Python is better suited for data analysis and applying statistical techniques. It is praised for its readability, speed, and multitude of functionalities. Deployment and reproducibility are very easy with Python, and the fact that it is a general-purpose programming language makes it useful for many purposes beyond analysis.

R is known for being hard to learn because it is very different than other analytical software, doesn’t have great support resources and documentation, and has a steep learning curve. Contrastingly, Python is known to be quite easy to learn because of its readability and similar structure to english syntax.

With a ton of hard work and time commitment, you can learn the basics of R in a week. However, you will gain a much better understanding of the language if you work with it for at least a few weeks.

No, R and Ruby are two completely different languages, which differ in their syntax, feature sets, and applications. R is specifically designed for statistical analysis, while Ruby is a general-purpose interpreted language.

The comparison of Python and R has been a hot topic in the industry circles for years. R has been around for more than two decades, specialized for statistical computing and graphics. Python is a general-purpose programming language that has many uses, including data science and statistics. Many beginners have the same question in mind: which of these two great languages should I pick for getting started with data science?

Python

Released in 1991, Python has built itself a strong reputation for being an incredibly simple language to get started with and do almost anything you could imagine. It powers websites, backend services, native desktop applications, image processing systems, machine learning pipelines, data transform systems, and more. It is very well known for its simplicity, making it one of the most accessible programming languages for anyone to utilize. The main advantages of the language are:
  • It has a syntax very similar to native English, so similar that most well-written scripts make sense reading out-loud.
  • It has a great community around it. For any problem you get stuck with, there are probably hundreds of other people that asked the same question and got answers online.
  • It has a huge amount of third-party modules and libraries for any application you can think of.
  • There is a very large data science community around the language, which means there are many tools and libraries for data science problems.
  • It supports both object-oriented programming and procedural programming paradigms, which gives you the freedom to choose depending on your needs.
With all of these advantages, it is no wonder that Python is one of the most popular languages in the industry. It is also used among huge tech companies like Google, Dropbox, Netflix, Stripe and Instagram, according to Ncube. 

R Project

R Project is a GNU project that consists of the R language, the runtime and the utilities to build applications with them. R is the interpreted language used in this environment. The language is specialized around statistical computing and graphics, meaning that it fits into many data science problems straight away and simplifies data science projects with built-in tooling and third party libraries around it. The advantages of the R language are:
  • It has many libraries and tools specialized for data operations. The language and these tools allow you to modify your data structures easily, transform them into more efficient structures or clean them up for your specific use-cases.
  • There are many very popular packages and libraries, such as tidyverse that takes care of data manipulation and visualization end to end. These libraries allow you to get started easily with your data science tasks without writing all the algorithms from scratch.
  • It has a very well-designed IDE called RStudio. Integrated with the language itself, RStudio provides syntax highlighting, code completion, integrated help, documentation, data visualization, and debuggers, allowing you to develop your R projects without leaving your screen.
  • The team behind R has been strongly focused on ensuring that the tools will work on all platforms, and thanks to those efforts R can run on Windows, macOS and Unix-like operating systems.
  • It has tooling around building web-based dashboards for data analysis and visualizations, such as Shiny which allows building interactive web apps directly from R.
Along with these advantages and its widespread usage in the data science community, R stands as a strong alternative to Python in data science projects.

Comparison: Python vs R

Since both of the languages offer similar advantages on paper, other factors might impact which of the language you decide to go with.

Popularity

Both of the languages are popular in the data science community.  However, when it comes to picking a language to add in your toolchain and experience, it might make sense to pick one that is popular in the industry and may allow you to transition to different positions within your area of expertise. According to Stack Overflow’s 2019 Developer Survey, Python is the 4th most popular programming language among 72,525 professional developers, even more popular than Java recently. In the same survey, R is in the 16th position.
Python vs. R for Data Science

Stack Overflow 2019 Developer Survey results among Professional Developers

One thing to keep in mind regarding these survey results is that they represent the developer community on Stack Overflow. This data is not specific to data scientists obviously. However, this may help to understand the current situation in the industry better. Looking at the global salaries worldwide on the same survey, it seems like both Python and R seem to be standing around the same point among 55,639 participants, with R being slightly better on average.
Python vs. R for Data Science

Languages with Salaries according to Stack Overflow 2019 Developer Survey

In addition to the survey results, you can see when looking at the Stack Overflow Trends that Python is more popular than R in terms of the number of questions asked.   Throughout the whole developer community, Python seems to be more popular than R. However, it is important to keep in mind that Python is a general-purpose programming language while R is specialized on statistical computing, which means this comparison is not apples-to-apples when it comes to their popularity among data scientists. For a better understanding in terms of data science, we can have a look at the 2019 Kaggle User Survey. In fact, they have a specific page on the dashboard for Python vs R.
Python vs. R for Data Science

Programming language distribution according to the 2019 Kaggle User Survey

As seen in the Kaggle data, Python has a bigger use among the data science community than R, although both of the languages have an impressive amount of usage.

