cust$CustomerId) ]

# CustomerId Year Product    State
#          1 2000 Toaster  Alabama
#          1 2001 Toaster  Alabama
#          1 2002 Toaster  Alabama
#          3 2003   Radio     <NA>
#          4 2004   Radio  Arizona
#          6 2005   Radio Arkansas

# cleanup for the next example
sales$State <- NULL

As can be seen here, match selects the first matching row from the customer table.

Update join with multiple columns. The approach above works well when we are joining on only a single column and are satisfied with the first match. Suppose we want the year of measurement in the customer table to match the year of sale.

As @bgoldst's answer mentions, match with interaction might be an option for this case. More straightforwardly, one could use data.table:

setDT(sales); setDT(cust)

sales[, State := cust[sales, on=.(CustomerId, Year), x.State]]

#    CustomerId Year Product   State
# 1:          1 2000 Toaster    <NA>
# 2:          1 2001 Toaster Alabama
# 3:          1 2002 Toaster  Alaska
# 4:          3 2003   Radio    <NA>
# 5:          4 2004   Radio    <NA>
# 6:          6 2005   Radio    <NA>

# cleanup for next example
sales[, State := NULL]

Rolling update join. Alternately, we may want to take the last state the customer was found in:

sales[, State := cust[sales, on=.(CustomerId, Year), roll=TRUE, x.State]]

#    CustomerId Year Product    State
# 1:          1 2000 Toaster     <NA>
# 2:          1 2001 Toaster  Alabama
# 3:          1 2002 Toaster   Alaska
# 4:          3 2003   Radio     <NA>
# 5:          4 2004   Radio  Arizona
# 6:          6 2005   Radio Arkansas

The three examples above all focus on creating/adding a new column. See the related R FAQ for an example of updating/modifying an existing column.

For an inner join on all columns, you could also use fintersect from the data.table-package or intersect from the dplyr-package as an alternative to merge without specifying the by-columns. this will give the rows that are equal between two dataframes:

merge(df1, df2)
#   V1 V2
# 1  B  2
# 2  C  3
dplyr::intersect(df1, df2)
#   V1 V2
# 1  B  2
# 2  C  3
data.table::fintersect(setDT(df1), setDT(df2))
#    V1 V2
# 1:  B  2
# 2:  C  3

Example data:

df1 <- data.frame(V1 = LETTERS[1:4], V2 = 1:4)
df2 <- data.frame(V1 = LETTERS[2:3], V2 = 2:3)

For the case of a left join with a 0..*:0..1 cardinality or a right join with a 0..1:0..* cardinality it is possible to assign in-place the unilateral columns from the joiner (the 0..1 table) directly onto the joinee (the 0..* table), and thereby avoid the creation of an entirely new table of data. This requires matching the key columns from the joinee into the joiner and indexing+ordering the joiner's rows accordingly for the assignment.

If the key is a single column, then we can use a single call to match() to do the matching. This is the case I'll cover in this answer.

Here's an example based on the OP, except I've added an extra row to df2 with an id of 7 to test the case of a non-matching key in the joiner. This is effectively df1 left join df2:

df1 <- data.frame(CustomerId=1:6,Product=c(rep('Toaster',3L),rep('Radio',3L)));
df2 <- data.frame(CustomerId=c(2L,4L,6L,7L),State=c(rep('Alabama',2L),'Ohio','Texas'));
df1[names(df2)[-1L]] <- df2[match(df1[,1L],df2[,1L]),-1L];
##   CustomerId Product   State
## 1          1 Toaster    <NA>
## 2          2 Toaster Alabama
## 3          3 Toaster    <NA>
## 4          4   Radio Alabama
## 5          5   Radio    <NA>
## 6          6   Radio    Ohio

In the above I hard-coded an assumption that the key column is the first column of both input tables. I would argue that, in general, this is not an unreasonable assumption, since, if you have a data.frame with a key column, it would be strange if it had not been set up as the first column of the data.frame from the outset. And you can always reorder the columns to make it so. An advantageous consequence of this assumption is that the name of the key column does not have to be hard-coded, although I suppose it's just replacing one assumption with another. Concision is another advantage of integer indexing, as well as speed. In the benchmarks below I'll change the implementation to use string name indexing to match the competing implementations.

I think this is a particularly appropriate solution if you have several tables that you want to left join against a single large table. Repeatedly rebuilding the entire table for each merge would be unnecessary and inefficient.

On the other hand, if you need the joinee to remain unaltered through this operation for whatever reason, then this solution cannot be used, since it modifies the joinee directly. Although in that case you could simply make a copy and perform the in-place assignment(s) on the copy.

