How to Compare Strings in R

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String comparison is a common operation in programming, and R is no exception. Whether you are processing text data, performing data cleaning, or implementing algorithms, understanding how to properly compare strings is crucial. In this article, we will cover various ways to compare strings in R, which includes using basic comparison operators, specialized functions, and some advanced techniques.

Introduction to Strings in R

In R, strings are represented as character vectors. You can create a string by using quotation marks:

string1 <- "Hello, World!"

Now that we know what a string looks like in R, let’s dive into how to compare them.

Basic Comparison Operators

In R, you can use the basic comparison operators to compare strings lexicographically:

  • == : Equal to
  • != : Not equal to
  • < : Less than
  • <= : Less than or equal to
  • > : Greater than
  • >= : Greater than or equal to

Here’s how you can use these operators:

string1 <- "apple"
string2 <- "banana"
string3 <- "apple"

# Equal to
result1 <- (string1 == string3)  # TRUE

# Not equal to
result2 <- (string1 != string2)  # TRUE

# Less than
result3 <- (string1 < string2)  # TRUE because 'a' comes before 'b'

Specialized Functions for String Comparison

identical( )

The identical() function checks if two objects are exactly the same:

result <- identical("apple", "Apple")
# Output: FALSE

charToRaw( )

Another way to compare two strings is by converting them to their raw byte representation:

result <- identical(charToRaw("apple"), charToRaw("Apple"))
# Output: FALSE

Case Sensitivity in String Comparison

String comparison in R is case-sensitive by default. However, you can perform case-insensitive string comparisons using various techniques:

tolower( ) and toupper( )

You can convert both strings to lower or upper case before comparing:

string1 <- "Apple"
string2 <- "apple"
result <- identical(tolower(string1), tolower(string2))  # TRUE

Using Regular Expressions for Comparison

In R, you can use the grep, grepl, gsub, regexpr, and gregexpr functions to match patterns within strings:

# Check if a string contains a pattern
result <- grepl("World", "Hello, World!")  # TRUE

Partial String Matching

You can use the startsWith() and endsWith() functions to perform partial string matches:

result1 <- startsWith("Hello, World!", "Hello")  # TRUE
result2 <- endsWith("Hello, World!", "World!")   # TRUE

Distance Metrics for String Comparison

When you want to find how similar two strings are, you can use various distance metrics like Levenshtein distance:

dist <- stringdistmatrix('apple', 'appli')
# Output: Levenshtein distance is 1

Advanced Topics


For comparing strings in different languages, you might need to set collation rules that are sensitive to locale and character sets.

Vectorized Operations

R is built for vectorized operations, and this applies to string comparison too. You can compare entire vectors of strings in one go, which is computationally efficient.


String comparison is an essential part of data manipulation and text processing in R. From basic comparison operators to specialized functions and distance metrics, R provides a wide array of options for string comparison. Understanding these techniques allows for more robust and flexible code that can handle a variety of text processing tasks.

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