Libraries

When it comes to data science, the availability of third-party libraries is very important to help you get started easily. Both of the languages have very vibrant communities around them, as well as rich package ecosystems that are worth taking a look at.

Python

  • NumPy: Numpy is a fundamental package that implements various data manipulation operations on top of array data structures. It contains highly efficient implementations of these data structures, as well as common functionality for many statistical computing tasks. Thanks to its efficient grounds, it allows the speeding up many complex tasks.
  • Pandas: Pandas is a powerful and easy-to-use open-source library for tabular data manipulation tasks. It contains efficient data structures that are very suitable for working with labeled data intuitively.
  • Matplotlib: Matplotlib is a library for creating static or interactive data visualizations. Thanks to its simplicity, you can create highly detailed graphs with a few lines of Python code.
  • Scikit-learn: As one of the most popular libraries in the Python ecosystem, scikit-learn contains tools built on top of Numpy, Pandas, and Scipy that are focused on various machine learning tasks, such as classification, regression, and clustering.
  • Tensorflow: Initially developed and open-sourced by Google, Tensorflow is a highly popular open-source library for developing and training machine learning and deep learning models.

R

  • Dplyr: Dplyr is a library for working with tabular data easily, both in memory and out of memory.
  • Ggplot2: Ggplot2 is a library focused on declaratively building data visualizations based on the book The Grammar of Graphics.
  • data.table: Similar to dplyr, data.table is a package designed for data manipulation with an expressive syntax. It implements efficient data filtering, selecting and shaping options that allow you to get your data in the shape you need before feeding it into your models.
  • Tidyverse: Tidyverse is a collection of R packages designed for data science. It includes many popular libraries including, to name a few: ggplot2 for data visualization, dplyr for intuitive data manipulation and readr for reading rectangular data from various sources.
  • Shiny: Shiny is a package that allows you to build highly interactive web pages from R and build dashboards easily.
  • Caret: Caret is a collection of tools and functions that are specialized for predictive models and machine learning, as well as data manipulation and pre-processing.
Looking at the number of libraries and the functionality of those packages, it seems like both of the languages have similar packages that simplify many data science tasks. All in all, for many tasks, when one is doable in Python, it is doable in R with a very similar effort.

Conclusion

Even though they seem to offer different things, both of the languages have advantages and disadvantages depending on your needs.
  • If you are looking to get into programming in general and want something that may be used in other areas of software development such as web development, then Python, being a general-purpose programming language, is a better choice.
  • If you are familiar with other scientific programming languages like MATLAB, it might be easier for you to learn R and get productive with it. There are many similarities between those languages, especially with vector operations and the general mindset about matrix operations rather than procedural methods.
  • If you need to do ad-hoc analyses and occasionally share them with other data scientists / technical people, it might be good to use Python along with Jupyter Notebooks.
  • If you are looking for ways to build quick dashboards for non-technical stakeholders and internal usage, it might be a good idea to utilize R with the amazing Shiny library.
  • If you need to develop APIs to expose your models or will need other software to interact with your models, it might be helpful for you to invest in Python and its huge tooling around all kinds of programming tasks. You can expose your models with a very simple API with Flask or FastAPI, or you can build fully-blown production-ready web applications with Django.
  • If you’d prefer to have all your packages handy and mainly focus on your analysis for your decision-making, and looking for the simplest setup to get started with, R might be the go-to tool there. Thanks to RStudio and its integrated features, going from raw data to analysis with visualizations without leaving your window is very easy.
  • Keep in mind that Python is easy to get started with as well and it is installed in many systems by default. Throughout the years it has evolved into different versions with different setups. Therefore, it is non-trivial to set up a well-functioning data science stack on your computer.
Just like any other problem, the solution mostly depends on the requirements of the problem. There is no right answer to this question other than “it depends”. Both of these languages are very powerful, and regardless of which one of them you invest your time in, if you are looking for a career in data science in the long term, there is no wrong answer. Learning any of these two languages will pay you in the future one way or another. Instead of falling into analysis paralysis, just pick one and move on with your work. It is well-understood that both of these languages are capable of dealing with the majority of data science problems, and the rest boils down to the methodology, capabilities of the team and the resources at hand, which are mostly independent of the language. Guest post: Burak Karakan Stay up to date with Saturn Cloud on LinkedIn and Twitter. You may also be interested in: Best Practices for Jupyter Notebooks.