As a side note, I briefly looked into possible matching solutions for multicolumn keys. Unfortunately, the only matching solutions I found were:

  • inefficient concatenations. e.g. match(interaction(df1$a,df1$b),interaction(df2$a,df2$b)), or the same idea with paste().
  • inefficient cartesian conjunctions, e.g. outer(df1$a,df2$a,`==`) & outer(df1$b,df2$b,`==`).
  • base R merge() and equivalent package-based merge functions, which always allocate a new table to return the merged result, and thus are not suitable for an in-place assignment-based solution.

For example, see Matching multiple columns on different data frames and getting other column as result, match two columns with two other columns, Matching on multiple columns, and the dupe of this question where I originally came up with the in-place solution, Combine two data frames with different number of rows in R.


I decided to do my own benchmarking to see how the in-place assignment approach compares to the other solutions that have been offered in this question.

Testing code:


solSpecs <- list(
        inner=function(df1,df2,key) merge(df1,df2,key),
        left =function(df1,df2,key) merge(df1,df2,key,all.x=T),
        right=function(df1,df2,key) merge(df1,df2,key,all.y=T),
        full =function(df1,df2,key) merge(df1,df2,key,all=T)
        inner=function(dt1,dt2,key) dt1[dt2,on=key,nomatch=0L,allow.cartesian=T],
        left =function(dt1,dt2,key) dt2[dt1,on=key,allow.cartesian=T],
        right=function(dt1,dt2,key) dt1[dt2,on=key,allow.cartesian=T],
        full =function(dt1,dt2,key) merge(dt1,dt2,key,all=T,allow.cartesian=T) ## calls merge.data.table()
        inner=function(dt1,dt2) dt1[dt2,nomatch=0L,allow.cartesian=T],
        left =function(dt1,dt2) dt2[dt1,allow.cartesian=T],
        right=function(dt1,dt2) dt1[dt2,allow.cartesian=T],
        full =function(dt1,dt2) merge(dt1,dt2,all=T,allow.cartesian=T) ## calls merge.data.table()
    sqldf.unindexed=list(testFuncs=list( ## note: must pass connection=NULL to avoid running against the live DB connection, which would result in collisions with the residual tables from the last query upload
        inner=function(df1,df2,key) sqldf(paste0('select * from df1 inner join df2 using(',paste(collapse=',',key),')'),connection=NULL),
        left =function(df1,df2,key) sqldf(paste0('select * from df1 left join df2 using(',paste(collapse=',',key),')'),connection=NULL),
        right=function(df1,df2,key) sqldf(paste0('select * from df2 left join df1 using(',paste(collapse=',',key),')'),connection=NULL) ## can't do right join proper, not yet supported; inverted left join is equivalent
        ##full =function(df1,df2,key) sqldf(paste0('select * from df1 full join df2 using(',paste(collapse=',',key),')'),connection=NULL) ## can't do full join proper, not yet supported; possible to hack it with a union of left joins, but too unreasonable to include in testing
    sqldf.indexed=list(testFuncs=list( ## important: requires an active DB connection with preindexed main.df1 and main.df2 ready to go; arguments are actually ignored
        inner=function(df1,df2,key) sqldf(paste0('select * from main.df1 inner join main.df2 using(',paste(collapse=',',key),')')),
        left =function(df1,df2,key) sqldf(paste0('select * from main.df1 left join main.df2 using(',paste(collapse=',',key),')')),
        right=function(df1,df2,key) sqldf(paste0('select * from main.df2 left join main.df1 using(',paste(collapse=',',key),')')) ## can't do right join proper, not yet supported; inverted left join is equivalent
        ##full =function(df1,df2,key) sqldf(paste0('select * from main.df1 full join main.df2 using(',paste(collapse=',',key),')')) ## can't do full join proper, not yet supported; possible to hack it with a union of left joins, but too unreasonable to include in testing
        inner=function(df1,df2,key) join(df1,df2,key,'inner'),
        left =function(df1,df2,key) join(df1,df2,key,'left'),
        right=function(df1,df2,key) join(df1,df2,key,'right'),
        full =function(df1,df2,key) join(df1,df2,key,'full')
        inner=function(df1,df2,key) inner_join(df1,df2,key),
        left =function(df1,df2,key) left_join(df1,df2,key),
        right=function(df1,df2,key) right_join(df1,df2,key),
        full =function(df1,df2,key) full_join(df1,df2,key)
        left =function(df1,df2,key) { cns <- setdiff(names(df2),key); df1[cns] <- df2[match(df1[,key],df2[,key]),cns]; df1; },
        right=function(df1,df2,key) { cns <- setdiff(names(df1),key); df2[cns] <- df1[match(df2[,key],df1[,key]),cns]; df2; }

