R vs. Python

Which is the better language for data analysis, visualization, and machine learning?


R and Python are two popular choices in the fields of machine learning, data science, and analytics. Both of these languages can be used to perform tasks related to data analysis, visualization, and machine learning. In this article, we'll explore R and Python, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and practical use cases to help you make an informed choice.

What is the R programming language?

R was created in the early 1990s by two statisticians, Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman. An open-source language specifically designed to analyze and visualize data, R ranks in 7th place on the Popularity of Programming Language (PYPL) index.

R is well-known for its statistical capabilities with many packages and libraries, making it a popular choice among statisticians. Some of the most popular packages in R are the following:

  • rvest: Helps to perform web scraping tasks.
  • Rcrawler: Facilitates web crawling and data extraction.
  • RSelenium: Provides R bindings for the Selenium Webdriver for browser automation.
  • readr: Allows users to read data from delimited files such as comma-separated values (CSV) and tab-separated values (TSV).
  • readxl: Simplifies the import of data from Excel (.xls and .xlsx) files to R with no external dependencies.
  • sqldf: Compliments the execution of SQL statements on R data frames.
  • dplyr: Facilitates the performance of data manipulation.
  • ggplot2: Produces elegant data visualizations for data professionals working in R.
  • caret: Attempts to simplify the process of developing predictive ML models.
  • shiny: Makes it simple to create interactive web apps.

All these mentioned, plus another 19,000+ packages, are available on R’s Comprehensive R Archive Network (CRAN). You can install them using the install.packages("package_name") command.

What is the Python programming language?

Created in the late 1980s by Guido van Rossum, Python is an open-source, general-purpose language that ranks 1st place on the Popularity of Programming Language (PYPL) index.

Python wasn’t initially intended for data science, but its simplicity, and readability with a wide range of relevant libraries made it popular in the data science community. Here are some of the most popular packages in Python:

All these and another 480,000+ packages are available on Python’s Python Package Index (PYPI). You can install them using the command: python3 -m pip install "package_name" or pip3 install "package_name".

R or Python?

Now let’s compare R and Python and examine their strengths and weaknesses.

Ease of learning

Both R and Python have their unique syntax, but Python’s readability and simplicity make it a favorite among beginners.

R Python
R can appear intimidating at first, but with practice, you can become more comfortable and proficient with it. Python is known for being easy to read, simple to use, and perfect for coding beginners.

Note: If you already know Python, Apify offers comprehensive Python tutorials and hundreds of ready-made Actors for your web scraping or automation projects.

Data visualization

With packages like ggplot2, R shines in data visualization. Python also offers decent visualization using Matplotlib and seaborn, but may require additional tweaks to achieve similar results.

R Python
R stands out in creating customized plots with ease using the ggplot2 library. Python offers decent visualizations using Matplotlib and seaborn.

Statistical analysis

R is phenomenal when it comes to statistical analysis. Packages like dplyr and tidyr ease up the process of data manipulation and transformation. However, Python is catching up in the race with libraries like statsmodels and pandas.

R Python
R is one of the best options for statistical analysis with packages like dplyr and tidyr. Python is not as specialized as R, but it's gaining ground in statistical analysis with libraries like statsmodels and pandas.
Perfect for statisticians starting out in machine learning. Ideal for those who want to dive deep into machine learning and AI.

Machine learning

Python has a stronger machine learning ecosystem with libraries like scikit-learn, TensorFlow, and Keras. R’s caret and xgboost packages offer competent alternatives but with a more specialized focus.

R Python
R offers competent machine learning capabilities with packages like caret and xgboost. Python’s ecosystem is much more powerful for machine learning with libraries like scikit-learn, TensorFlow, and Keras.
Perfect for statisticians starting out in machine learning. Ideal for those who want to dive deep into machine learning and AI.

Community and support

Python enjoys a larger and more diverse community, resulting in many online resources, tutorials, and community-driven development. R’s community is robust but more specialized in statistics and data analysis.

R Python
R has a robust community specializing in statistics and data analysis. Python enjoys a larger and more diverse developer community.
Online resources and tutorials are available but with a narrower focus. Online resources, tutorials, and community-driven development are available in abundance.


Python’s ability to adapt seamlessly to other technologies makes it an excellent choice for full-stack development. R primarily excels in data-centric domains.

