James James - 23 days ago 16
R Question

Why does rbindlist not respect column names?

I just discovered this bug, only to find that some people are calling it a "feature". This makes

rbindlist
NOT like
do.call("rbind",l)
as
rbind
WILL respect column names. Further, there is no mention of this entirely unexpected behavior in the documentation. Is this really intentional?

Code example:

> library(data.table)
> DT1 <- data.table(a=1, b=2)
> DT2 <- data.table(b=3, a=4)
> DT1
a b
1: 1 2
> DT2
b a
1: 3 4


I would expect that
rbind
'ing these would produce columns with a = 1,4 ; b = 2,3. And get that with
rbind.data.table
and
rbind.data.frame
, though
rbind.data.table
produces warnings.

> rbind(DT1, DT2)
a b
1: 1 2
2: 4 3
Warning message:
In data.table::.rbind.data.table(...) :
Argument 2 has names in a different order. Columns will be bound by name for consistency with base. You can drop names (by using an unnamed list) and the columns will then be joined by position, or set use.names=FALSE. Alternatively, explicitly setting use.names to TRUE will remove this warning.
> rbind(as.data.frame(DT1), as.data.frame(DT2))
a b
1 1 2
2 4 3
> do.call('rbind', list(DT1, DT2))
a b
1: 1 2
2: 4 3
Warning message:
In data.table::.rbind.data.table(...) :
Argument 2 has names in a different order. Columns will be bound by name for consistency with base. You can drop names (by using an unnamed list) and the columns will then be joined by position, or set use.names=FALSE. Alternatively, explicitly setting use.names to TRUE will remove this warning.


rbindlist
, however, is happy to silently corrupt the data:

> rbindlist(list(DT1, DT2))
a b
1: 1 2
2: 3 4

Answer

This feature is now implemented in commit 1266 of v1.9.3. From NEWS:

o  'rbindlist' gains 'use.names' and 'fill' arguments and is now implemented 
   entirely in C. Closes #5249    
  -> use.names by default is FALSE for backwards compatibility (doesn't bind by 
     names by default)
  -> rbind(...) now just calls rbindlist() internally, except that 'use.names' 
     is TRUE by default, for compatibility with base (and backwards compatibility).
  -> fill by default is FALSE. If fill is TRUE, use.names has to be TRUE.
  -> At least one item of the input list has to have non-null column names.
  -> Duplicate columns are bound in the order of occurrence, like base.
  -> Attributes that might exist in individual items would be lost in the bound result.
  -> Columns are coerced to the highest SEXPTYPE, if they are different, if/when possible.
  -> And incredibly fast ;).
  -> Documentation updated in much detail. Closes DR #5158.

With this, you can set use.names=TRUE to bind by names. It's set to FALSE by default for backwards compatibility. Alternatively, you can use rbind(..) where use.names=TRUE, again for backwards compatibility.

See this post for more examples and this post for benchmarks.

Examples:

1) Just set use.names=TRUE

DT1 <- data.table(x=1, y=2)
DT2 <- data.table(y=1, x=2)

rbindlist(list(DT1,DT2), use.names=TRUE, fill=FALSE)
#    x y
# 1: 1 2
# 2: 2 1

DT1 <- data.table(x=1, y=2)
DT2 <- data.table(z=2, y=1)

# returns error when fill=FALSE but can't be bound without fill=TRUE
rbindlist(list(DT1, DT2), use.names=TRUE, fill=FALSE)
# Error in rbindlist(list(DT1, DT2), use.names = TRUE, fill = FALSE) : 
    # Answer requires 3 columns whereas one or more item(s) in the input 
    # list has only 2 columns. ...

2) Also binds duplicate column names in the order of occurrence:

DT1 <- data.table(x=1, x=2, y=10, y=20, y=30)
DT2 <- data.table(y=-10, x=-2, y=-20, x=-1, y=-30)

rbindlist(list(DT1,DT2), use.names=TRUE)

#     x  x   y   y   y
# 1:  1  2  10  20  30
# 2: -2 -1 -10 -20 -30

3) use fill=TRUE if you want to bind by names and fill missing columns

DT1 <- data.table(x=1, y=2)
DT2 <- data.table(y=2, z=-1)

rbindlist(list(DT1, DT2), fill=TRUE)
#     x y  z
# 1:  1 2 NA
# 2: NA 2 -1

HTH

Comments