Massive online data stream mining with R

A few weeks ago, the stream package has been released on CRAN. It allows to do real time analytics on data streams. This can be very usefull if you are working with large datasets which are already hard to put in RAM completely, let alone to build some statistical model on it without getting into RAM problems.

Most of the standard statistical algorithms require access to all data points and make several iterations over the data and are less suited for usage in R on big datasets.

Streaming algorithms on the other hand are characterised by 
  1. single passes over the data,
  2. using a limited amount of storage space and RAM
  3. work in a limited amount of time
  4. be ready to use the model at any time


The stream package is currently focussed on clustering algorithms available in MOA ( and also eases interfacing with some clustering already available in R which are suited for data stream clustering.  Classification algorithms based on MOA are on the todo list.
Current available clustering algorithms are BIRCH, CluStream, ClusTree, DBSCAN, DenStream, Hierarchical, Kmeans and Threshold Nearest Neighbor.
The stream package allows you to easily extend the use of the models with different data sources. These can be SQL sources, Hadoop, Storm, Hive, simple csv files, flat files or other connections. It is quite easy to extend it towards other connections. As an example, the following code available at this gist ( allows it to connect to an ffdf from the ff package. This allows to do clustering on ff objects.
Below, you can find a toy example showing streaming clustering in R based on data in an ffdf. 
  • Load the packages & the Data Stream Data for ffdf objects

  • Set up a data stream
myffdf <- as.ffdf(iris)
myffdf <- myffdf[c("Sepal.Length","Sepal.Width","Petal.Length","Petal.Width")]
mydatastream <- DSD_FFDFstream(x = myffdf, k = 100, loop=TRUE) 
  • Build the streaming clustering model
#### Get some points from the data stream
get_points(mydatastream, n=5)

#### Cluster (first part)
myclusteringmodel <- DSC_CluStream(k = 100)
cluster(myclusteringmodel, mydatastream, 1000)

#### Cluster (second part)
kmeans <- DSC_Kmeans(3)
recluster(kmeans, myclusteringmodel)
plot(kmeans, mydatastream, n = 150, main = "Streaming model - with 3 clusters")

This approach is a standard 2-step approach which combines streaming micro clustering with macro clustering using a basic kmeans algorithm.
If you need help in understanding how your data can help you, if you need training and support on the efficient use of R, let us know how we can help you out.


bigglm on your big data set in open source R, it just works - similar as in SAS

In a recent post by Revolution Analytics (link & link) in which Revolution was benchmarking their closed source generalized linear model approach with SAS, Hadoop and open source R, they seemed to be pointing out that there is no 'easy' R open source solution which exists for building a poisson regression model on large datasets. 

This post is about showing that fitting a generalized linear model to large data in R <is> easy in open source R and just works.
For this we recently included bigglm.ffdf in package ffbase to integrate it more closely with package biglm. That was pretty easy as the help of the chunk function in package ff already shows how to do it and the code in the biglm package is readily available to do some simple code modifications. 
Let's show how it works on some readily available data available here.
The following code shows some features (laf_open_csv, read.csv.ffdf, table.ff, binned_sum.ff, biglm.ffdf, expand.ffgrid and merge.ffdf) of package ffbase and package ff which can be used in a standard setting where you have your large data, want to profile it, see some bivariate statistics and build a simple regression model to predict or understand your target.
It imports a flat file in an ffdf, shows some univariate statistics, does a fast group by and builds a linear regression model. 
All without RAM problems as the data is in ff.
  • Download the data

download.file("", "")


