# Chapter 7 Defining your own functions

In this section we are going to learn some advanced concepts that are going to make you into a full-fledged R programmer. Before this chapter you only used whatever R came with, as well as the numerous R packages. This already allowed you to do a lot of things and solve a variety of problems! The next step is now to learn how to actually build your own functions.

## 7.1 Control flow

### 7.1.1 If-else

Imagine you want a variable to be equal to a certain value if a condition is met. This is a typical
problem that requires the `if ... else ...`

construct. For instance:

```
a = 4
b = 5
```

If `a > b`

then `f`

should be equal to 20, else `f`

should be equal to 10. Using `if ... else ...`

you can achieve this like so:

```
if (a > b) {
f = 20
} else {
f = 10
}
```

Obviously, here `f = 10`

. Another way to achieve this is by using the `ifelse()`

function:

`f = ifelse(a > b, 20, 10)`

This is exactly equivalent as using the longer `if ... else ...`

construct.

Nested `if ... else ...`

constructs can get messy:

```
if (10 %% 3 == 0) {
print("10 is divisible by 3")
} else if (10 %% 2 == 0) {
print("10 is divisible by 2")
}
```

`## [1] "10 is divisible by 2"`

10 being obviously divisible by 2 and not 3, it is the second phrase that will be printed. The
`%%`

operator is the modulus operator, which gives the rest of the division of 10 by 2.

Remember that if you are working on a dataset and wish to create a new column with values
conditionally on the values of another column, you can use `case_when()`

, which is much easier.

### 7.1.2 For loops

For loops make it possible to repeat a set of instructions `i`

times. For example, try the following:

```
for (i in 1:10){
print("hello")
}
```

```
## [1] "hello"
## [1] "hello"
## [1] "hello"
## [1] "hello"
## [1] "hello"
## [1] "hello"
## [1] "hello"
## [1] "hello"
## [1] "hello"
## [1] "hello"
```

It is also possible to do computations using for loops. Let’s compute the sum of the first 100 integers:

```
result = 0
for (i in 1:100){
result = result + i
}
print(result)
```

`## [1] 5050`

`result`

is equal to 5050, the expected result. What happened in that loop? First, we defined a
variable called `result`

and set it to 0. Then, when the loops starts, `i`

equals 1, so we add
`result`

to `1`

, which is 1. Then, `i`

equals 2, and again, we add `result`

to `i`

. But this time,
`result`

equals 1 and `i`

equals 2, so now `result`

equals 3, and we repeat this until `i`

equals 100.

### 7.1.3 While loops

While loops are very similar to for loops. The instructions inside a while loop are repeat while a certain condition holds true. Let’s consider the sum of the first 100 integers again:

```
result = 0
i = 1
while (i<=100){
result = result + i
i = i + 1
}
print(result)
```

`## [1] 5050`

Here, we first set `result`

and `i`

to 0. Then, while `i`

is inferior, or equal to 100, we add `i`

to `result`

. Notice that there is one more line than in the for loop: we need to increment the value
of `i`

, if not, `i`

would stay equal to 1, and the condition would always be fulfilled, and
the loop would run forever (not really, only until your computer runs out of memory).

In the next section we are going to learn how to write our own functions; this is when we are going to learn about recursive relationships that for and while loops can solve very well.

## 7.2 Writing your own functions

As you have seen by now, R includes a very large amount of preprogrammed functions, but also much more functions are available in packages. However, you will always need to write your own. In this section we are going to learn how to write our own functions.