getSolTypes <- function() names(solSpecs);
getJoinTypes <- function() unique(unlist(lapply(solSpecs,function(x) names(x$testFuncs))));
getArgSpec <- function(argSpecs,key=NULL) if (is.null(key)) argSpecs$default else argSpecs[[key]];

initSqldf <- function() {
    sqldf(); ## creates sqlite connection on first run, cleans up and closes existing connection otherwise
    if (exists('sqldfInitFlag',envir=globalenv(),inherits=F) && sqldfInitFlag) { ## false only on first run
        sqldf(); ## creates a new connection
    } else {
        assign('sqldfInitFlag',T,envir=globalenv()); ## set to true for the one and only time
    }; ## end if
}; ## end initSqldf()

setUpBenchmarkCall <- function(argSpecs,joinType,solTypes=getSolTypes(),env=parent.frame()) {
    ## builds and returns a list of expressions suitable for passing to the list argument of microbenchmark(), and assigns variables to resolve symbol references in those expressions
    callExpressions <- list();
    nms <- character();
    for (solType in solTypes) {
        testFunc <- solSpecs[[solType]]$testFuncs[[joinType]];
        if (is.null(testFunc)) next; ## this join type is not defined for this solution type
        testFuncName <- paste0('tf.',solType);
        argSpecKey <- solSpecs[[solType]]$argSpec;
        argSpec <- getArgSpec(argSpecs,argSpecKey);
        argList <- setNames(nm=names(argSpec$args),vector('list',length(argSpec$args)));
        for (i in seq_along(argSpec$args)) {
            argName <- paste0('tfa.',argSpecKey,i);
            argList[[i]] <- if (i%in%argSpec$copySpec) call('copy',as.symbol(argName)) else as.symbol(argName);
        }; ## end for
        callExpressions[[length(callExpressions)+1L]] <- do.call(call,c(list(testFuncName),argList),quote=T);
        nms[length(nms)+1L] <- solType;
    }; ## end for
    names(callExpressions) <- nms;
}; ## end setUpBenchmarkCall()

harmonize <- function(res) {
    res <- as.data.frame(res); ## coerce to data.frame
    for (ci in which(sapply(res,is.factor))) res[[ci]] <- as.character(res[[ci]]); ## coerce factor columns to character
    for (ci in which(sapply(res,is.logical))) res[[ci]] <- as.integer(res[[ci]]); ## coerce logical columns to integer (works around sqldf quirk of munging logicals to integers)
    ##for (ci in which(sapply(res,inherits,'POSIXct'))) res[[ci]] <- as.double(res[[ci]]); ## coerce POSIXct columns to double (works around sqldf quirk of losing POSIXct class) ----- POSIXct doesn't work at all in sqldf.indexed
    res <- res[order(names(res))]; ## order columns
    res <- res[do.call(order,res),]; ## order rows
}; ## end harmonize()

checkIdentical <- function(argSpecs,solTypes=getSolTypes()) {
    for (joinType in getJoinTypes()) {
        callExpressions <- setUpBenchmarkCall(argSpecs,joinType,solTypes);
        if (length(callExpressions)<2L) next;
        ex <- harmonize(eval(callExpressions[[1L]]));
        for (i in seq(2L,len=length(callExpressions)-1L)) {
            y <- harmonize(eval(callExpressions[[i]]));
            if (!isTRUE(all.equal(ex,y,check.attributes=F))) {
                ex <<- ex;
                y <<- y;
                solType <- names(callExpressions)[i];
                stop(paste0('non-identical: ',solType,' ',joinType,'.'));
            }; ## end if
        }; ## end for
    }; ## end for
}; ## end checkIdentical()

testJoinType <- function(argSpecs,joinType,solTypes=getSolTypes(),metric=NULL,times=100L) {
    callExpressions <- setUpBenchmarkCall(argSpecs,joinType,solTypes);
    bm <- microbenchmark(list=callExpressions,times=times);
    if (is.null(metric)) return(bm);
    bm <- summary(bm);
    res <- setNames(nm=names(callExpressions),bm[[metric]]);
    attr(res,'unit') <- attr(bm,'unit');
}; ## end testJoinType()

