[Rd] ifelse() woes ... can we agree on a ifelse2() ?

Uwe Ligges ligges at statistik.tu-dortmund.de
Sun Aug 7 09:51:58 CEST 2016

On 06.08.2016 17:30, Duncan Murdoch wrote:
> On 06/08/2016 10:18 AM, Martin Maechler wrote:
>> Dear R-devel readers,
>> ( = people interested in the improvement and development of R).
>> This is not the first time that this topic is raised.
>> and I am in now state to promise that anything will result from
>> this thread ...
>> Still, I think the majority among us has agreed that
>> 1) you should never use ifelse(test, yes, no)
>>    if you know that length(test) == 1, in which case
>>             if(test) yes else no
>>    is much preferable  (though not equivalent: ifelse(NA, 1, 0) !)
>> 2) it is potentially inefficient by design since it (almost
>>    always) evaluates both 'yes' and 'no' independent of 'test'.
>> 3) is a nice syntax in principle, and so is often used, also by
>>    myself, inspite of '2)'  just because nicely self-explaining
>>    code is sometimes clearly preferable to more efficient but
>>    less readable code.
>> 4) it is too late to change ifelse() fundamentally, because it
>>    works according to its documentation
>>    (and I think very much the same as in S and S-PLUS) and has
>>    done so for ages.
>> ---- and if you don't agree with  1) -- 4)  you may pretend for
>>      a moment instead of starting to discuss them thoroughly.
>> Recently, a useR has alerted me to the fact that my Rmpfr's
>> package arbitrary (high) precision numbers don't work for a
>> relatively simple function.
>> As I found the reason was that that simple function used
>>  ifelse(.,.,.)
>> and the problem was that the (*simplified*) gist of ifelse(test, yes, no)
>> is
>>   test <- as.logical(test)
>>   ans <- test
>>   ans[ test] <- yes
>>   ans[!test] <- no
>> and in case of Rmpfr, the problem is that
>>    <logical>[<logical>]  <-  <mpfr>
>> cannot work correctly
>>     [[ maybe it could in a future R, if I could define a method
>>        setReplaceMethod("[", c("logical,"logical","mpfr"),
>>                         function(x,i,value) .........)
>>        but that currently fails as the C-low-level dispatch for '[<-'
>>        does not look at the full signature
>>      ]]
>> I vaguely remember having seen proposals for
>> light weight substitutes for ifelse(),  called
>>  ifelse1() or
>>  ifelse2() etc...
>> and I wonder if we should not try to see if there was a version
>> that could go into "base R" (maybe the 'utils' package, not
>>                                'base'; that's not so important).
>> One difference to ifelse() would be that the type/mode/class of the
>> result
>> is not initialized by logical, by default but rather by the
>> "common type" of  yes and no ... maybe determined  by  c()'ing
>> parts of those.
>> The idea was that this would work for most S3 and S4 objects for
>> which logical 'length', (logical) indexing '[', and 'rep()' works.
> I think your description is more or less:
>    test <- as.logical(test)
>    ans <- c(yes, no)[seq_along(test)]
>    ans <- ans[seq_along(test)]
>    ans[ test] <- yes[test]
>    ans[!test] <- no[!test]
> (though the implementation details would vary, and recycling rules would
> apply if the lengths of test, yes and no weren't all equal).
> You didn't mention what happens with attributes.  Currently we keep the
> attributes from test, which probably doesn't make a lot of sense. In
> particular,
> ifelse(c(TRUE, FALSE), factor(2:3), factor(3:4))
> returns nonsense, as does my translation of your idea above.
> That implementation also drops attributes. I'd say this definition would
> make more sense:
>    test <- as.logical(test)
>    ans <- yes
>    ans[!test] <- no[!test]
> (and this is suggested as an alternative in ?ifelse).  It generates an
> error in my test example, which seems reasonable.  It gives the "right"
> thing in
> ifelse(c(TRUE, FALSE), factor(2:3), factor(3:2))
> because the factors have the same levels.
> The lack of symmetry between yes and no is slightly irksome, but I would
> think in most cases you could choose attributes from just one of yes and
> no to be what you want in the result (and use !test to swap the order if
> necessary).
>> One possibility would also be to consider  a "numbers-only" or
>> rather "same type"-only {e.g., would also work for characters}
>> version.
> I don't know what you mean by these.
>> Of course, an ifelse2()  should also be more efficient than
>> ifelse() in typical "atomic" cases.
> I don't think it is obvious how to make it more efficient.  ifelse()
> already skips evaluation of yes or no if not needed.  (An argument could
> be made that it would be better to guarantee evaluation of both, but
> it's usually easy enough to do this explicitly, so I don't see a need.)

Same from here: I do not see how this can easily be made more efficient, 
since evaluating ony parts causes a lot of copies of objects whichs 
slows stuff down, hence you need some complexity in yes and no to make 
evaluations of parts of them more efficient on R level.

Anyway, to solve the problem, we may want an add argument to ifelse2() 
that allows for specification of the type of the result (as vapply does)?


> Duncan Murdoch
>> Thank you for your ideas and suggestions.
>> Again, there's no promise of implementation coming along with this
>> e-mail.
>> Martin Maechler
>> ETH Zurich
>> ______________________________________________
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