### 7.2.1 Declaring functions in R

Suppose you want to create the following function: \(f(x) = \dfrac{1}{\sqrt{x}}\). This is the syntax you would use:

```
my_function <- function(x){
return(1/sqrt(x))
}
```

While in general, it is a good idea to add comments to your functions to explain what they do, I
would avoid adding comments to functions that do things that are very obvious, such as with this
one. Function names should be of the form: `function_name()`

. Always give your function very
explicit names! In mathematics it is standard to give functions just one letter as a name, but I
would advise against doing that in your code. Functions that you write are not special in any way;
this means that R will treat them the same way, and they will work in conjunction with any other
function just as if it was built-in into R. They have one limitation though (which is shared with
R’s native function): just like in math, they can only return one value. However, sometimes, you
may need to return more than one value. To be able to do this, you must put your values in a list,
and return the list of values. For example:

```
average_and_sd <- function(x){
result <- c(mean(x), sd(x))
return(result)
}
average_and_sd(c(1, 3, 8, 9, 10, 12))
```

`## [1] 7.166667 4.262237`

If you need to use a function from a package inside your function use `::`

:

```
my_sum <- function(a_vector){
purrr::reduce(a_vector, `+`)
}
```

However, if you need to use more than one function, this can become tedious. A quick and dirty
way of doing that, is to use `library(package_name)`

, inside the function:

```
my_sum <- function(a_vector){
library(purrr)
reduce(a_vector, `+`)
}
```

Loading the library inside the function has the advantage that you will be sure that the package upon which your function depends will be loaded. If the package is already loaded, it will not be loaded again, thus not impacting performance, but if you forgot to load it at the beginning of your script, then, no worries, your function will load it the first time you use it! However, the very best way would be to write your own package and declare the packages upon which your functions depend as dependencies. This is something we are going to explore in Chapter 11.

You can put a lot of instructions inside a function, such as loops. Let’s create the function that returns Fionacci numbers.

### 7.2.2 Fibonacci numbers

The Fibonacci sequence is the following:

\[1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, ...\]

Each subsequent number is composed of the sum of the two preceding ones. In R, it is possible to define a function that returns the \(n^{th}\) my_fibonacci number:

```
my_fibo <- function(n){
a <- 0
b <- 1
for (i in 1:n){
temp <- b
b <- a
a <- a + temp
}
return(a)
}
```

Inside the loop, we defined a variable called `temp`

. Defining temporary variables is usually very
useful inside loops. Let’s try to understand what happens inside this loop:

- First, we assign the value 0 to variable
`a`

and value 1 to variable`b`

. - We start a loop, that goes from 1 to
`n`

. - We assign the value inside of
`b`

to a temporary variable, called`temp`

. `b`

becomes`a`

.- We assign the sum of
`a`

and`temp`

to`a`

. - When the loop is finished, we return
`a`

.

What happens if we want the 3rd my_fibonacci number? At `n = 1`

we have first `a = 0`

and `b = 1`

,
then `temp = 1`

, `b = 0`

and `a = 0 + 1`

. Then `n = 2`

. Now `b = 0`

and `temp = 0`

. The previous
result, `a = 0 + 1`

is now assigned to `b`

, so `b = 1`

. Then, `a = 1 + 0`

. Finally, `n = 3`

. `temp = 1`

(because `b = 1`

), the previous result `a = 1`

is assigned to `b`

and finally, `a = 1 + 1`

. So
the third my_fibonacci number equals 2. Reading this might be a bit confusing; I strongly advise you
to run the algorithm on a sheet of paper, step by step.

The above algorithm is called an iterative algorithm, because it uses a loop to compute the result. Let’s look at another way to think about the problem, with a so-called recursive function:

```
fibo_recur <- function(n){
if (n == 0 || n == 1){
return(n)
} else {
return(fibo_recur(n-1) + fibo_recur(n-2))
}
}
```

This algorithm should be easier to understand: if `n = 0`

or `n = 1`

the function should return `n`

(0 or 1). If `n`

is strictly bigger than `1`

, `fibo_recur()`

should return the sum of
`fibo_recur(n-1)`

and `fibo_recur(n-2)`

. This version of the function is very much the same as the
mathematical definition of the fibonacci sequence. So why not use only recursive algorithms
then? Try to run the following:

`system.time(my_fibo(30))`

```
## user system elapsed
## 0.270 0.393 0.644
```

The result should be printed very fast (the `system.time()`

function returns the time that it took
to execute `my_fibo(30)`

). Let’s try with the recursive version:

`system.time(fibo_recur(30))`

```
## user system elapsed
## 1.310 0.221 1.527
```

It takes much longer to execute! Recursive algorithms are very CPU demanding, so if speed is
critical, it’s best to avoid recursive algorithms. Also, in `fibo_recur()`

try to remove this line:
`if (n == 0 || n == 1)`

and try to run `fibo_recur(5)`

for example and see what happens. You should
get an error: this is because for recursive algorithms you need a stopping condition, or else,
it would run forever. This is not the case for iterative algorithms, because the stopping
condition is the last step of the loop.