testAllJoinTypes <- function(argSpecs,solTypes=getSolTypes(),metric=NULL,times=100L) {
    joinTypes <- getJoinTypes();
    resList <- setNames(nm=joinTypes,lapply(joinTypes,function(joinType) testJoinType(argSpecs,joinType,solTypes,metric,times)));
    if (is.null(metric)) return(resList);
    units <- unname(unlist(lapply(resList,attr,'unit')));
    res <- do.call(data.frame,c(list(join=joinTypes),setNames(nm=solTypes,rep(list(rep(NA_real_,length(joinTypes))),length(solTypes))),list(unit=units,stringsAsFactors=F)));
    for (i in seq_along(resList)) res[i,match(names(resList[[i]]),names(res))] <- resList[[i]];
}; ## end testAllJoinTypes()

testGrid <- function(makeArgSpecsFunc,sizes,overlaps,solTypes=getSolTypes(),joinTypes=getJoinTypes(),metric='median',times=100L) {

    res <- expand.grid(size=sizes,overlap=overlaps,joinType=joinTypes,stringsAsFactors=F);
    res[solTypes] <- NA_real_;
    res$unit <- NA_character_;
    for (ri in seq_len(nrow(res))) {

        size <- res$size[ri];
        overlap <- res$overlap[ri];
        joinType <- res$joinType[ri];

        argSpecs <- makeArgSpecsFunc(size,overlap);


        cur <- testJoinType(argSpecs,joinType,solTypes,metric,times);
        res[ri,match(names(cur),names(res))] <- cur;
        res$unit[ri] <- attr(cur,'unit');

    }; ## end for


}; ## end testGrid()

Here's a benchmark of the example based on the OP that I demonstrated earlier:

## OP's example, supplemented with a non-matching row in df2
argSpecs <- list(
        df1 <- data.frame(CustomerId=1:6,Product=c(rep('Toaster',3L),rep('Radio',3L))),
        df2 <- data.frame(CustomerId=c(2L,4L,6L,7L),State=c(rep('Alabama',2L),'Ohio','Texas')),
## prepare sqldf
sqldf('create index df1_key on df1(CustomerId);'); ## upload and create an sqlite index on df1
sqldf('create index df2_key on df2(CustomerId);'); ## upload and create an sqlite index on df2


##    join    merge data.table.unkeyed data.table.keyed sqldf.unindexed sqldf.indexed      plyr    dplyr in.place         unit
## 1 inner  644.259           861.9345          923.516        9157.752      1580.390  959.2250 270.9190       NA microseconds
## 2  left  713.539           888.0205          910.045        8820.334      1529.714  968.4195 270.9185 224.3045 microseconds
## 3 right 1221.804           909.1900          923.944        8930.668      1533.135 1063.7860 269.8495 218.1035 microseconds
## 4  full 1302.203          3107.5380         3184.729              NA            NA 1593.6475 270.7055       NA microseconds

Here I benchmark on random input data, trying different scales and different patterns of key overlap between the two input tables. This benchmark is still restricted to the case of a single-column integer key. As well, to ensure that the in-place solution would work for both left and right joins of the same tables, all random test data uses 0..1:0..1 cardinality. This is implemented by sampling without replacement the key column of the first data.frame when generating the key column of the second data.frame.

makeArgSpecs.singleIntegerKey.optionalOneToOne <- function(size,overlap) {

    com <- as.integer(size*overlap);

    argSpecs <- list(
            df1 <- data.frame(id=sample(size),y1=rnorm(size),y2=rnorm(size)),
            df2 <- data.frame(id=sample(c(if (com>0L) sample(df1$id,com) else integer(),seq(size+1L,len=size-com))),y3=rnorm(size),y4=rnorm(size)),
    ## prepare sqldf
    sqldf('create index df1_key on df1(id);'); ## upload and create an sqlite index on df1
    sqldf('create index df2_key on df2(id);'); ## upload and create an sqlite index on df2


}; ## end makeArgSpecs.singleIntegerKey.optionalOneToOne()

## cross of various input sizes and key overlaps
sizes <- c(1e1L,1e3L,1e6L);
overlaps <- c(0.99,0.5,0.01);
system.time({ res <- testGrid(makeArgSpecs.singleIntegerKey.optionalOneToOne,sizes,overlaps); });
##     user   system  elapsed
## 22024.65 12308.63 34493.19

I wrote some code to create log-log plots of the above results. I generated a separate plot for each overlap percentage. It's a little bit cluttered, but I like having all the solution types and join types represented in the same plot.

