How to use the str function in R

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What is str? Str is a compact way to display the structure of an R object.

This allows you to use str as a diagnostic function and an alternative to summary. Str will output the information on one line for each basic structure. Str is best for displaying contents of lists. The goals is to get an output for any R object.

R has a bunch of built in data frames we can test on. We’ll try the mtcars data frame. Type the following:


> mtcars
mpg cyl  disp  hp drat    wt  qsec vs am gear carb
Mazda RX4           21.0   6 160.0 110 3.90 2.620 16.46  0  1    4    4
Mazda RX4 Wag       21.0   6 160.0 110 3.90 2.875 17.02  0  1    4    4
Datsun 710          22.8   4 108.0  93 3.85 2.320 18.61  1  1    4    1
Hornet 4 Drive      21.4   6 258.0 110 3.08 3.215 19.44  1  0    3    1
Hornet Sportabout   18.7   8 360.0 175 3.15 3.440 17.02  0  0    3    2
Valiant             18.1   6 225.0 105 2.76 3.460 20.22  1  0    3    1
Duster 360          14.3   8 360.0 245 3.21 3.570 15.84  0  0    3    4
Merc 240D           24.4   4 146.7  62 3.69 3.190 20.00  1  0    4    2
Merc 230            22.8   4 140.8  95 3.92 3.150 22.90  1  0    4    2
Merc 280            19.2   6 167.6 123 3.92 3.440 18.30  1  0    4    4
Merc 280C           17.8   6 167.6 123 3.92 3.440 18.90  1  0    4    4
Merc 450SE          16.4   8 275.8 180 3.07 4.070 17.40  0  0    3    3
Merc 450SL          17.3   8 275.8 180 3.07 3.730 17.60  0  0    3    3
Merc 450SLC         15.2   8 275.8 180 3.07 3.780 18.00  0  0    3    3
Cadillac Fleetwood  10.4   8 472.0 205 2.93 5.250 17.98  0  0    3    4
Lincoln Continental 10.4   8 460.0 215 3.00 5.424 17.82  0  0    3    4
Chrysler Imperial   14.7   8 440.0 230 3.23 5.345 17.42  0  0    3    4
Fiat 128            32.4   4  78.7  66 4.08 2.200 19.47  1  1    4    1
Honda Civic         30.4   4  75.7  52 4.93 1.615 18.52  1  1    4    2
Toyota Corolla      33.9   4  71.1  65 4.22 1.835 19.90  1  1    4    1
Toyota Corona       21.5   4 120.1  97 3.70 2.465 20.01  1  0    3    1
Dodge Challenger    15.5   8 318.0 150 2.76 3.520 16.87  0  0    3    2
AMC Javelin         15.2   8 304.0 150 3.15 3.435 17.30  0  0    3    2
Camaro Z28          13.3   8 350.0 245 3.73 3.840 15.41  0  0    3    4
Pontiac Firebird    19.2   8 400.0 175 3.08 3.845 17.05  0  0    3    2
Fiat X1-9           27.3   4  79.0  66 4.08 1.935 18.90  1  1    4    1
Porsche 914-2       26.0   4 120.3  91 4.43 2.140 16.70  0  1    5    2
Lotus Europa        30.4   4  95.1 113 3.77 1.513 16.90  1  1    5    2
Ford Pantera L      15.8   8 351.0 264 4.22 3.170 14.50  0  1    5    4
Ferrari Dino        19.7   6 145.0 175 3.62 2.770 15.50  0  1    5    6
Maserati Bora       15.0   8 301.0 335 3.54 3.570 14.60  0  1    5    8
Volvo 142E          21.4   4 121.0 109 4.11 2.780 18.60  1  1    4    2

Above you will see the total output from mtcars. In this case it’s not a large amount of information but imagine if it were millions of rows and all you wanted was a summary of that information. To get an output of your data frame structure you’d type the following:


> str(mtcars)
'data.frame':	32 obs. of  11 variables:
$ mpg : num  21 21 22.8 21.4 18.7 18.1 14.3 24.4 22.8 19.2 ...
$ cyl : num  6 6 4 6 8 6 8 4 4 6 ...
$ disp: num  160 160 108 258 360 ...
$ hp  : num  110 110 93 110 175 105 245 62 95 123 ...
$ drat: num  3.9 3.9 3.85 3.08 3.15 2.76 3.21 3.69 3.92 3.92 ...
$ wt  : num  2.62 2.88 2.32 3.21 3.44 ...
$ qsec: num  16.5 17 18.6 19.4 17 ...
$ vs  : num  0 0 1 1 0 1 0 1 1 1 ...
$ am  : num  1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ...
$ gear: num  4 4 4 3 3 3 3 4 4 4 ...
$ carb: num  4 4 1 1 2 1 4 2 2 4 ...

The above output tells you how many observations (in this case car models were the observed data) were tracked in the data frame against the number of variables (mpg was one of the variables of data tracked for each observation). This can be extremely useful when you are not sure of all the data that is within your data frame and to get a quick look at the data and its structure.

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