So as you can see, for recursive relationships, for or while loops are the way to go in R, whether you’re writing these loops inside functions or not.

## 7.3 Exercises

### Exercise 1

In this exercise, you will write a function to compute the sum of the n first integers. Combine the algorithm we saw in section about while loops and what you learned about functions in this section.

### Exercise 2

Write a function called `my_fact()`

that computes the factorial of a number `n`

. Do it using a
loop, using a recursive function, and using a functional:

### Exercise 3

Write a function to find the roots of quadratic functions. Your function should take 3 arguments,
`a`

, `b`

and `c`

and return the two roots. Only consider the case where there are two real roots
(delta > 0).

## 7.4 Functions that take functions as arguments

Functions that take functions as arguments are very powerful and useful tools. You already know a
couple, `purrr::map()`

and `purrr::reduce()`

. But you can also write your own! A very simple
example would be the following:

```
my_func <- function(x, func){
func(x)
}
```

`my_func()`

is a very simple function that takes `x`

and `func()`

as arguments and that simply
executes `func(x)`

. This might not seem very useful (after all, you could simply use `func(x)!`

) but
this is just for illustration purposes, in practice, your functions would be more useful than that!
Let’s try to use `my_func()`

:

`my_func(c(1, 8, 1, 0, 8), mean)`

`## [1] 3.6`

As expected, this returns the mean of the given vector. But now suppose the following:

`my_func(c(1, 8, 1, NA, 8), mean)`

`## [1] NA`

Because one element of the list is `NA`

, the whole mean is `NA`

. `mean()`

has a `na.rm`

argument
that you can set to `TRUE`

to ignore the `NA`

s in the vector. However, here, there is no way to
provide this argument to the function `mean()`

! Let’s see what happens when we try to:

`my_func(c(1, 8, 1, NA, 8), mean, na.rm = TRUE)`

```
Error in my_func(c(1, 8, 1, NA, 8), mean, na.rm = TRUE) :
unused argument (na.rm = TRUE)
```

So what you could do is pass the value `TRUE`

to the `na.rm`

argument of `mean()`

from your own
function:

```
my_func <- function(x, func, remove_na){
func(x, na.rm = remove_na)
}
my_func(c(1, 8, 1, NA, 8), mean, remove_na = TRUE)
```

`## [1] 4.5`

This is one solution, but `mean()`

also has another argument called `trim`

. What if some other
user needs this argument? Should you also add it to your function? Surely there’s a way to avoid
this problem? Yes, there is, and it’s the *dots*. The `...`

simply mean “any other
argument as needed”, and it’s very easy to use:

```
my_func <- function(x, func, ...){
func(x, ...)
}
my_func(c(1, 8, 1, NA, 8), mean, na.rm = TRUE)
```

`## [1] 4.5`

or, now, if you need the `trim`

argument:

`my_func(c(1, 8, 1, NA, 8), mean, na.rm = TRUE, trim = 0.1)`

`## [1] 4.5`

The `...`

are very useful when writing wrappers such as `my_func()`

.

## 7.5 Functions that take columns of data as arguments

In many situations, you will want to write functions that look similar to this:

`my_function(my_data, one_column_inside_data)`

Such a function would be useful in situation where you have to apply a certain number of operations to columns for different data frames. For example if you need to create tables of descriptive statistics or graphs periodically, it might be very interesting to put these operations inside a function and then call the function whenever you need it, on the fresh batch of data.

