# [Rd] internal string comparison (Scollate)

Romain François romain at r-enthusiasts.com
Mon Mar 31 16:44:54 CEST 2014

```Hello,

The use case I have might involve sorting many small such STRSXP vectors.

If I have Scollate, I don’t need to materialize the vectors and I can use the sorting algorithm I choose.

Here is some made up data:

df <- data.frame(
x = sample( 1:10, 1000, replace = TRUE),
y = sample( 1:100, 100, replace = TRUE),
z = replicate( 10000, paste( sample(letters, sample(1:100, size = 1), replace = TRUE ), collapse = "" ) ),
stringsAsFactors = FALSE
)

For which I’d like something like what order( df\$x, df\$y, df\$z ) gives me.

For example:

> system.time( res1 <- order( df\$x, df\$y, df\$z) )
utilisateur     système      écoulé
0.017       0.000       0.017
> system.time( res2 <- dplyr::order_( df\$x, df\$y, df\$z ) )
utilisateur     système      écoulé
0.005       0.000       0.005
> identical( res1, res2 )
[1] TRUE

The way dplyr::order_ is implemented I don’t need to materialize 500 STRSXP vectors and call order or sort on them ( 492 == nrow( unique( df[, c("x", "y" ) ] ) ) )

I just need to be able to compare two scalars together (either two ints, two doubles, or two CHARSXP SEXP). We already have special code to handle what it means to compare int, double etc in the R world with NA and NaN, etc ...

Scollate would give a way to compare two CHARSXP SEXP, the way R would. Of course one has to be careful how it is called, I have read the source.

Materialising temporary values into an R vector may be the R way of doing things, but sometimes it is a waste of both memory and time. Yes, this is about performance. We are often asked to choose between performance and correctness when in fact we can have both.

Romain

Le 27 mars 2014 à 22:12, Duncan Murdoch <murdoch.duncan at gmail.com> a écrit :

> On 14-03-27 3:01 PM, Kevin Ushey wrote:
>> I too think it would be useful if R exported some version of its
>> string sorting routines, since sorting strings while respecting
>> locale, and doing so in a portable fashion while respecting the user's
>> environment, is not trivial. R holds a fast, portable, well-tested
>> solution, and I think package developers would be very appreciative if
>> some portion of this was exposed at the C level.
>
> It does.  You can put your strings in an R STRSXP vector, and call the R sort function on it.
>
> The usual objection to constructing an R expression and evaluating it is that it is slow, but if you are talking about sorting, the time spent in the sort is likely to dominate the time spent in the setup.
>
>>
>> If not `Scollate`, then perhaps other candidates could be the more
>> generic `sortVector`, or the more string-specific (and NA-respecting)
>> `scmp`.
>
> Evaluating an R expression gives you sortVector.
>
> I can see an argument for Scollate being useful (sorting isn't the only reason to compare strings), but I can see arguments against exposing it too.  Take a look at the source:  it needs to be used carefully.  In particular, it can return a 0 for unequal strings, and users are likely to get messed up by that, or to submit bogus bug reports.  And it's not impossible to work around: if you can collect the universe of strings to compare in advance, then just use order() to convert them to integer values, and compare those.
>
> Duncan Murdoch
>
>>
>> I understand that the volunteers at R Core have limited time and
>> resources, and exposing an API imposes additional maintenance burdens
>> on an already thinly stretched team, but this is a situation where the
>> R users and package authors alike could benefit. Or, if there are
>> other reasons why exporting such routines is not possible nor
>> recommended, it would be very informative to know why.
>>
>> Thanks,
>> Kevin
>>
>> On Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 11:08 AM, Dirk Eddelbuettel <edd at debian.org> wrote:
>>>
>>> On 26 March 2014 at 19:09, Romain François wrote:
>>> | That's one part of the problem. Indeed I'd rather use something rather than
>>> | copy and paste it and run the risk of being outdated. The answer to that is
>>>
>>> We all would. But "they" won't let us by refusing to create more API access points.
>>>
>>> | testing though. I can develop a test suite that can let me know I'm out of
>>>
>>> Correct.
>>>
>>> | date and I need to copy and paste some new code, etc ... Done that before, this
>>> | is tedious, but so what.
>>> |
>>> | The other part of the problem (the real part of the problem actually) is that,
>>> | at least when R is built with ICU support, Scollate will depend on a the
>>> | collator pointer in util.c
>>> | https://github.com/wch/r-source/blob/trunk/src/main/util.c#L1777
>>> |
>>> | And this can be controlled by the base::icuSetCollate function. Of course the
>>> | collator pointer is not public.
>>>
>>> So the next (and even less pleasant) answer is to build a new package which
>>> links to, (or worse yet, embeds) libicu.
>>>
>>> As you want ICU behaviour, you will need ICU code.
>>>
>>> Dirk
>>>
>>> --
>>> Dirk Eddelbuettel | edd at debian.org | http://dirk.eddelbuettel.com
>>>
>>> ______________________________________________
>>> R-devel at r-project.org mailing list
>>> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-devel
>>
>> ______________________________________________
>> R-devel at r-project.org mailing list
>> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-devel
>>
>
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```