I used spline interpolation to show a smooth curve for each solution/join type combination, drawn with individual pch symbols. The join type is captured by the pch symbol, using a dot for inner, left and right angle brackets for left and right, and a diamond for full. The solution type is captured by the color as shown in the legend.

plotRes <- function(res,titleFunc,useFloor=F) {
    solTypes <- setdiff(names(res),c('size','overlap','joinType','unit')); ## derive from res
    normMult <- c(microseconds=1e-3,milliseconds=1); ## normalize to milliseconds
    joinTypes <- getJoinTypes();
    cols <- c(merge='purple',data.table.unkeyed='blue',data.table.keyed='#00DDDD',sqldf.unindexed='brown',sqldf.indexed='orange',plyr='red',dplyr='#00BB00',in.place='magenta');
    pchs <- list(inner=20L,left='<',right='>',full=23L);
    cexs <- c(inner=0.7,left=1,right=1,full=0.7);
    NP <- 60L;
    ord <- order(decreasing=T,colMeans(res[res$size==max(res$size),solTypes],na.rm=T));
    ymajors <- data.frame(y=c(1,1e3),label=c('1ms','1s'),stringsAsFactors=F);
    for (overlap in unique(res$overlap)) {
        x1 <- res[res$overlap==overlap,];
        x1[solTypes] <- x1[solTypes]*normMult[x1$unit]; x1$unit <- NULL;
        xlim <- c(1e1,max(x1$size));
        xticks <- 10^seq(log10(xlim[1L]),log10(xlim[2L]));
        ylim <- c(1e-1,10^((if (useFloor) floor else ceiling)(log10(max(x1[solTypes],na.rm=T))))); ## use floor() to zoom in a little more, only sqldf.unindexed will break above, but xpd=NA will keep it visible
        yticks <- 10^seq(log10(ylim[1L]),log10(ylim[2L]));
        yticks.minor <- rep(yticks[-length(yticks)],each=9L)*1:9;
        plot(NA,xlim=xlim,ylim=ylim,xaxs='i',yaxs='i',axes=F,xlab='size (rows)',ylab='time (ms)',log='xy');
        for (joinType in rev(joinTypes)) { ## reverse to draw full first, since it's larger and would be more obtrusive if drawn last
            x2 <- x1[x1$joinType==joinType,];
            for (solType in solTypes) {
                if (any(!is.na(x2[[solType]]))) {
                    xy <- spline(x2$size,x2[[solType]],xout=10^(seq(log10(x2$size[1L]),log10(x2$size[nrow(x2)]),len=NP)));
                }; ## end if
            }; ## end for
        }; ## end for
        ## custom legend
        ## due to logarithmic skew, must do all distance calcs in inches, and convert to user coords afterward
        ## the bottom-left corner of the legend will be defined in normalized figure coords, although we can convert to inches immediately
        leg.cex <- 0.7;
        leg.x.in <- grconvertX(0.275,'nfc','in');
        leg.y.in <- grconvertY(0.6,'nfc','in');
        leg.x.user <- grconvertX(leg.x.in,'in');
        leg.y.user <- grconvertY(leg.y.in,'in');
        leg.outpad.w.in <- 0.1;
        leg.outpad.h.in <- 0.1;
        leg.midpad.w.in <- 0.1;
        leg.midpad.h.in <- 0.1;
        leg.sol.w.in <- max(strwidth(solTypes,'in',leg.cex));
        leg.sol.h.in <- max(strheight(solTypes,'in',leg.cex))*1.5; ## multiplication factor for greater line height
        leg.join.w.in <- max(strheight(joinTypes,'in',leg.cex))*1.5; ## ditto
        leg.join.h.in <- max(strwidth(joinTypes,'in',leg.cex));
        leg.main.w.in <- leg.join.w.in*length(joinTypes);
        leg.main.h.in <- leg.sol.h.in*length(solTypes);
        leg.x2.user <- grconvertX(leg.x.in+leg.outpad.w.in*2+leg.main.w.in+leg.midpad.w.in+leg.sol.w.in,'in');
        leg.y2.user <- grconvertY(leg.y.in+leg.outpad.h.in*2+leg.main.h.in+leg.midpad.h.in+leg.join.h.in,'in');
        leg.cols.x.user <- grconvertX(leg.x.in+leg.outpad.w.in+leg.join.w.in*(0.5+seq(0L,length(joinTypes)-1L)),'in');
        leg.lines.y.user <- grconvertY(leg.y.in+leg.outpad.h.in+leg.main.h.in-leg.sol.h.in*(0.5+seq(0L,length(solTypes)-1L)),'in');
        leg.sol.x.user <- grconvertX(leg.x.in+leg.outpad.w.in+leg.main.w.in+leg.midpad.w.in,'in');
        leg.join.y.user <- grconvertY(leg.y.in+leg.outpad.h.in+leg.main.h.in+leg.midpad.h.in,'in');
        text(leg.cols.x.user,leg.join.y.user,joinTypes,cex=leg.cex,pos=4L,offset=0,srt=90); ## srt rotation applies *after* pos/offset positioning
        for (i in seq_along(joinTypes)) {
            joinType <- joinTypes[i];
        }; ## end for
        readline(sprintf('overlap %.02f',overlap));
    }; ## end for
}; ## end plotRes()

titleFunc <- function(overlap) sprintf('R merge solutions: single-column integer key, 0..1:0..1 cardinality, %d%% overlap',as.integer(overlap*100));