However, if you try to write something like that, something that might seem unexpected, at first, will happen:

```
data(mtcars)
simple_function <- function(dataset, col_name){
dataset %>%
group_by(col_name) %>%
summarise(mean_speed = mean(speed)) -> dataset
return(dataset)
}
simple_function(cars, "dist")
```

`Error: unknown variable to group by : col_name`

The variable `col_name`

is passed to `simple_function()`

as a string, but `group_by()`

requires a
variable name. So why not try to convert `col_name`

to a name?

```
simple_function <- function(dataset, col_name){
col_name <- as.name(col_name)
dataset %>%
group_by(col_name) %>%
summarise(mean_speed = mean(speed)) -> dataset
return(dataset)
}
simple_function(cars, "dist")
```

`Error: unknown variable to group by : col_name`

This is because R is literally looking for the variable `"dist"`

somewhere in the global
environment, and not as a column of the data. R does not understand that you are refering to the
column `"dist"`

that is inside the dataset. So how can we make R understand what you mean?

To be able to do that, we need to use a framework that was introduced recently in the `tidyverse`

,
called `tidyeval`

. This discussion can get very technical, so I will spare you the details.
However, you can read about it here and
here. The
discussion can get complicated, but using `tidyeval`

is actually quite easy, and you can get a
cookbook approach to it. Take a look at the code below:

```
simple_function <- function(dataset, col_name){
col_name <- enquo(col_name)
dataset %>%
group_by(!!col_name) %>%
summarise(mean_mpg = mean(mpg)) -> dataset
return(dataset)
}
simple_function(mtcars, cyl)
```

```
## # A tibble: 3 x 2
## cyl mean_mpg
## <dbl> <dbl>
## 1 4 26.7
## 2 6 19.7
## 3 8 15.1
```

As you can see, the previous idea we had, which was using `as.name()`

was not very far away from
the solution. The solution, with `tidyeval`

, consists in using `enquo()`

, which for our purposes,
let’s say that this function does something similar to `as.name()`

(in truth, it doesn’t). Now that
`col_name`

is (R programmers call it) quoted, we need to tell `group_by()`

to evaluate the input as
is. This is done with `!!()`

, which is another `tidyeval`

function. I say it again;
don’t worry if you don’t understand everything. Just remember to use `enquo()`

on your column names
and then `!!()`

inside the `dplyr`

function you want to use.

Let’s see some other examples:

```
simple_function <- function(dataset, col_name, value){
col_name <- enquo(col_name)
dataset %>%
filter((!!col_name) == value) %>%
summarise(mean_cyl = mean(cyl)) -> dataset
return(dataset)
}
simple_function(mtcars, am, 1)
```

```
## mean_cyl
## 1 5.076923
```

Notice that I’ve written:

`filter((!!col_name) == value)`

and not:

`filter(!!col_name == value)`

I have enclosed `!!col_name`

inside parentheses. This is because operators such as `==`

have
precedence over `!!`

, so you have to be explicit. Also, notice that I didn’t have to quote `1`

.
This is because it’s *standard* variable, not a column inside the dataset. Let’s make this function
a bit more general. I hard-coded the variable cyl inside the body of the function, but maybe you’d
like the mean of another variable?

```
simple_function <- function(dataset, filter_col, mean_col, value){
filter_col <- enquo(filter_col)
mean_col <- enquo(mean_col)
dataset %>%
filter((!!filter_col) == value) %>%
summarise(mean((!!mean_col))) -> dataset
return(dataset)
}
simple_function(mtcars, am, cyl, 1)
```

```
## mean(cyl)
## 1 5.076923
```

Notice that I had to quote `mean_col`

too.

Using the `...`

that we discovered in the previous section, we can pass more than one column:

```
simple_function <- function(dataset, ...){
col_vars <- quos(...)
dataset %>%
summarise_at(vars(!!!col_vars), funs(mean, sd))
}
```

Because these *dots* contain more than one variable, you have to use `quos()`

instead of `enquo()`

.
This will put the arguments provided via the dots in a list. Then, because we have a list of
columns, we have to use `summarise_at()`

, which you should know if you did the exercices of
chapter 5. So if you didn’t do them, go back to them and finish them first. Doing the exercise will
also teach you what `vars()`

and `funs()`

are. The last thing you have to pay attention to is to
use `!!!()`

if you used `quos()`

. So 3 `!`

instead of only 2. This allows you to then do things
like this:

`simple_function(mtcars, am, cyl, mpg)`

```
## am_mean cyl_mean mpg_mean am_sd cyl_sd mpg_sd
## 1 0.40625 6.1875 20.09062 0.4989909 1.785922 6.026948
```

Using `...`

with `!!!()`

allows you to write very flexible functions.

