9 Functionals

9.1 Prerequisites


9.2 My first functional: map()

  1. Q: Use as_mapper() to explore how purrr generates anonymous functions for the integer, character, and list helpers. What helper allows you to extract attributes? Read the documentation to find out.

    A: map() offers multiple ways (functions, formulas and extractor functions) to specify the function argument (.f). Initially, the various inputs have to be transformed into a valid function, which is then applied. The creation of this valid function is the job of as_mapper() and it is called every time map() is used.

    Given character, numeric or list input as_mapper() will create an extractor function. Characters select by name, while numeric input selects by positions and a list allows a mix of these two approaches. This extractor interface can be very useful, when working with nested data.

    The extractor function is implemented as a call to purrr::pluck(), which accepts a list of accessors (accessors “access” some part of your data object).

    as_mapper(c(1, 2))
    #> function (x, ...) 
    #> pluck(x, 1, 2, .default = NULL)
    #> <environment: 0x1c117f8>
    as_mapper(c("a", "b"))
    #> function (x, ...) 
    #> pluck(x, "a", "b", .default = NULL)
    #> <environment: 0x1cee008>
    as_mapper(list(1, "b"))
    #> function (x, ...) 
    #> pluck(x, 1, "b", .default = NULL)
    #> <environment: 0x370c3e0>

    Besides mixing positions and names, it is also possible to pass along an accessor function. This is basically an anonymous function, that gets information about some aspect of the input data. You are free to define your own accessor functions.

    If you need to access certain attributes, the helper attr_getter(y) is already predefined and will create the appropriate accessor function for you.

    # define custom accessor function
    get_class <- function(x) attr(x, "class")
    pluck(mtcars, get_class)
    #> [1] "data.frame"
    # use attr_getter() as a helper
    pluck(mtcars, attr_getter("class"))
    #> [1] "data.frame"
  2. Q: map(1:3, ~ runif(2)) is a useful pattern for generating random numbers, but map(1:3, runif(2)) is not. Why not? Can you explain why it returns the result that it does?

    A: The first pattern creates random numbers, because ~ runif(2) successfully uses the formula interface. Internally map() applies as_mapper() to this formula, which converts ~ runif(2) into an anonymous function. Afterwards runif(2) is applied three times (one time during each iteration), leading to three different pairs of random numbers.

    In the second pattern runif(2) is supplied as an atomic vector. Consequently as_mapper() creates an extractor function based on the return values from runif(2) (via pluck()). This leads to three NULLs (pluck()’s .default return), because no values corresponding to the index can be found.

    map(1:3, ~ runif(2))  # uses formular interface
    #> [[1]]
    #> [1] 0.0808 0.8343
    #> [[2]]
    #> [1] 0.601 0.157
    #> [[3]]
    #> [1] 0.0074 0.4664
    map(1:3, runif(2))  # uses extractor interface
    #> [[1]]
    #> NULL
    #> [[2]]
    #> NULL
    #> [[3]]
    #> NULL
  3. Q: Use the appropriate map() function to:

    1. Compute the standard deviation of every column in a numeric data frame.

    2. Compute the standard deviation of every numeric column in a mixed data frame. (Hint: you’ll need to do it in two steps.)

    3. Compute the number of levels for every factor in a data frame.

    A: To solve this exercise we take advantage of calling the type stable variants of map(), which give us more concise output. We also use purrr::keep() to initially select the matching columns of the data frames. (keep() is introduced in the predicate functionals section of the “Functionals”-chapter).

    map_dbl(mtcars, sd)
    #>     mpg     cyl    disp      hp    drat      wt    qsec      vs      am 
    #>   6.027   1.786 123.939  68.563   0.535   0.978   1.787   0.504   0.499 
    #>    gear    carb 
    #>   0.738   1.615
    map_dbl(keep(iris, is.numeric), sd)
    #> Sepal.Length  Sepal.Width Petal.Length  Petal.Width 
    #>        0.828        0.436        1.765        0.762
    map_int(keep(iris, is.factor), ~ length(levels(.x)))
    #> Species 
    #>       3
  4. Q: The following code simulates the performance of a t-test for non-normal data. Extract the p-value from each test, then visualise.

    trials <- map(1:100, ~ t.test(rpois(10, 10), rpois(7, 10)))

    A: pluck() allows us to elegantly extract the p-values. We can then pass a data frame directly to ggplot() for the visualisation. For randomly generated data, we can expect a uniform distribution of the p-values.

    map_dbl(trials, "p.value") %>% 
      tibble::tibble(`p_value` = .) %>% 
      ggplot(aes(x = p_value, fill = p_value < 0.05)) + 
      geom_dotplot(binwidth = .025) +
      ggtitle("Distribution of p-values for random poisson data.")

