3.2 filter rows

Diagram of filter() rows operation.

FIGURE 3.1: Diagram of filter() rows operation.

The filter() function here works much like the “Filter” option in Microsoft Excel; it allows you to specify criteria about the values of a variable in your dataset and then filters out only the rows that match that criteria.

We begin by focusing only on flights from New York City to Portland, Oregon. The dest destination code (or airport code) for Portland, Oregon is "PDX". Run the following and look at the results in RStudio’s spreadsheet viewer to ensure that only flights heading to Portland are chosen here:

Note the order of the code. First, take the flights data frame flights then filter() the data frame so that only those where the dest equals "PDX" are included. We test for equality using the double equal sign == and not a single equal sign =. In other words filter(dest = "PDX") will yield an error. This is a convention across many programming languages. If you are new to coding, you’ll probably forget to use the double equal sign == a few times before you get the hang of it.

You can use other operators beyond just the == operator that tests for equality:

  • > corresponds to “greater than”
  • < corresponds to “less than”
  • >= corresponds to “greater than or equal to”
  • <= corresponds to “less than or equal to”
  • != corresponds to “not equal to.” The ! is used in many programming languages to indicate “not.”

Furthermore, you can combine multiple criteria using operators that make comparisons:

  • | corresponds to “or”
  • & corresponds to “and”

To see many of these in action, let’s filter flights for all rows that departed from JFK and were heading to Burlington, Vermont ("BTV") or Seattle, Washington ("SEA") and departed in the months of October, November, or December. Run the following:

Note that even though colloquially speaking one might say “all flights leaving Burlington, Vermont and Seattle, Washington,” in terms of computer operations, we really mean “all flights leaving Burlington, Vermont or leaving Seattle, Washington.” For a given row in the data, dest can be "BTV", or "SEA", or something else, but not both "BTV" and "SEA" at the same time. Furthermore, note the careful use of parentheses around dest == "BTV" | dest == "SEA".

We can often skip the use of & and just separate our conditions with a comma. The previous code will return the identical output btv_sea_flights_fall as the following code:

Let’s present another example that uses the ! “not” operator to pick rows that don’t match a criteria. As mentioned earlier, the ! can be read as “not.” Here we are filtering rows corresponding to flights that didn’t go to Burlington, VT or Seattle, WA.

Again, note the careful use of parentheses around the (dest == "BTV" | dest == "SEA"). If we didn’t use parentheses as follows:

We would be returning all flights not headed to "BTV" or those headed to "SEA", which is an entirely different resulting data frame.

Now say we have a larger number of airports we want to filter for, say "SEA", "SFO", "PDX", "BTV", and "BDL". We could continue to use the | (or) operator:

but as we progressively include more airports, this will get unwieldy to write. A slightly shorter approach uses the %in% operator along with the c() function. Recall from Subsection 1.2.1 that the c() function “combines” or “concatenates” values into a single vector of values.

What this code is doing is filtering flights for all flights where dest is in the vector of airports c("BTV", "SEA", "PDX", "SFO", "BDL"). Both outputs of many_airports are the same, but as you can see the latter takes much less energy to code. The %in% operator is useful for looking for matches commonly in one vector/variable compared to another.

As a final note, we recommend that filter() should often be among the first verbs you consider applying to your data. This cleans your dataset to only those rows you care about, or put differently, it narrows down the scope of your data frame to just the observations you care about.

Learning check

(LC3.1) What’s another way of using the “not” operator ! to filter only the rows that are not going to Burlington, VT nor Seattle, WA in the flights data frame? Test this out using the previous code.