If you need to be even more general, you can also provide the summary functions as arguments of your function, but you have to rewrite your function a little bit:

```
simple_function <- function(dataset, cols, funcs){
dataset %>%
summarise_at(vars(!!!cols), funs(!!!funcs))
}
```

You might be wondering where the `quos()`

went? Well because now we are passing two lists of, a list
columns that we have to quote, and a list of functions, that we have to quote, we need to use `quos()`

when calling the function:

`simple_function(mtcars, quos(am, cyl, mpg), quos(mean, sd, sum))`

```
## am_mean cyl_mean mpg_mean am_sd cyl_sd mpg_sd am_sum cyl_sum
## 1 0.40625 6.1875 20.09062 0.4989909 1.785922 6.026948 13 198
## mpg_sum
## 1 642.9
```

This works, but I don’t think you’ll need to have that much flexibility; either the columns are variable, or the functions, but rarely both at the same time.

## 7.6 Functions that use loops

It is entirely possible to put a loop inside a function. For example, consider the following function that return the square root of a number using Newton’s algorithm:

```
sqrt_newton <- function(a, init = 1, eps = 0.01){
stopifnot(a >= 0)
while(abs(init**2 - a) > eps){
init <- 1/2 *(init + a/init)
}
return(init)
}
```

This functions contains a while loop inside its body. Let’s see if it works:

`sqrt_newton(16)`

`## [1] 4.000001`

In the definition of the function, I wrote `init = 1`

and `eps = 0.01`

which means that this
argument can be omitted and will have the provided value (0.01) as the default. You can then use
this function as any other, for example with `map()`

:

`map(c(16, 7, 8, 9, 12), sqrt_newton)`

```
## [[1]]
## [1] 4.000001
##
## [[2]]
## [1] 2.645767
##
## [[3]]
## [1] 2.828469
##
## [[4]]
## [1] 3.000092
##
## [[5]]
## [1] 3.464616
```

This is what I meant before with “your functions are nothing special”. Once the function is defined, you can use it like any other base R function.

Notice the use of `stopifnot()`

inside the body of the function. This is a way to return an error
in case a condition is not fulfilled.

## 7.7 Anonymous functions

As the name implies, anonymous functions are functions that do not have a name. These are useful inside
functions that have functions as arguments, such as `purrr::map()`

or `purrr::reduce()`

:

`map(c(1,2,3,4), function(x){1/sqrt(x)})`

```
## [[1]]
## [1] 1
##
## [[2]]
## [1] 0.7071068
##
## [[3]]
## [1] 0.5773503
##
## [[4]]
## [1] 0.5
```

These anonymous functions get defined in a very similar way to regular functions, you just skip the
name and that’s it. `tidyverse`

functions also support formulas; these get converted to anonymous functions:

`map(c(1,2,3,4), ~{1/sqrt(.)})`

```
## [[1]]
## [1] 1
##
## [[2]]
## [1] 0.7071068
##
## [[3]]
## [1] 0.5773503
##
## [[4]]
## [1] 0.5
```

Using a formula instead of an anonymous function is less verbose; you use `~`

instead of `function(x)`

and a single dot `.`

instead of `x`

. What if you need an anonymous function that requires more than
one argument? This is not a problem:

`map2(c(1, 2, 3, 4, 5), c(9, 8, 7, 6, 5), function(x, y){(x**2)/y})`

```
## [[1]]
## [1] 0.1111111
##
## [[2]]
## [1] 0.5
##
## [[3]]
## [1] 1.285714
##
## [[4]]
## [1] 2.666667
##
## [[5]]
## [1] 5
```

or, using a formula:

`map2(c(1, 2, 3, 4, 5), c(9, 8, 7, 6, 5), ~{(.x**2)/.y})`

```
## [[1]]
## [1] 0.1111111
##
## [[2]]
## [1] 0.5
##
## [[3]]
## [1] 1.285714
##
## [[4]]
## [1] 2.666667
##
## [[5]]
## [1] 5
```

Because you have now two arguments, a single dot could not work, so instead you use `.x`

and `.y`

to
avoid confusion.

