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Data Aggregation in R Programming

  • Dec 30, 2023
  • 7 Minutes Read
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  • By Abhisek Ganguly
Data Aggregation in R Programming

R is the go-to tool for handling and modifying data because of its wide range of libraries and functions. Aggregation is another example of such a crucial task when dealing with large datasets; it is the process of reducing and summarising data based on specific requirements. The aggregate function is a key component of the R ecosystem which makes it easier to execute these operations precisely and efficiently. In this article, we will understand in depth the aggregation and its different uses.

What is the aggregate Function?

The aggregate function in R is designed to aggregate data in a data frame. Usually, it's based on one or more grouping factors. It is a flexible tool that can be used to apply custom functions, compute summary statistics, or just arrange data in a more meaningful manner. Let us now look at the components of the aggregate function.

The basic syntax of the aggregate function is as follows.

aggregate(formula, data, FUN, ...)



  • formula: Describes the variable to be aggregated and the grouping factors.
  • data: The data frame containing the variables.
  • FUN: The function to be applied for aggregation (e.g., sum, mean, median).
  • ...: Additional arguments that can be passed to the aggregation function.

Aggregating by Sum

To show the basic usage of aggregate, let's consider a simple example where we have a data frame df with two columns, 'Value' and 'Category', and we want to calculate the sum of 'Value' for each 'Category'.


df <- data.frame(
  Value = c(10, 15, 8, 12, 20, 25),
  Category = c('A', 'B', 'A', 'B', 'A', 'B')

result <- aggregate(Value ~ Category, data = df, FUN = sum)



  Category Value
1        A    38
2        B    52


In this case, we apply the sum function in the aggregate function to aggregate the values in the 'Value' column according to the unique values in the 'Category' column.

Advanced Usage: Multiple Columns and Custom Aggregation

The true power of the aggregate function can be seen when dealing with more complex scenarios - such as aggregating multiple columns or applying custom aggregation functions.

Aggregating Multiple Columns

You can extend the formula in the aggregate function to aggregate multiple columns in your dataset at once. Let's look at an example where we have three columns: "Profit," "Expenses," and "Sales." We want to determine the average profit, total sales, and total expenses for each category.


df_multicol <- data.frame(
  Sales = c(100, 150, 80, 120, 200, 250),
  Expenses = c(30, 40, 20, 35, 50, 60),
  Profit = c(70, 110, 60, 85, 150, 190),
  Category = c('A', 'B', 'A', 'B', 'A', 'B')

result_multicol <- aggregate(cbind(Sales, Expenses, Profit) ~ Category, data = df_multicol, FUN = sum)



  Category Sales Expenses Profit
1        A   380      100    280
2        B   520      135    385


In this example, we specify multiple columns in the formula using the cbind function. The unique values in the 'Category' column are then used by the aggregate function to calculate the sum for each specified column. You can learn more about cbind to understand how it's working. //insert link to cbind blog

Custom Aggregation Functions

Although R has built-in aggregation functions like mean and sum, situations might arise where a custom aggregation function is required. In order to do this, you can define your function and pass it to the aggregate function's FUN argument.

Let's say we want to calculate the interquartile range (IQR) for the 'Value' column in our original example.


custom_iqr <- function(x) {
  q3 <- quantile(x, 0.75)
  q1 <- quantile(x, 0.25)
  iqr <- q3 - q1

result_custom <- aggregate(Value ~ Category, data = df, FUN = custom_iqr)



  Category Value
1        A   6.0
2        B   6.5


In this case, the custom_iqr function is applied to the 'Value' column for each group defined by the 'Category' column.

Group-wise Aggregation with aggregate() 

A common use case for the aggregate function is group-wise aggregation. You can calculate summary statistics for each subgroup defined by one or more grouping factors.

Grouping by Multiple Factors

We can specify multiple grouping factors in the formula to create more numbers of subgroups. For example, let us extend our previous code example and introduce a new factor, 'Region', to create new subgroups based on both 'Category' and 'Region'.


df_multigroup <- data.frame(
  Value = c(10, 15, 8, 12, 20, 25),
  Category = c('A', 'B', 'A', 'B', 'A', 'B'),
  Region = c('North', 'South', 'North', 'South', 'North', 'South')

result_multigroup <- aggregate(Value ~ Category + Region, data = df_multigroup, FUN = sum)



  Category Region Value
1        A  North    38
2        B  South    52


Here, the aggregate function creates subgroups based on both 'Category' and 'Region', calculating the sum of 'Value' for each combination of factors.

Real-world Example: Analyzing Sales Data

Let's look at a real-world example where the aggregate function is used to analyze sales data. Suppose we have a dataset containing information about sales transactions, including the date, product category, quantity sold, and revenue. We want to analyze the total quantity sold and revenue for each product category on a daily basis.


sales_data <- data.frame(
  Date = as.Date(c('2023-01-01', '2023-01-01', '2023-01-02', '2023-01-02', '2023-01-03')),
  Category = c('Electronics', 'Clothing', 'Electronics', 'Clothing', 'Electronics'),
  Quantity = c(10, 5, 8, 12, 15),
  Revenue = c(1000, 250, 800, 1200, 1800)

result_sales <- aggregate(cbind(Quantity, Revenue) ~ Category + Date, data = sales_data, FUN = sum)



     Category       Date Quantity Revenue
1    Clothing 2023-01-01        5     250
2 Electronics 2023-01-01       10    1000
3    Clothing 2023-01-02       12    1200
4 Electronics 2023-01-02        8     800
5 Electronics 2023-01-03       15    1800


In this example, the total quantity sold and revenue are calculated for every combination of 'Category' and 'Date' using the aggregate function. A summarised view of the sales data is given as output by the result_sales data frame.


An effective tool for organizing and summarising data in R is the aggregate function, which offers a versatile framework for a variety of aggregation tasks. In summary, knowing aggregation functionalities in R programming will enable you to derive useful and necessary insights from the data and allow you to make useful comments on the dataset and make decisions based off of them. It is an essential skill for any data analyst or scientist. 

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About The Author
Abhisek Ganguly
Passionate machine learning enthusiast with a deep love for computer science, dedicated to pushing the boundaries of AI through academic research and sharing knowledge through teaching.