  • Import it (showing 2 options - either by using package LaF or with read.csv.ffdf using argument transFUN to recode the input data according to the codebook which you can find here)
## the LaF package is great if you are working with fixed-width format files but equally good for csv files and laf_to_ffdf does what it
## has to do: get the data in an ffdf
dat <- laf_open_csv(filename = "2010_BSA_Carrier_PUF.csv", 
column_types = c("integer", "integer", "categorical", "categorical", "categorical", "integer", "integer", "categorical", "integer", "integer", "integer"), column_names = c("sex", "age", "diagnose", "healthcare.procedure", "typeofservice", "service.count", "provider.type", "servicesprocessed", "place.served", "payment", "carrierline.count"), skip = 1) x <- laf_to_ffdf(laf = dat) ## the transFUN is easy to use if you want to transform your input data before putting it into the ffdf, ## it applies a function to your read input data which is read in in chunks ## We use it here to recode the numbers to factors according to the code book which you can find in the codebook x <- read.csv.ffdf(file = "2010_BSA_Carrier_PUF.csv", colClasses = c("integer","integer","factor","factor","factor","integer","integer","factor","integer","integer","integer"), transFUN=function(x){ names(x) <- recoder(names(x), from = c("BENE_SEX_IDENT_CD", "BENE_AGE_CAT_CD", "CAR_LINE_ICD9_DGNS_CD", "CAR_LINE_HCPCS_CD", "CAR_LINE_BETOS_CD", "CAR_LINE_SRVC_CNT", "CAR_LINE_PRVDR_TYPE_CD", "CAR_LINE_CMS_TYPE_SRVC_CD", "CAR_LINE_PLACE_OF_SRVC_CD", "CAR_HCPS_PMT_AMT", "CAR_LINE_CNT"), to = c("sex", "age", "diagnose", "healthcare.procedure", "typeofservice", "service.count", "provider.type", "servicesprocessed", "place.served", "payment", "carrierline.count")) x$sex <- factor(recoder(x$sex, from = c(1,2), to=c("Male","Female"))) x$age <- factor(recoder(x$age, from = c(1,2), to=c("Under 65", "65-69", "70-74", "75-79", "80-84", "85 and older"))) x$place.served <- factor(recoder(x$place.served, from = c(0, 1, 11, 12, 21, 22, 23, 24, 31, 32, 33, 34, 41, 42, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 56, 60, 61, 62, 65, 71, 72, 81, 99), to = c("Invalid Place of Service Code", "Office (pre 1992)", "Office","Home","Inpatient hospital","Outpatient hospital", "Emergency room - hospital","Ambulatory surgical center","Skilled nursing facility", "Nursing facility","Custodial care facility","Hospice","Ambulance - land","Ambulance - air or water", "Federally qualified health centers", "Inpatient psychiatrice facility", "Psychiatric facility partial hospitalization", "Community mental health center", "Intermediate care facility/mentally retarded", "Psychiatric residential treatment center", "Mass immunizations center", "Comprehensive inpatient rehabilitation facility", "End stage renal disease treatment facility", "State or local public health clinic","Independent laboratory", "Other unlisted facility"))) x }, VERBOSE=TRUE) class(x) dim(x)
  • Profile your data
## Data Profiling using table.ff
barplot(table.ff(x$age), col = "lightblue")
barplot(table.ff(x$sex), col = "lightblue")
barplot(table.ff(x$typeofservice), col = "lightblue")

  • Grouping by - showing the speedy binned_sum
## Basic & fast group by with ff data
doby <- list()
doby$sex <- binned_sum.ff(x = x$payment, bin = x$sex, nbins = length(levels(x$sex)))
doby$age <- binned_sum.ff(x = x$payment, bin = x$age, nbins = length(levels(x$age)))
doby$place.served <- binned_sum.ff(x = x$payment, bin = x$place.served, nbins = length(levels(x$place.served)))
doby <- lapply(doby, FUN=function(x){
  x <-
  x$mean <- x$sum / x$count
doby$sex$sex <- recoder(rownames(doby$sex), from = rownames(doby$sex), to = levels(x$sex))
doby$age$age <- recoder(rownames(doby$age), from = rownames(doby$age), to = levels(x$age))
doby$place.served$place.served <- recoder(rownames(doby$place.served), from = rownames(doby$place.served), to = levels(x$place.served))

  • Build a generalized linear model using package biglm which integrates with ffbase::bigglm.ffdf
## Make a linear model using biglm
mymodel <- bigglm(payment ~ sex + age + place.served, data = x)
# This will overflow your RAM as it will get your data from ff into RAM
#summary(glm(payment ~ sex + age + place.served, data = x[,c("payment","sex","age","place.served")]))