## 7.8 Exercises

### Exercise 1

- Create the following vector:

\[a = (1,6,7,8,8,9,2)\]

Using a for loop and a while loop, compute the sum of its elements. To avoid issues, use `i`

as the counter inside the for loop, and `j`

as the counter for the while loop.

- How would you achieve that with a functional (a function that takes a function as an argument)?

### Exercise 2

- Let’s use a loop to get the matrix product of a matrix A and B. Follow these steps to create the loop:

- Create matrix A:

\[A = \left( \begin{array}{ccc} 9 & 4 & 12 \\ 5 & 0 & 7 \\ 2 & 6 & 8 \\ 9 & 2 & 9 \end{array} \right) \]

- Create matrix B:

\[B = \left( \begin{array}{cccc} 5 & 4 & 2 & 5 \\ 2 & 7 & 2 & 1 \\ 8 & 3 & 2 & 6 \\ \end{array} \right) \]

Create a matrix C, with dimension 4x4 that will hold the result. Use this command: `C = matrix(rep(0,16), nrow = 4)}

Using a for loop, loop over the rows of A first: `for(i in 1:nrow(A))}

Inside this loop, loop over the columns of B: `for(j in 1:ncol(B))}

Again, inside this loop, loop over the rows of B: `for(k in 1:nrow(B))}

Inside this last loop, compute the result and save it inside C: `C[i,j] = C[i,j] + A[i,k] * B[k,j]}

- R has a built-in function to compute the dot product of 2 matrices. Which is it?

### Exercise 3

- Fizz Buzz: Print integers from 1 to 100. If a number is divisible by 3, print the word
`Fizz`

if it’s divisible by 5, print`Buzz`

. Use a for loop and if statements.

### Exercise 4

- Fizz Buzz 2: Same as above, but now add this third condition: if a number is both divisible by 3 and 5, print
`"FizzBuzz"`

.

```
for (i in 1:100){
if (i %% 15 == 0) {
print("FizzBuzz")
} else if (i %% 3 == 0) {
print("Fizz")
} else if (i %% 5 == 0) {
print("Buzz")
} else {
print(i)
}
}
```

```
## [1] 1
## [1] 2
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 4
## [1] "Buzz"
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 7
## [1] 8
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] "Buzz"
## [1] 11
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 13
## [1] 14
## [1] "FizzBuzz"
## [1] 16
## [1] 17
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 19
## [1] "Buzz"
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 22
## [1] 23
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] "Buzz"
## [1] 26
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 28
## [1] 29
## [1] "FizzBuzz"
## [1] 31
## [1] 32
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 34
## [1] "Buzz"
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 37
## [1] 38
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] "Buzz"
## [1] 41
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 43
## [1] 44
## [1] "FizzBuzz"
## [1] 46
## [1] 47
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 49
## [1] "Buzz"
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 52
## [1] 53
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] "Buzz"
## [1] 56
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 58
## [1] 59
## [1] "FizzBuzz"
## [1] 61
## [1] 62
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 64
## [1] "Buzz"
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 67
## [1] 68
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] "Buzz"
## [1] 71
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 73
## [1] 74
## [1] "FizzBuzz"
## [1] 76
## [1] 77
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 79
## [1] "Buzz"
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 82
## [1] 83
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] "Buzz"
## [1] 86
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 88
## [1] 89
## [1] "FizzBuzz"
## [1] 91
## [1] 92
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 94
## [1] "Buzz"
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] 97
## [1] 98
## [1] "Fizz"
## [1] "Buzz"
```