  1. Q: The following code uses a map nested inside another map to apply a function to every element of a nested list. Why does it fail, and what do you need to do to make it work?

    x <- list(
      list(1, c(3, 9)),
      list(c(3, 6), 7, c(4, 7, 6))
    triple <- function(x) x * 3
    map(x, map, .f = triple)
    #> Error in .f(.x[[i]], ...): unused argument (map)

    A: This function call fails, because triple() is specified as the .f argument and consequently belongs to the outer map(). The unnamed argument map is treated as an argument of triple(), which causes the error.

    If we switch the naming of the argument, the nested transformations work as expected:

    map(x, .f = map, triple)
    #> [[1]]
    #> [[1]][[1]]
    #> [1] 3
    #> [[1]][[2]]
    #> [1]  9 27
    #> [[2]]
    #> [[2]][[1]]
    #> [1]  9 18
    #> [[2]][[2]]
    #> [1] 21
    #> [[2]][[3]]
    #> [1] 12 21 18
  2. Q: Use map() to fit linear models to the mtcars using the formulas stored in this list:

    formulas <- list(
      mpg ~ disp,
      mpg ~ I(1 / disp),
      mpg ~ disp + wt,
      mpg ~ I(1 / disp) + wt

    A: The data (mtars) is constant for all these models and we iterate over the formulas provided. Because the formula is the first argument of a lm()-call, it doesn’t need to be specified explicitly.

    map(formulas, lm, data = mtcars) %>% 
      map(coef)  # shortens output
    #> [[1]]
    #> (Intercept)        disp 
    #>     29.5999     -0.0412 
    #> [[2]]
    #> (Intercept)   I(1/disp) 
    #>        10.8      1557.7 
    #> [[3]]
    #> (Intercept)        disp          wt 
    #>     34.9606     -0.0177     -3.3508 
    #> [[4]]
    #> (Intercept)   I(1/disp)          wt 
    #>        19.0      1142.6        -1.8
  3. Q: Fit the model mpg ~ disp to each of the bootstrap replicates of mtcars in the list below, then extract the \(R^2\) of the model fit (Hint: you can compute the \(R^2\) with summary())

    bootstrap <- function(df) {
      df[sample(nrow(df), replace = TRUE), , drop = FALSE]
    bootstraps <- map(1:10, ~ bootstrap(mtcars))

    A: To accomplish this task, we take advantage of the “list in, list out”-functionality of map(). This allows us to chain multiple transformation together. We start by fitting the models. We then calculate the summaries and extract the \(R^2\) values. For the last call we use map_dbl, which provides convenient output.

    bootstraps %>% 
      map(~ lm(mpg ~ disp, data = .x)) %>% 
      map(summary) %>% 
    #>  [1] 0.693 0.762 0.675 0.812 0.755 0.806 0.616 0.748 0.681 0.725

9.3 Map variants

  1. Q: Explain the results of modify(mtcars, 1).

    A: modify() is based on map(), and in this case, the extractor interface will be used. It extracts the first element of each column in mtcars. modify() always returns the same structure as its input: in this case it forces the first row to be recycled 32 times. (Internally modify() uses .x[] <- map(.x, .f, ...) for assignment.)

  2. Q: Rewrite the following code to use iwalk() instead of walk2(). What are the advantages and disadvantages?

    cyls <- split(mtcars, mtcars$cyl)
    paths <- file.path(temp, paste0("cyl-", names(cyls), ".csv"))
    walk2(cyls, paths, write.csv)

    A: With iwalk() it is possible combine the name creation and file saving with one function call. It is not necessary to create intermediate objects, which won’t be used any further. Unfortunately, the function turns out quite long and it may be difficult to understand it immediately.

    temp_dir <- tempfile()
    split(mtcars, mtcars$cyl) %>% 
      iwalk(~ write.csv(.x, file.path(temp_dir, paste0("cyl-", .y, ".csv"))))
    #> [1] "cyl-4.csv" "cyl-6.csv" "cyl-8.csv"
  3. Q: Explain how the following code transforms a data frame using functions stored in a list.

    trans <- list(
      disp = function(x) x * 0.0163871,
      am = function(x) factor(x, labels = c("auto", "manual"))
    vars <- names(trans)
    mtcars[vars] <- map2(trans, mtcars[vars], function(f, var) f(var))

    Compare and contrast the map2() approach to this map() approach:

    mtcars[vars] <- map(vars, ~ trans[[.x]](mtcars[[.x]]))

    A: In the first approach the list of functions and the appropriately selected data frame columns are supplied to map2(). map2() creates an anonymous function f(var) which applies the functions to the variables when map2() iterates over their (similar) index. On the left hand side the regarding elements of mtcars are being replaced by their new transformations.