  • Do the same on more data: 280Mio records
## Ok, we were working only on +/- 2.8Mio records which is not big, let's explode the data by 100 to get 280Mio records 
x$id <- ffseq_len(nrow(x))
xexploded <- expand.ffgrid(x$id, ff(1:100)) # Had to wait 3 minutes on my computer
colnames(xexploded) <- c("id","")
xexploded <- merge(xexploded, x, by.x="id", by.y="id", all.x=TRUE, all.y=FALSE) ## this uses merge.ffdf, might take 30 minutes
dim(xexploded) ## hopsa, 280 Mio records and 13.5Gb created
sum(.rambytes[vmode(xexploded)]) * (nrow(xexploded) * 9.31322575 * 10^(-10))
## And build the linear model again on the whole dataset
mymodel <- bigglm(payment ~ sex + age + place.served, data = xexploded)
Hmm, it looks like people who got help by an Ambulance at sea or an airplane ambulance had to pay more.
  • That wasn't that easy or was it. Now your turn

RBelgium meeting on November, 16

rbelgiumlogo v1

Next week on Friday, November 16, the RBelgium R user group is holding its next Regular meeting in Brussels.

This is the schedule of the upcoming RBelgium Regular meeting:

* Graphical User Interface developments around R, including tcltk2 and SciViews - Philippe Grosjean (UMons)
* Using R via the Amazon Cloud - Jean-Baptiste Poullet (stat'Rgy)
* Literature review: R books - Brecht Devleesschauwer (UGent, UCL)

The meeting will take place on Friday 16 November, at 18h45, at the ULB Campus de la Plaine. Everyone is welcome to join!

R courses in Belgium

Every year, the Leuven Statistics Research Center (Belgium) is offering short courses for professionals and researchers in statistics and statistical tools.

lstat training

The following link shows the overview of the courses: or get it here in pdf:

This year, BNOSAC is presenting the course on Advanced R Programming Topics, which will be held on Oktober 18-19.

This course is a hands-on course covering the basic toolkit you need to have in order to use R efficiently for data analysis tasks. It is an intermediate course aimed at users who have the knowledge from the course 'Essential tools for R' and who want to go further to improve and speed up their data analysis tasks.

The following topics will be covered in detail

  • The apply family of functions and basic parallel programming for these, vectorisation, regular expressions, string manipulation functions and commonly used functions from the base package. Useful other packages for data manipulation.
  • Making a basic reproducible report using Sweave and knitr including tables, graphs and literate programming
  • If you want to build your own R package to distribute your work, you need to understand S3 and S4 methods, you need the basics of how generics work as well as R environments, what are namespaces and how are they useful. This will be covered to help you start up and build an R package.
  • Basic tips on how to organise and develop R code and test it.

You can subscribe here:

