I have some text, but I want the content of that text to be dynamic based on data. This is a case for string interpolation. Lots of languages have the ability to write something like

pet = "dog"
puts "This is my {#pet}"
pet = "dog"
print(f"This is my {pet}")

There have been ways to do this in R, but I’ve mostly hated them until glue came along. Using glue in R should look really familiar now:

pet <- "dog"
glue("This is my {pet}")

Awesome! Now I have a way to make text bend to my bidding using data. But this is pretty simple, and we could have just used something like paste("This is my", pet) and been done with it.

Let me provide a little motivation in the form of data.frames, glue_data, and some purrr.

Pretend we have a field in a database called notes. I want to set the notes for each entity to follow the same pattern, but use other data to fill in the blanks. Like maybe something like this:

notes <- "This item price is valid through {end_date} and will then increase {price_change} to {new_price}."

This is a terrible contrived example, but we can imagine displaying this note to someone with different content for each item. Now in most scenarios, the right thing to do for an application is to produce this content dynamically based on what’s in the database, but let’s pretend no one looked far enough ahead to store this data or like notes can serve lots of different purposes using different data. So there is no place for the application to find end_date, price_change, or new_price in its database. Instead, this was something prepared by sales in Excel yesterday and they want these notes added to all items to warn their customers.

Here’s how to take a table that has item_id, end_date, price_change, and new_price as columns and turn it into a table with item_id, and notes as columns, with your properly formatted note for each item to be updated in a database.

library(glue)
library(purrr)

item_notes <- data.frame(
  item_id = seq_len(10),
  end_date = c(rep(as.Date('2018-03-01', format = '%Y-%m-%d'), 5),
               rep(as.Date('2018-03-05', format = '%Y-%m-%d'), 3),
               rep(as.Date('2018-03-09', format = '%Y-%m-%d'), 2)),
  price_change = sample(x = seq_len(5),replace = TRUE,size = 10),
  new_price = sample(x = 10:20,replace = TRUE,size = 10)
)

template <- "This item price is valid through {end_date} and will then increase {price_change} to {new_price}."

map_chr(split(item_notes, item_notes$item_id), 
    glue_data, 
    template) %>% 
stack() %>% 
rename(item_id = ind,
       notes = values)

What’s going on here? First, I want to apply my glue technique to rows of a data.frame, so I split the data into a list using item_id as the identifier. That’s because at the end of all this I want to preserve that id to match back up in a database. 1 The function glue_data works like glue, but it accepts things that are “listish” as it’s first argument (like data.frames and named lists). So with handy map over my newly created list of “listish” data, I create a named list with the text I wanted to generate. I then use a base R function that’s new to me stack, which will take a list and make each element a row in a data.frame with ind as the name of the list element and values as the value.

Now I’ve got a nice data.frame, ready to be joined with any table that has item_id so it can have the attached note!


  1. You can split on row.names if you don’t have a similar identifer and just want to go from data.frame to a list of your rows. [return]