How to Calculate the Sum by Group in R

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In this article, we will take you through the process of calculating the sum by group in R, which is a crucial aspect of data analysis. This method is frequently employed when you need to summarize your data by specific categories or groups.

Basic Sum Function in R

Before delving into the group-wise sum, let’s first discuss the basic sum function. The sum function in R is used to calculate the sum of vector elements. For instance, let’s consider the vector “v” below:

v <- c(1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

When we run this code, the output will be 15 (which is the sum of all the elements in the vector).

Group-wise Sum in R

As mentioned, sometimes it’s necessary to perform calculations on groups of data. R provides several methods to achieve this:

1. Using the aggregate Function

The aggregate function in R provides a convenient way to calculate group-wise sums. The function works by taking a list of variables to be summarized and a list of variables that define the groups. The summarized variables are then grouped according to the group variables, and a function (in this case, sum) is applied to each group.

For instance, consider a data frame “df” with two variables: “Group” and “Value”.

df <- data.frame(
  Group = c('A', 'B', 'A', 'B', 'A', 'B'),
  Value = c(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

You can use the aggregate function to calculate the sum for each group as follows:

aggregate(df$Value ~ df$Group, FUN=sum)

The part before the “~” sign is the variable to be summarized (df$Value), and the part after is the variable that defines the groups (df$Group). The result will be a data frame with the sum of “Value” for each “Group”.

2. Using the tapply Function

The tapply function in R applies a function to subsets of a vector (or other data structure) as defined by factors. This function is quite useful when you want to calculate group-wise sums.

The syntax of tapply is as follows:

tapply(X, INDEX, FUN = NULL, …, default = NA, simplify = TRUE)

Here, X is a numeric vector, INDEX is a factor or a list of factors, and FUN is the function to be applied.

If we apply tapply to our previous data frame “df”:

tapply(df$Value, df$Group, FUN=sum)

We will get the same result as with aggregate.

3. Using the by Function

The by function in R is another way to apply a function to a data frame split by factors. Here is the syntax for the by function:

by(data, INDICES, FUN, …, simplify = TRUE)

Applying the by function to our data frame:

by(df$Value, df$Group, FUN=sum)

4. Using dplyr Package

One of the functions provided by dplyr is group_by which, combined with summarise, can calculate the sum by group.

Let’s apply the group_by and summarise functions to the data frame:

df %>% group_by(Group) %>% summarise(sum_Value = sum(Value))

In this example, %>% is the pipe operator, which takes the output from the previous function as input for the next function. group_by(Group) groups the data by “Group”, and summarise(sum_Value = sum(Value)) calculates the sum for each group.

5. Using the data.table Package

data.table is a package in R designed for fast data manipulation. It extends the functionalities of data frames for efficient data handling and provides simple and intuitive commands.

First, install and load the data.table package:


Convert your data frame to a data.table:

dt <-

Calculate the sum by group:

dt[, .(sum_Value = sum(Value)), by = Group]

In this example, the .() function is used to create a list of new columns, and by = Group specifies the grouping variable.


R provides various functions and packages to compute the sum by group. Each method has its advantages: base R functions (aggregate, tapply, and by) don’t require additional packages, while dplyr and data.table offer more functionalities and efficiency, especially for larger datasets.

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