If you are into large data and work a lot with package ff

r ff

The ff package is a great and efficient way of working with large datasets. 
One of the main reasons why I prefer to use it above other packages that allow working with large datasets is that it is a complete set of tools.
When comparing it to the other open source 'bigdata' packages in R
  1. It is not restricted to work basically with numeric data matrices like the bigmemory set of packages but allows relatively easy access to character vectors through factors
  2. It has efficient data loading functionality from flat/csv files, you can interact with SQL databases as explained here.
  3. You don't need to use the sqldf package to get and insert all the time your data in the right (RAM-limited) sized to and from an SQLite database
  4. It has higher level functionality (e.g. apply set of family, sorting, ...) which package mmap seems to be lacking
  5. And it allows you to work with datasets which you can not put in memory which the datatable package does not allow. 
If you disagree, do comment.
In my dayly work, I encountered frequently that some bits are still missing in package ff to make it suited for easy day-to-day analysis of large data. Apparently I was not alone as Edwin de Jonge started already package ffbase (available at For a predictive modelling project BNOSAC has made for we have made some nice progress in the package.
The package ffbase now contains quite some extensions that are really usefull. It contains a lot of the functionality from the R's base package for usage with large datasets through package ff. 
  1. Basic operations (c, unique, duplicated, ffmatch, ffdfmatch, %in%,, all, any, cut, ffwhich, ffappend, ffdfappend)
  2. Standard operators (+, -, *, /, ^, %%, %/%, ==, !=, <, <=, >=, >, &, |, !) on ff vectors
  3. Math operators (abs, sign, sqrt, ceiling, floor, trunc, round, signif, log, log10, log2, log1p, exp, expm1, acos, acosh, asin, asinh, atan, atanh, cos, cosh, sin, sinh, tan, tanh, gamma, lgamma, digamma, trigamma)
  4. Selections & data manipulations (subset, transform, with, within, ffwhich)
  5. Summary statistics (sum, min, max, range, quantile, hist)
  6. Data transformations (cumsum, cumprod, cummin, cummax, table, tabulate, merge, ffdfdply)
These functions work all on either ff objects or objects of class ffdf from the ff package
Next to that there are some extra goodies allowing faster grouping by - not restricted to the ff package alone (Fast groupwise aggregations: bySum, byMean, binned_sum, binned_sumsq, binned_tabulate)
This makes it a lot more easy to work with the ff package and large data.
Let me show some R-code to show what this means using a simple dataset of the Heritage Health Prize competition of only 2.6Mio records available for download for download here ( It is a dataset with claims.
The code is for objects of ff/ffdf class and is based on version 0.6 of the package for download here.
hhp <- read.table.ffdf(file="/home/jan/Work/RForgeBNOSAC/github/RBelgium_HeritageHealthPrize/Data/Claims.csv", FUN = "read.csv", na.strings = "")
[1] "ffdf"
[1] 2668990      14
'data.frame': 10 obs. of  14 variables:
 $ MemberID             : int  42286978 97903248 2759427 73570559 11837054 45844561 99829076 54666321 60497718 72200595
 $ ProviderID           : int  8013252 3316066 2997752 7053364 7557061 1963488 6721023 9932074 363858 6251259
 $ Vendor               : int  172193 726296 140343 240043 496247 4042 265273 35565 293107 791272
 $ PCP                  : int  37796 5300 91972 70119 68968 55823 91972 27294 64913 49465
 $ Year                 : Factor w/ 3 levels "Y1","Y2","Y3": 1 3 3 3 2 3 1 1 2 3
 $ Specialty            : Factor w/ 12 levels "Anesthesiology",..: 12 5 5 6 12 10 11 2 11 5
 $ PlaceSvc             : Factor w/ 8 levels "Ambulance","Home",..: 5 5 5 3 7 5 5 5 5 5
 $ PayDelay             : Factor w/ 163 levels "0","10","101",..: 52 76 29 48 51 49 40 53 67 82
 $ LengthOfStay         : Factor w/ 10 levels "1 day","2- 4 weeks",..: NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA
 $ DSFS                 : Factor w/ 12 levels "0- 1 month","10-11 months",..: 11 10 1 8 7 6 1 1 4 10
 $ PrimaryConditionGroup: Factor w/ 45 levels "AMI","APPCHOL",..: 26 26 21 21 10 26 38 33 19 22
 $ CharlsonIndex        : Factor w/ 4 levels "0","1-2","3-4",..: 1 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 1 2