    The map() variant does basically the same. However, it directly iterates over the names of the transformations. Therefore, the data frame columns are selected during the iteration.

    Besides the iteration pattern, the approaches differ in the possibilities for appropriate argument naming in the .f argument. In the map2() approach we iterate over the elements of x and y. Therefore, it is possible to choose appropriate placeholders like f and var. This can make the body of the anonymous function quite expressive. A small downside is that this is less compact than the usage of a formula. However, a formula would only allow the usage of .x and .y shortcuts, which can be - again - less expressive: mtcars[vars] <- map2(trans, mtcars[vars], ~ .x(.y)). In the map() approach we map over the variable names. It is therefore not possible to introduce placeholders for the function and variable names. The formula syntax together with the .x shortcut is pretty compact. The object names and the brackets indicate clearly the application of transformaions to specific columns of mtcars. In this case the iteration over the variable names comes in handy, as it highlights the importance of matching between trans and mtcars element names. Together with the replacement form on the left hand side, this lines is relatively easy to inspect. To summarise, in situations where map() and map2() provide solutions for an iteration problem, several points are to consider before deciding for one or the other approach.

  4. Q: What does write.csv() return? i.e. what happens if you use it with map2() instead of walk2()?

    A: write.csv() returns NULL. In the example above we iterated over a list of data frames and file names a named list of NULLs would be returned.

    cyls <- split(mtcars, mtcars$cyl)
    paths <- file.path(temp_dir, paste0("cyl-", names(cyls), ".csv"))
    map2(cyls, paths, write.csv)
    #> $`4`
    #> NULL
    #> $`6`
    #> NULL
    #> $`8`
    #> NULL

9.4 Predicate Functionals

  1. Q: Why isn’t is.na() a predicate function? What base R function is closest to being a predicate version of is.na()?

    A: is.na is not a predicate function, because a predicate function may only return TRUE or FALSE. This is not strictly the case for is.na (e.g. is.na(NULL) returns logical(0)). It may be, that anyNA(), if applied elementwise, may be closest to a predicate-is.na() in base R.

  1. Q: simple_reduce() has a problem when x is length 0 or length 1. Describe the source of the problem and how you might go about fixing it.

    simple_reduce <- function(x, f) {
      out <- x[[1]]
      for (i in seq(2, length(x))) {
        out <- f(out, x[[i]])

    A: The loop inside simple_reduce() always starts with the index 2. Therefore, subsetting length-0 and length-1 vectors via [[ will lead to the error subscript out of bounds. To avoid this, we allow simple_reduce() to return() before the for-loop is started and include default argument for 0-length vectors.

    simple_reduce <- function(x, f, default) {
      if(length(x) == 0L) return(default)
      if(length(x) == 1L) return(x[[1L]])
      out <- x[[1]]
      for (i in seq(2, length(x))) {
        out <- f(out, x[[i]])

    Our new new simple_reduce() now works as intended:

    simple_reduce(integer(0), `+`)
    #> Error in simple_reduce(integer(0), `+`): argument "default" is missing,
    #> with no default
    simple_reduce(integer(0), `+`, default = 0L)
    #> [1] 0
    simple_reduce(1, `+`)
    #> [1] 1
    simple_reduce(1:3, `+`)
    #> [1] 6
  2. Q: Implement the span() function from Haskell: given a list x and a predicate function f, span(x, f) returns the location of the longest sequential run of elements where the predicate is true. (Hint: you might find rle() helpful.)

    A: Our span_r() function returns the list indices of the (first occuring) longest sequential run of elements where the predicate is true. In case the predicate is not true for any list element, NA_integer gets returned.

    span_r <- function(x, f) {
      index_lgl <- map_lgl(x, ~ f(.x))
      index_lgl <- unname(index_lgl)
      # The interesting part of rle is in $lengths and $values
      sequences <- rle(index_lgl) 
      # In case of no true $values, we return NA_integer
      if (!any(sequences$values)) {return(NA_integer_)}
      # For further calculations we need to find the $length index of the (first
      # appearing) longest sequence of trues
      index_seq <- which.max(
        sequences$lengths == max(sequences$lengths[sequences$values]) &
      # This allows us to calculate the start and end index of the longest sequence
      index_start <- sum(sequences$lengths[seq_len(index_seq - 1)]) + 1L
      index_end   <- sum(sequences$lengths[seq_len(index_seq)])
      # Now, it's straight forward to return the regarding sequence
    # Tests
    span_r(iris, is.numeric)
    #> [1] 1 2 3 4
    span_r(iris, is.factor)
    #> [1] 5
    span_r(iris, is.character)
    #> [1] NA
  3. Q: Implement arg_max(). It should take a function and a vector of inputs, and return the elements of the input where the function returns the highest value. For example, arg_max(-10:5, function(x) x ^ 2) should return -10. arg_max(-5:5, function(x) x ^ 2) should return c(-5, 5). Also implement the matching arg_min() function.

