How to Fix in R: dim(X) must have a positive length


One error you may encounter in R is:

Error in apply(df$var1, 2, mean) : dim(X) must have a positive length 

This error occurs when you attempt to use the apply() function to calculate some metric for a column of a data frame or matrix, yet provide a vector as an argument instead of a data frame or matrix.

This tutorial shares exactly how to fix this error.

How to Reproduce the Error

Suppose we have the following data frame in R:

#create data frame
df <- data.frame(points=c(99, 97, 104, 79, 84, 88, 91, 99),
                 rebounds=c(34, 40, 41, 38, 29, 30, 22, 25),
                 blocks=c(12, 8, 8, 7, 8, 11, 6, 7))

#view data frame
df

  points rebounds blocks
1     99       34     12
2     97       40      8
3    104       41      8
4     79       38      7
5     84       29      8
6     88       30     11
7     91       22      6
8     99       25      7

Now suppose we attempt to use the apply() function to calculate the mean value in the ‘points’ column:

#attempt to calculate mean of 'points' column
apply(df$points, 2, mean)

Error in apply(df$points, 2, mean) : dim(X) must have a positive length

An error occurs because the apply() function must be applied to a data frame or matrix, yet in this example we attempt to apply it to a specific column in the data frame.

How to Fix the Error

The way to fix this error is to simply provide the name of the data frame to the apply() function as follows:

#calculate mean of every column in data frame
apply(df, 2, mean)

  points rebounds   blocks 
  92.625   32.375    8.375 

From the output, we can see the  mean value of each column in the data frame. For example, the mean value of the ‘points’ column is 92.625.

We can also use this function to only find the mean of specific values in the data frame:

#calculate mean of 'points' and 'blocks' column in data frame
apply(df[c('points', 'blocks')], 2, mean)

points blocks 
92.625  8.375

Lastly, if we’d like to find the mean of just one column then we can use the mean() function without using the apply() function at all:

#calculate mean of 'points' column
mean(df$points)

[1] 92.625

Additional Resources

The following tutorials explain how to troubleshoot other common errors in R:

How to Fix in R: names do not match previous names
How to Fix in R: longer object length is not a multiple of shorter object length
How to Fix in R: contrasts can be applied only to factors with 2 or more levels

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