Split Data Frame Variable into Multiple Columns in R (3 Examples) | Separate Character String Based on Delimiter


In this tutorial, I’ll illustrate how to separate one variable of a data frame into multiple columns in R.

The article contains the following:

Let’s get started.


Creation of Example Data

In the examples of this R programming tutorial, we’ll use the following data frame as basement:

data <- data.frame(x = c("a-1", "b-2", "c-3"))
#     x
# 1 a-1
# 2 b-2
# 3 c-3

Our example data consists of one column. This column is a character string and each value of this column is separated with a – sign.

In the following examples, I’ll show how to split this column into multiple columns based on the delimiter “-“. So keep on reading.


Example 1: Split Column with Base R

The basic installation of R provides a solution for the splitting of variables based on a delimiter. If we want to split our variable with Base R, we can use a combination of the data.frame, do.call, rbind, strsplit, and as.character functions. Have a look at the following R code:

data.frame(do.call("rbind", strsplit(as.character(data$x), "-", fixed = TRUE)))
#   X1 X2
# 1  a  1
# 2  b  2
# 3  c  3

As you can see based on the output of the RStudio console, we created a new data frame consisting of two columns X1 and X2. The first column contains the values before the separator “-” and the second column contains the values at the right side of the delimiter “-“.

Looks good, but you may find the previous R code kind of complicated (I agree). Fortunately, the R programming language provides add-on packages that allow for the splitting of variables with simpler R code. You guessed it – That’s what I’m going to show you next!


Example 2: Split Column with stringr Package

A very simple solution for separating character strings is provided by the str_split_fixed function of stringr package. First, we need to install and load the stringr package…


…and then we can use the str_split_fixed command to split our column into two columns:

str_split_fixed(data$x, "-", 2)
#     [,1] [,2]
# [1,] "a"  "1" 
# [2,] "b"  "2" 
# [3,] "c"  "3"

The output of the function is a matrix consisting of two columns with the same values as shown in Example 1. However, this time the R code was much cleaner.


Example 3: Split Column with tidyr Package

Another popular alternative for splitting data is based on the tidyr package. The tidyr package is part of the Tidyverse, and hence part of a family of very popular packages such as dplyr, ggplot2, or the purrr package. Let’s install and load the tidyr package to R:


Now, we can use the following R syntax to split our variable into two columns:

data %>%
  separate(x, c("col1", "col2"), "-")
#   col1 col2
# 1    a    1
# 2    b    2
# 3    c    3

Easy peasy!


Video & Further Resources

If you need further explanations on the R programming codes of this article, you might have a look at the following video of my YouTube channel. In the video, I illustrate the content of this tutorial:


Please accept YouTube cookies to play this video. By accepting you will be accessing content from YouTube, a service provided by an external third party.

YouTube Content Consent Button Thumbnail

YouTube privacy policy

If you accept this notice, your choice will be saved and the page will refresh.


Additionally, you could have a look at the related tutorials of my website. I have released several other tutorials about the manipulation of data already:


In this article you learned how to separate a character column into multiple columns using R programming. Please let me know in the comments, if you have any additional questions.


Subscribe to the Statistics Globe Newsletter

Get regular updates on the latest tutorials, offers & news at Statistics Globe.
I hate spam & you may opt out anytime: Privacy Policy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.