Here's a second large-scale benchmark that's more heavy-duty, with respect to the number and types of key columns, as well as cardinality. For this benchmark I use three key columns: one character, one integer, and one logical, with no restrictions on cardinality (that is, 0..*:0..*). (In general it's not advisable to define key columns with double or complex values due to floating-point comparison complications, and basically no one ever uses the raw type, much less for key columns, so I haven't included those types in the key columns. Also, for information's sake, I initially tried to use four key columns by including a POSIXct key column, but the POSIXct type didn't play well with the sqldf.indexed solution for some reason, possibly due to floating-point comparison anomalies, so I removed it.)

makeArgSpecs.assortedKey.optionalManyToMany <- function(size,overlap,uniquePct=75) {

    ## number of unique keys in df1
    u1Size <- as.integer(size*uniquePct/100);

    ## (roughly) divide u1Size into bases, so we can use expand.grid() to produce the required number of unique key values with repetitions within individual key columns
    ## use ceiling() to ensure we cover u1Size; will truncate afterward
    u1SizePerKeyColumn <- as.integer(ceiling(u1Size^(1/3)));

    ## generate the unique key values for df1
    keys1 <- expand.grid(stringsAsFactors=F,
        ##idPOSIXct=as.POSIXct('2016-01-01 00:00:00','UTC')+sample(u1SizePerKeyColumn)

    ## rbind some repetitions of the unique keys; this will prepare one side of the many-to-many relationship
    ## also scramble the order afterward
    keys1 <- rbind(keys1,keys1[sample(nrow(keys1),size-u1Size,T),])[sample(size),];

    ## common and unilateral key counts
    com <- as.integer(size*overlap);
    uni <- size-com;

    ## generate some unilateral keys for df2 by synthesizing outside of the idInteger range of df1
    keys2 <- data.frame(stringsAsFactors=F,
        ##idPOSIXct=as.POSIXct('2016-01-01 00:00:00','UTC')+u1SizePerKeyColumn+sample(uni)

    ## rbind random keys from df1; this will complete the many-to-many relationship
    ## also scramble the order afterward
    keys2 <- rbind(keys2,keys1[sample(nrow(keys1),com,T),])[sample(size),];

    ##keyNames <- c('idCharacter','idInteger','idLogical','idPOSIXct');
    keyNames <- c('idCharacter','idInteger','idLogical');
    ## note: was going to use raw and complex type for two of the non-key columns, but data.table doesn't seem to fully support them
    argSpecs <- list(
            df1 <- cbind(stringsAsFactors=F,keys1,y1=sample(c(F,T),size,T),y2=sample(size),y3=rnorm(size),y4=replicate(size,paste(collapse='',sample(letters,sample(4:12,1L),T)))),
            df2 <- cbind(stringsAsFactors=F,keys2,y5=sample(c(F,T),size,T),y6=sample(size),y7=rnorm(size),y8=replicate(size,paste(collapse='',sample(letters,sample(4:12,1L),T)))),
    ## prepare sqldf
    sqldf(paste0('create index df1_key on df1(',paste(collapse=',',keyNames),');')); ## upload and create an sqlite index on df1
    sqldf(paste0('create index df2_key on df2(',paste(collapse=',',keyNames),');')); ## upload and create an sqlite index on df2


}; ## end makeArgSpecs.assortedKey.optionalManyToMany()

sizes <- c(1e1L,1e3L,1e5L); ## 1e5L instead of 1e6L to respect more heavy-duty inputs
overlaps <- c(0.99,0.5,0.01);
solTypes <- setdiff(getSolTypes(),'in.place');
system.time({ res <- testGrid(makeArgSpecs.assortedKey.optionalManyToMany,sizes,overlaps,solTypes); });
##     user   system  elapsed
## 38895.50   784.19 39745.53

The resulting plots, using the same plotting code given above:

titleFunc <- function(overlap) sprintf('R merge solutions: character/integer/logical key, 0..*:0..* cardinality, %d%% overlap',as.integer(overlap*100));

In joining two data frames with ~1 million rows each, one with 2 columns and the other with ~20, I've surprisingly found merge(..., all.x = TRUE, all.y = TRUE) to be faster then dplyr::full_join(). This is with dplyr v0.4

Merge takes ~17 seconds, full_join takes ~65 seconds.