 $ ProcedureGroup       : Factor w/ 17 levels "ANES","EM","MED",..: 3 2 2 7 2 2 3 5 2 7
 $ SupLOS               : int  0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
## Some basic showoff
result <- list()
## Unique members, Unique combination of members and health care providers, find unexpected duplicated records
result$members <- unique(hhp$MemberID)
result$members.providers <- unique(hhp[c("MemberID","ProviderID")])
[1] 936859
## c operator
sum(duplicated(c(result$members, result$members))) # == length(result$members)
[1] 113000
## Basic example of operators, the ! operator and sum.ff
[1] 71598
[1] 2597392
## all and any
[1] TRUE
[1] TRUE
## Frequency table of Specialities and example of a 2-way table
result$speciality <- table.ff(hhp$Specialty, exclude=NA)
options(scipen = 1)
barplot(result$speciality[order(result$speciality)], col = "steelblue", horiz = FALSE, cex.names=0.6, main="Frequency table")
ffbase barplot table.ff
hhp$ProviderFactor <- with(data=hhp[c("ProviderID")], expr = as.character(ProviderID))
result$providerspeciality <- table.ff(hhp$Specialty, hhp$ProviderFactor, exclude=NA)
## Let's see if the member id's are uniformly distributed
hist(hhp$MemberID, col = "steelblue", main = "MemberID's histogram", xlab = "MemberID")
## %in% operator is overloaded
hhp$gp.laboratory <- hhp$Specialty %in% ff(factor(c("General Practice","Laboratory")))
ff (open) logical length=2668990 (2668990)
      [1]       [2]       [3]       [4]       [5]       [6]       [7]       [8]
    FALSE     FALSE     FALSE      TRUE     FALSE     FALSE     FALSE     FALSE
          [2668983] [2668984] [2668985] [2668986] [2668987] [2668988] [2668989]
        :     FALSE      TRUE     FALSE     FALSE     FALSE     FALSE     FALSE
## Some data cleaning
hhp$pdelay <- with(hhp[c("PayDelay")], as.numeric(PayDelay))
## Summary stats
[1] 59.78436
[1]   1 163
  0%  25%  50%  75% 100%
   1   45   55   73  163
## cumsum
hist(cumsum.ff(hhp$pdelay), col = "steelblue")
[1] 159556245
## cut
table.ff(cut(hhp$pdelay, breaks = c(-Inf, 1, 10, 100, +Inf)), exclude=NA)
  (-Inf,1]     (1,10]   (10,100] (100, Inf]
    141451      46720    2237723     243096
## apply a function to a group of data - ddply type of logic from package plyr
hhp$MemberIDFactor <- with(data=hhp[c("MemberID")], expr = as.character(MemberID))
result$delaybyperson <- ffdfdply(hhp[c("MemberID","pdelay")], split = hhp$MemberIDFactor, FUN=function(x){
 summaryBy(pdelay ~ MemberID, data=x, FUN=sum, keep.names=FALSE)
}, trace=FALSE)
  MemberID pdelay.sum
1    18190       3158
2    20072       4915
3    20482       4189
4    21207       2548
5    32317       1064
## merging (in fact joining based on ffmatch or ffdfmatch)
hhp <- merge(hhp, result$delaybyperson, by = "MemberID", all.x=TRUE, all.y=FALSE)
 [1] "MemberID"              "ProviderID"            "Vendor"               
 [4] "PCP"                   "Year"                  "Specialty"            
 [7] "PlaceSvc"              "PayDelay"              "LengthOfStay"         
[10] "DSFS"                  "PrimaryConditionGroup" "CharlsonIndex"        
[13] "ProcedureGroup"        "SupLOS"                "ProviderFactor"       
[16] "gp.laboratory"         "pdelay"                "MemberIDFactor"       
[19] "pdelay.sum"           
## Let's add a key (in version 0.6 of the package for download here)
hhp$key <- key(hhp[c("MemberID","ProviderID")])
max(hhp$key) == nrow(result$members.providers)
[1] TRUE
## A small example of operators
idx <- ffwhich(hhp[c("Specialty","PlaceSvc")], Specialty == "General Practice")
ff (open) integer length=473655 (473655)
     [1]      [2]      [3]      [4]      [5]      [6]      [7]      [8]
      18       19       20       31       35       42       45       62
         [473648] [473649] [473650] [473651] [473652] [473653] [473654]
       :  2668922  2668929  2668930  2668947  2668952  2668965  2668974
 2668984 <- hhp[idx, ]
[1] "ffdf"
[1] 473655
[1] 0
sum(hhp$Specialty == "General Practice", na.rm=TRUE)
[1] 473655
## Or apply subset
table.ff(hhp$Year, exclude=NA)
    Y1     Y2     Y3
865689 898872 904429
hhp.y1 <- subset(hhp, hhp$Year == "Y1")
[1] 865689

We welcome you to use the package if it suits your applications and if you have any requests, do post some comments to see how the package can be extended for your needs.