R Python
R excels in data-centric domains, making it perfect for data analysis and visualization. Python’s versatility extends to seamless integration with various technologies.
Limited integration beyond data-centric applications. Ideal for full-stack development and beyond.
It’s the heart of data science. The Swiss Army knife of programming languages.

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How to choose between R and Python

With that, here’s a quick guide to help you decide between R and Python as per your needs and preferences:

Choose R Choose Python
If you're primarily focused on statistical analysis. If you want to cover a wide range of tasks beyond data analysis.
If data visualization is a crucial part of your work. If machine learning and artificial intelligence are central to your projects.
If you prefer a specialized community of statisticians and data enthusiasts. If you value a large and diverse community of developers.

Common IDEs

Once you've chosen a language, there are some tools and software available to make your life easier while coding. These software are often referred to as Integrated Development Environments (IDEs). An IDE can boost your coding productivity by providing features such as auto code completion, formatting, indentation, debugging, testing, and so on. Some of the most popular IDEs are as follows:

  • Jupyter Notebook or JupyterLab is an interactive web-based IDE for data professionals with an intuitive, easy-to-use document-centric interface. JupyterLab is the next iteration of Jupyter Notebook, and it can help you work with 40+ programming languages, including R and Python.
  • Scientific Python Development Environment (Spyder) is an open-source and lightweight Python IDE mostly used by data scientists and ML practitioners. It offers static code analysis, debugging, data exploration, inspection, and interactive code execution features.
  • RStudio is an open-source R IDE that offers integrated R help and documentation, a built-in code debugger, auto code completion, smart indentation, and syntax highlighting features. It ranks 11th place on the Top IDE Index.
  • PyCharm is another excellent Python IDE offered by JetBrains and ranks 4th place on the Top IDE Index. Along with features like intelligent code completion, PEP8 checks, syntax highlighting, smart indentation, inspection, refactoring, debugging, and testing, it supports 50+ programming languages, including Python and R.
  • Visual Studio Code is the most popular (2nd place on the Top IDE Index) cross-platform IDE offered by Microsoft. It's a lightweight and open-source IDE that supports many languages, including R, Python, C, C++, C#, .NET, Java, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, TypeScript, Node.js, and SQL. It provides features like code completion, error checks/highlighting, refactoring, debugging, and built-in Git support. It lets you install extensions from the Visual Studio Code Marketplace to include out-of-the-box features to support your development workflow.
Note: You can create, share, switch, and manage your environments for different projects on your machine with Anaconda. It's a cross-platform software distribution that comes bundled with 8,000+ pre-installed packages and an open-source package and environment manager called Conda. As a package manager, Conda lets you easily install, update, share, and manage packages and dependencies. With this software distribution, you’ll also get a desktop application called Anaconda Navigator, which lets you manage the project environment, packages, and dependencies without using the command line.

Is there a winner?

In this R vs. Python comparison, we'd have to call it a draw. Both languages are quite powerful and have their strengths. Your choice should align with your goals, project requirements, and personal preferences.

As the field of data science evolves with each passing day, the lines between these languages continue to blur. In fact, many data professionals choose to become skilled in both R and Python, using each as needed. I hope I've given you some information to make the choice easier!

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Which language is better for data analysis, R or Python?

The selection criteria between R and Python for a project greatly depends upon the specifications and needs of the project. However, R is preferred for statistical modeling and data visualization, while Python is preferred for data manipulation, machine learning, and web development.

Which language is easier to learn for beginners, R or Python?

Python is considered a beginner-friendly language due to its simple and easy-to-read syntax. R can be challenging for newcomers, especially those without computer science or programming backgrounds. However, with practice, you can become more comfortable and proficient with R.

Can I perform machine learning tasks in both R and Python?

Yes, both R and Python have libraries and frameworks for machine learning, but Python’s ecosystem is preferred for machine learning tasks.

Which language is better for statistical analysis and reporting, R or Python?

R is preferred for statistical analysis and generating reports, as it was designed with statistics in mind and has packages like knitr and rmarkdown for fast and dynamic documentation.

Can I use both R and Python in the same data analysis project?

Yes, it’s common to use both languages in a project. You can utilize R for statistical analysis and data visualization and Python for data preprocessing and machine learning.



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