Some food for though, since I generally default to dplyr for manipulation tasks.

New in 2014:

Especially if you're also interested in data manipulation in general (including sorting, filtering, subsetting, summarizing etc.), you should definitely take a look at dplyr, which comes with a variety of functions all designed to facilitate your work specifically with data frames and certain other database types. It even offers quite an elaborate SQL interface, and even a function to convert (most) SQL code directly into R.

The four joining-related functions in the dplyr package are (to quote):

  • inner_join(x, y, by = NULL, copy = FALSE, ...): return all rows from x where there are matching values in y, and all columns from x and y
  • left_join(x, y, by = NULL, copy = FALSE, ...): return all rows from x, and all columns from x and y
  • semi_join(x, y, by = NULL, copy = FALSE, ...): return all rows from x where there are matching values in y, keeping just columns from x.
  • anti_join(x, y, by = NULL, copy = FALSE, ...): return all rows from x where there are not matching values in y, keeping just columns from x

It's all here in great detail.

Selecting columns can be done by select(df,"column"). If that's not SQL-ish enough for you, then there's the sql() function, into which you can enter SQL code as-is, and it will do the operation you specified just like you were writing in R all along (for more information, please refer to the dplyr/databases vignette). For example, if applied correctly, sql("SELECT * FROM hflights") will select all the columns from the "hflights" dplyr table (a "tbl").

There is the data.table approach for an inner join, which is very time and memory efficient (and necessary for some larger data.frames):


dt1 <- data.table(df1, key = "CustomerId") 
dt2 <- data.table(df2, key = "CustomerId")

joined.dt1.dt.2 <- dt1[dt2]

merge also works on data.tables (as it is generic and calls merge.data.table)

merge(dt1, dt2)

data.table documented on :
How to do a data.table merge operation
Translating SQL joins on foreign keys to R data.table syntax
Efficient alternatives to merge for larger data.frames R
How to do a basic left outer join with data.table in R?

Yet another option is the join function found in the plyr package


join(df1, df2,
     type = "inner")

#   CustomerId Product   State
# 1          2 Toaster Alabama
# 2          4   Radio Alabama
# 3          6   Radio    Ohio

Options for type: inner, left, right, full.

From ?join: Unlike merge, [join] preserves the order of x no matter what join type is used.

Update on data.table methods for joining datasets. See below examples for each type of join. There are two methods, one from [.data.table when passing second data.table as the first argument to subset, another way is to use merge function which dispatched to fast data.table method.

Update on 2016-04-01 - and it isn't April Fools joke!
In 1.9.7 version of data.table joins are now capable to use existing index which tremendously reduce the timing of a join. Below code and benchmark does NOT use data.table indices on join. If you are looking for near real-time join you should use data.table indices.

df1 = data.frame(CustomerId = c(1:6), Product = c(rep("Toaster", 3), rep("Radio", 3)))
df2 = data.frame(CustomerId = c(2L, 4L, 7L), State = c(rep("Alabama", 2), rep("Ohio", 1))) # one value changed to show full outer join


dt1 = as.data.table(df1)
dt2 = as.data.table(df2)
setkey(dt1, CustomerId)
setkey(dt2, CustomerId)
# right outer join keyed data.tables

setkey(dt1, NULL)
setkey(dt2, NULL)
# right outer join unkeyed data.tables - use `on` argument
dt1[dt2, on = "CustomerId"]

# left outer join - swap dt1 with dt2
dt2[dt1, on = "CustomerId"]

# inner join - use `nomatch` argument
dt1[dt2, nomatch=0L, on = "CustomerId"]

# anti join - use `!` operator
dt1[!dt2, on = "CustomerId"]

# inner join
merge(dt1, dt2, by = "CustomerId")

# full outer join
merge(dt1, dt2, by = "CustomerId", all = TRUE)

# see ?merge.data.table arguments for other cases

Below benchmark tests base R, sqldf, dplyr and data.table.
Benchmark tests unkeyed/unindexed datasets. You can get even better performance if you are using keys on your data.tables or indexes with sqldf. Base R and dplyr does not have indexes or keys so I did not include that scenario in benchmark.
Benchmark is performed on 5M-1 rows datasets, there are 5M-2 common values on join column so each scenario (left, right, full, inner) can be tested and join is still not trivial to perform.


n = 5e6
df1 = data.frame(x=sample(n,n-1L), y1=rnorm(n-1L))
df2 = data.frame(x=sample(n,n-1L), y2=rnorm(n-1L))
dt1 = as.data.table(df1)
dt2 = as.data.table(df2)