    A: Both functions take a vector of inputs and a function as an argument. The functions output are then used to subset the input accordingly.

    arg_max <- function(x, f){
      x[f(x) == max(f(x))]
    arg_min <- function(x, f){
      x[f(x) == min(f(x))]
    arg_max(-10:5, function(x) x ^ 2)
    #> [1] -10
    arg_min(-10:5, function(x) x ^ 2)
    #> [1] 0

    Both functions are actually quite similar, so it would have also been possible to pass an option (max or min) to an argument.

    arg_ <- function(g, x, f){
      x[f(x) == g(f(x))]
    arg_(max, -10:5, function(x) x ^ 2)
    #> [1] -10
    arg_(min, -10:5, function(x) x ^ 2)
    #> [1] 0
  4. Q: The function below scales a vector so it falls in the range [0, 1]. How would you apply it to every column of a data frame? How would you apply it to every numeric column in a data frame?

    scale01 <- function(x) {
      rng <- range(x, na.rm = TRUE)
      (x - rng[1]) / (rng[2] - rng[1])

    A: To apply a function to every function of a data frame, we can use purrr::modify, which also conveniently returns a data frame. To limit the application to numeric columns, the scoped versions modify_if() can be used.

    modify_if(iris, is.numeric, scale01)

9.5 Base functionals

  1. Q: How does apply() arrange the output? Read the documentation and perform some experiments.

    A: Basically apply() applies a function over the margins of an array. In the two dimensional case, the margins are just the rows and columns of a matrix. Let’s make this concrete.

    arr2 <- array(1:9, dim = c(3, 3),
                  dimnames = list(row = paste0("row", 1:3),
                                  col = paste0("col", 1:3)))
    #>       col
    #> row    col1 col2 col3
    #>   row1    1    4    7
    #>   row2    2    5    8
    #>   row3    3    6    9

    When we apply the head() function over a margin of arr2, i.e. the rows, the results are contained in the columns of the output:

    apply(X = arr2, MARGIN = "row", FUN = head, 2)
    #>       row
    #>        row1 row2 row3
    #>   col1    1    2    3
    #>   col2    4    5    6

    Obviously the rows are orderd by the other input’s margin (the original columns). For higher dimensional arrays this could become quite ambiguous. However, with a bit of experimantation, one can find out that apply() arranges the order of the of it’s output directly in the order of the other array dimensions.

  2. Q: What do eapply() and rapply() do? Does purrr have equivalents?

    A: eapply() is a variant of lapply(), which iterates over the (named) elements of an environment. In purrr there is no equivalent for eapply() as purrr mainly provides functions that operate on vectors and functions, but not on environments.

    rapply() applies a function to all elements of a list recursively. This function makes it possible to limit the application of the function to specified classes (default classes = ANY). One may also specify how elements of other classes should remain: i.e. as their identity (how = replace) or another value (deflt = NULL). Again purrr doesn’t provide an equivalent to this function.

  3. Q: Challenge: read about the fixed point algorithm. Complete the exercises using R.

    A: A number \(x\) is called a fixed point of a function \(f\), if it satisfies the equation \(f(x) = x\). For some functions we may find a fixed point by beginning with a starting value and applying \(f\) repeatedly. Here find_fixed_point() acts as a functional, because it takes a function as an argument.

    find_fixed_point <- function(f, x_start = 1, n_max = 10000, tol = 0.0001) {
      # Initialize
      n <- 1
      x <- x_start
      while (n < n_max) {
        # Compute function and test for fixed point quality
        y <- f(x)
        is_fixed_point <- all.equal(x, y, tolerance = tol)  == TRUE
          # Success case
          message("Fixed point was found, after ", n, " iterations.")
        } else {
          # Recursive case
          x <- y
          n <- n + 1
        # Non-converging case
        message("No fixed point found.")
    # Functions with fixed points
    find_fixed_point(sin, x_start = 1)
    #> Fixed point was found, after 4994 iterations.
    #> [1] 0.0245
    find_fixed_point(cos, x_start = 1)
    #> Fixed point was found, after 24 iterations.
    #> [1] 0.739
    # Functions without fixed points
    add_one <- function(x) x + 1
    find_fixed_point(add_one, x_start = 1)
    #> No fixed point found.