[Rd] NA in character vectors

David Brahm brahm@alum.mit.edu
Fri, 15 Mar 2002 17:30:20 -0500

Hi all,

While R-1.5.0 is still unfrozen, I'd like to try again to generate interest in
my favorite pet peeve: NA's in character vectors.  Last October I wrote:

> LETTERS[c(NA,2)] in S is c("","B"), but in R is c("NA","B").

We had an interesting discussion then, and I learned (from Duncan Murdoch and
Thomas Lumley) that R does have an internal code for missing char values
(R_NaString), but it gets easily confused with the string "NA".  Check this:

  R> z <- c(LETTERS[c(2,NA)], "NA", paste("NA"))
  R> is.na(z)
  R> z[3]==z[4]
     [1] TRUE
  R> z=="NA"

Thomas Lumley <tlumley@u.washington.edu> suggested that this weird behavior
essentially arises because the parser converts "NA" to R_NaString, and so...
> It looks like we basically need to
>  1) stop the parser generating R_NaString from \"NA\"
>  2) Change PRINTNAME(R_NaString) to avoid ambiguity

While I still like the simple S-Plus model (""), Thomas's suggestions (with
PRINTNAME(R_NaString) = "<NA>" for example) would be OK too.  Thanks for
listening (again)!
                              -- David Brahm (brahm@alum.mit.edu)
"I write this letter not to nag nor to whine, but to prod." - Lisa Simpson
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