What Is Data Structure in R?


Larry Thompson

What Is Data Structure in R?

Data structure is a fundamental concept in programming and plays a crucial role in organizing and storing data. In the context of the R programming language, data structures are used to store, manipulate, and access data efficiently. R provides several built-in data structures that are specifically designed to handle different types of data and tasks.

Types of Data Structures in R

R offers various types of data structures, each with its own characteristics and use cases. Let’s explore some of the most commonly used ones:


A vector is one-dimensional data structure that can store elements of the same type. It can be created using the c() function or by combining existing vectors using concatenation.


x <- c(1, 2, 3, 4)
y <- c("apple", "banana", "orange")


A list is a versatile data structure that can store elements of different types. It can be created using the list() function.


my_list <- list(name = "John Doe", age = 25, city = "New York")

Data Frames

A data frame is a two-dimensional tabular data structure similar to a table in a database or a spreadsheet. It stores various types of data organized into rows and columns. Data frames are commonly used for statistical analysis and modeling.


df <- data.frame(name = c("John", "Alice", "Bob"),
                 age = c(25, 30, 35),
                 city = c("New York", "London", "Paris"))


A matrix is a two-dimensional data structure where elements are arranged in rows and columns. It can be created using the matrix() function.


matrix_data <- matrix(c(1, 2, 3, 4), nrow = 2, ncol = 2)


A factor is a data structure used to represent categorical data. It stores a fixed set of values known as levels. Factors are useful for statistical modeling and analysis.


gender <- factor(c("Male", "Female", "Female", "Male"))

Accessing Data in Data Structures

R provides various methods to access and manipulate data within different data structures. Here are some common operations:

  • To access elements in a vector or list, you can use indexing with square brackets ([]). For example: x[1] will return the first element of vector x.
  • Data frames can be accessed using column names or indexing with square brackets.

    For example: df$age or df[,"age"].

  • To access elements in matrices, you can use row and column indexing. For example: matrix_data[1, 2].

Mutating Data Structures

R provides various functions to modify or add elements to data structures:

  • append() - adds elements to a vector or list.
  • rbind() and cbind() - combine rows and columns, respectively, in data frames or matrices.
  • factor() - converts a vector into a factor.


Data structures are essential tools for efficient data manipulation and organization in R. Understanding the different types of data structures available and how to access and mutate them will greatly enhance your ability to work with data in R. Experiment with these concepts and explore further possibilities to become proficient in using data structures effectively.

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