# [R] Frequency of a character in a string

Marc Schwartz marc_schwartz at me.com
Mon Nov 14 18:48:18 CET 2016

```> On Nov 14, 2016, at 11:26 AM, Charles C. Berry <ccberry at ucsd.edu> wrote:
>
> On Mon, 14 Nov 2016, Bert Gunter wrote:
>
>> Yes, but it need some help, since nchar gives the length of the
>> *entire* string; e.g.
>>
>> ## to count "a" 's  :
>>
>>> x <-(c("abbababba","bbabbabbaaaba"))
>>> nchar(gsub("[^a]","",x))
>> [1] 4 6
>>
>> This is one of about 8 zillion ways to do this in base R if you don't
>> want to use a specialized package.
>>
>> Just for curiosity: Can anyone comment on what is the most efficient
>> way to do this using base R pattern matching?
>>
>
> Most efficient? There probably is no uniformly most efficient way to do this as the timing will depend on the distribution of "a" in the atoms of any vector as well as the length of the vector.
>
> But here is one way to avoid the regular expression matching:
>
> lengths(strsplit(paste0("X", x, "X"),"a",fixed=TRUE)) - 1
>
>
> Chuck
>

Hi,

Both gsub() and strsplit() are using regex based pattern matching internally. That being said, they are ultimately calling .Internal code, so both are pretty fast.

For comparison:

## Create a 1,000,000 character vector
set.seed(1)
Vec <- paste(sample(letters, 1000000, replace = TRUE), collapse = "")

> nchar(Vec)
[1] 1000000

## Split the vector into single characters and tabulate
> table(strsplit(Vec, split = "")[[1]])

a     b     c     d     e     f     g     h     i     j     k     l
38664 38442 38282 38496 38540 38623 38548 38288 38143 38493 38184 38621
m     n     o     p     q     r     s     t     u     v     w     x
38306 38725 38705 38144 38529 38809 38575 38355 38386 38364 38904 38310
y     z
38265 38299

## Get just the count of "a"
> table(strsplit(Vec, split = "")[[1]])["a"]
a
38664

> nchar(gsub("[^a]", "", Vec))
[1] 38664

## Check performance
> system.time(table(strsplit(Vec, split = "")[[1]])["a"])
user  system elapsed
0.100   0.007   0.107

> system.time(nchar(gsub("[^a]", "", Vec)))
user  system elapsed
0.270   0.001   0.272

So, the above would suggest that using strsplit() is somewhat faster than using gsub(). However, as Chuck notes, in the absence of more exhaustive benchmarking, the difference may or may not be more generalizable.

Regards,

Marc Schwartz

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