# inner join
microbenchmark(times = 10L,
               base = merge(df1, df2, by = "x"),
               sqldf = sqldf("SELECT * FROM df1 INNER JOIN df2 ON df1.x = df2.x"),
               dplyr = inner_join(df1, df2, by = "x"),
               data.table = dt1[dt2, nomatch = 0L, on = "x"])
#Unit: milliseconds
#       expr        min         lq      mean     median        uq       max neval
#       base 15546.0097 16083.4915 16687.117 16539.0148 17388.290 18513.216    10
#      sqldf 44392.6685 44709.7128 45096.401 45067.7461 45504.376 45563.472    10
#      dplyr  4124.0068  4248.7758  4281.122  4272.3619  4342.829  4411.388    10
# data.table   937.2461   946.0227  1053.411   973.0805  1214.300  1281.958    10

# left outer join
microbenchmark(times = 10L,
               base = merge(df1, df2, by = "x", all.x = TRUE),
               sqldf = sqldf("SELECT * FROM df1 LEFT OUTER JOIN df2 ON df1.x = df2.x"),
               dplyr = left_join(df1, df2, by = c("x"="x")),
               data.table = dt2[dt1, on = "x"])
#Unit: milliseconds
#       expr       min         lq       mean     median         uq       max neval
#       base 16140.791 17107.7366 17441.9538 17414.6263 17821.9035 19453.034    10
#      sqldf 43656.633 44141.9186 44777.1872 44498.7191 45288.7406 47108.900    10
#      dplyr  4062.153  4352.8021  4780.3221  4409.1186  4450.9301  8385.050    10
# data.table   823.218   823.5557   901.0383   837.9206   883.3292  1277.239    10

# right outer join
microbenchmark(times = 10L,
               base = merge(df1, df2, by = "x", all.y = TRUE),
               sqldf = sqldf("SELECT * FROM df2 LEFT OUTER JOIN df1 ON df2.x = df1.x"),
               dplyr = right_join(df1, df2, by = "x"),
               data.table = dt1[dt2, on = "x"])
#Unit: milliseconds
#       expr        min         lq       mean     median        uq       max neval
#       base 15821.3351 15954.9927 16347.3093 16044.3500 16621.887 17604.794    10
#      sqldf 43635.5308 43761.3532 43984.3682 43969.0081 44044.461 44499.891    10
#      dplyr  3936.0329  4028.1239  4102.4167  4045.0854  4219.958  4307.350    10
# data.table   820.8535   835.9101   918.5243   887.0207  1005.721  1068.919    10

# full outer join
microbenchmark(times = 10L,
               base = merge(df1, df2, by = "x", all = TRUE),
               #sqldf = sqldf("SELECT * FROM df1 FULL OUTER JOIN df2 ON df1.x = df2.x"), # not supported
               dplyr = full_join(df1, df2, by = "x"),
               data.table = merge(dt1, dt2, by = "x", all = TRUE))
#Unit: seconds
#       expr       min        lq      mean    median        uq       max neval
#       base 16.176423 16.908908 17.485457 17.364857 18.271790 18.626762    10
#      dplyr  7.610498  7.666426  7.745850  7.710638  7.832125  7.951426    10
# data.table  2.052590  2.130317  2.352626  2.208913  2.470721  2.951948    10

dplyr since 0.4 implemented all those joins including outer_join, but it was worth noting that for the first few releases it used not to offer outer_join, and as a result there was a lot of really bad hacky workaround user code floating around for quite a while (you can still find this in SO and Kaggle answers from that period).

Join-related release highlights:

v0.5 (6/2016)

  • Handling for POSIXct type, timezones, duplicates, different factor levels. Better errors and warnings.
  • New suffix argument to control what suffix duplicated variable names receive (#1296)

v0.4.0 (1/2015)

  • Implement right join and outer join (#96)
  • Mutating joins, which add new variables to one table from matching rows in another. Filtering joins, which filter observations from one table based on whether or not they match an observation in the other table.

v0.3 (10/2014)

  • Can now left_join by different variables in each table: df1 %>% left_join(df2, c("var1" = "var2"))

v0.2 (5/2014)

  • *_join() no longer reorders column names (#324)

v0.1.3 (4/2014)

Workarounds per hadley's comments in that issue:

  • right_join(x,y) is the same as left_join(y,x) in terms of the rows, just the columns will be different orders. Easily worked around with select(new_column_order)
  • outer_join is basically union(left_join(x, y), right_join(x, y)) - i.e. preserve all rows in both data frames.