[R] functions for subsets: a minor R programming challenge

Bill.Venables@CMIS.CSIRO.AU Bill.Venables at CMIS.CSIRO.AU
Sun Dec 17 01:44:25 CET 2000

Neils Waller asks

> -----Original Message-----
> From: niels Waller [mailto:niels.waller at home.com]
> Sent: Sunday, 17 December 2000 8:31
> To: r-help at stat.math.ethz.ch
> Subject: 
> Does anyone know of an R (or S-PLUS) function for delineating 
> all possible combinations and permutations?
> That is, for set (1,2,3)   3_C_2 = {1,2}   {1,3}  {2,3}

OK, these are for combinations (sets), not permutations (sequences).

The first one, subsets(), returns a matrix whose rows are all sets of size r
from the set of size n given by the vector v.

The second one, Subsets(), is a more involved version of the same thing but
can be much more efficient if you are dealing with large sets (but not too

The third one, nextSubset(), is designed to be called in a loop and returns
the next subset from the entire set arranged in lexicographic order.  This
is for the case when you are working your way through the subsets one at a
time in a loop, anyway.

There is, however, a serious catch.  The second and third functions are
S-PLUS FUNCTIONS ONLY because they make essential use of frame 0 or frame 1,
entities that R quite righly eschews as mad, bad and dangerous to have.  So
the challenge is out for someone to write versions of them that use R
"environments" to achieve the same effect but in an elegant and illumating
way.  The second function uses frame 1 (or frame 0) for caching partial
results that can be later re-used and the third uses frame 0 for storing the
current subset.  I know it is possible since Doug Bates has done so already,
but I have lost his code.  Of course a part of the challenge is working out
how they work without any hints from me in the form of documentation.  :-)

Bill Venables.


subsets <- function(n, r, v = 1:n) # works in S or R
  if(r <= 0) vector(mode(v), 0) else
     if(r >= n) v[1:n] else {
    rbind(cbind(v[1], Recall(n-1, r-1, v[-1])),
                Recall(n-1, r, v[-1]))

Subsets <- function(n, r, v = 1:n, frame = 1) # works in S only
  if(r <= 0) vector(mode(v), 0) else
  if(r >= n) v[1:n] else {
    if(r > 1) {
      i1 <- paste("#", n - 1, r - 1)
      i2 <- paste("#", n - 1, r)
               as.vector(Recall(n - 1, r - 1,
                  1:(n - 1))), frame = frame)
        assign(i2, as.vector(Recall(n - 1, r,
                  1:(n - 1))), frame = frame)
            matrix(v[-1][get(i1)], ncol=r-1)),
            matrix(v[-1][get(i2)], ncol=r))
    } else matrix(v[1:n], ncol = 1)

nextSubset <- function(n, r, v = 1:n) { # works in S only
  nam <- paste(n, r)
  if(exists(nam, frame = 0)) {
    ind <- get(nam)
    s <- seq(along = ind)[ind]
    if(s[1] == n - r + 1) {
      remove(nam, frame = 0)
    k <- max(s[s < (n-r+1):n])
    t <- sum(ind[k:n])
    ind[k:n] <- c(F, rep(T, t),
                  rep(F, n - k - t))    
  } else {
    ind <- c(rep(T, r), rep(F, n-r))
  assign(nam, ind, frame = 0)
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