This document serves as an overview for attacking common combinatorial problems in R. One of the goals of RcppAlgos is to provide a comprehensive and accessible suite of functionality so that users can easily get to the heart of their problem. As a bonus, the functions in RcppAlgos are extremely efficient and are constantly being improved with every release.

It should be noted that this document only covers common problems. For more information on other combinatorial problems addressed by RcppAlgos, see the following vignettes:

For much of the output below, we will be using the following function obtained here combining head and tail methods in R (credit to user @flodel)

ht <- function(d, m = 5, n = m) {
  ## print the head and tail together
  cat("head -->\n")
  print(head(d, m))
  cat("--------\n")
  cat("tail -->\n")
  print(tail(d, n))
}

Introducing comboGeneral and permuteGeneral

Easily executed with a very simple interface. The output is in lexicographical order.

We first look at getting results without repetition. You can pass an integer n and it will be converted to the sequence 1:n, or you can pass any vector with an atomic type (i.e. logical, integer, numeric, complex, character, and raw).

library(RcppAlgos)

## combn output for reference
combn(4, 3)
     [,1] [,2] [,3] [,4]
[1,]    1    1    1    2
[2,]    2    2    3    3
[3,]    3    4    4    4

## This is the same as combn expect the output is transposed
comboGeneral(4, 3)
     [,1] [,2] [,3]
[1,]    1    2    3
[2,]    1    2    4
[3,]    1    3    4
[4,]    2    3    4

## Find all 3-tuple permutations without
## repetition of the numbers c(1, 2, 3, 4).
head(permuteGeneral(4, 3))
     [,1] [,2] [,3]
[1,]    1    2    3
[2,]    1    2    4
[3,]    1    3    2
[4,]    1    3    4
[5,]    1    4    2
[6,]    1    4    3

## If you don't specify m, the length of v (if v is a vector) or v (if v is a 
## scalar (see the examples above)) will be used
v <- c(2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13)
comboGeneral(v)
     [,1] [,2] [,3] [,4] [,5] [,6]
[1,]    2    3    5    7   11   13

head(permuteGeneral(v))
     [,1] [,2] [,3] [,4] [,5] [,6]
[1,]    2    3    5    7   11   13
[2,]    2    3    5    7   13   11
[3,]    2    3    5   11    7   13
[4,]    2    3    5   11   13    7
[5,]    2    3    5   13    7   11
[6,]    2    3    5   13   11    7


## They are very efficient...
system.time(comboGeneral(25, 12))
 user  system elapsed 
0.101   0.048   0.151
 
comboCount(25, 12)
[1] 5200300

ht(comboGeneral(25, 12))
head -->
     [,1] [,2] [,3] [,4] [,5] [,6] [,7] [,8] [,9] [,10] [,11] [,12]
[1,]    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    12
[2,]    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    13
[3,]    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    14
[4,]    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    15
[5,]    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    16
--------
tail -->
           [,1] [,2] [,3] [,4] [,5] [,6] [,7] [,8] [,9] [,10] [,11] [,12]
[5200296,]   13   14   15   16   18   19   20   21   22    23    24    25
[5200297,]   13   14   15   17   18   19   20   21   22    23    24    25
[5200298,]   13   14   16   17   18   19   20   21   22    23    24    25
[5200299,]   13   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22    23    24    25
[5200300,]   14   15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22    23    24    25


## And for permutations... over 8 million instantly
system.time(permuteCount(13, 7))
user  system elapsed 
   0       0       0
    
permuteCount(13, 7)
[1] 8648640

ht(permuteGeneral(13, 7))
head -->
     [,1] [,2] [,3] [,4] [,5] [,6] [,7]
[1,]    1    2    3    4    5    6    7
[2,]    1    2    3    4    5    6    8
[3,]    1    2    3    4    5    6    9
[4,]    1    2    3    4    5    6   10
[5,]    1    2    3    4    5    6   11
--------
tail -->
           [,1] [,2] [,3] [,4] [,5] [,6] [,7]
[8648636,]   13   12   11   10    9    8    3
[8648637,]   13   12   11   10    9    8    4
[8648638,]   13   12   11   10    9    8    5
[8648639,]   13   12   11   10    9    8    6
[8648640,]   13   12   11   10    9    8    7


## Factors are preserved
permuteGeneral(factor(c("low", "med", "high"),
               levels = c("low", "med", "high"),
               ordered = TRUE))
     [,1] [,2] [,3]
[1,] low  med  high
[2,] low  high med 
[3,] med  low  high
[4,] med  high low 
[5,] high low  med 
[6,] high med  low 
Levels: low < med < high

Combinations/Permutations with Repetition

There are many problems in combinatorics which require finding combinations/permutations with repetition. This is easily achieved by setting repetition to TRUE.

fourDays <- weekdays(as.Date("2019-10-09") + 0:3, TRUE)
ht(comboGeneral(fourDays, repetition = TRUE))
head -->
     [,1]  [,2]  [,3]  [,4] 
[1,] "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed"
[2,] "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Thu"
[3,] "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Fri"
[4,] "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Sat"
[5,] "Wed" "Wed" "Thu" "Thu"
--------
tail -->
      [,1]  [,2]  [,3]  [,4] 
[31,] "Fri" "Fri" "Fri" "Fri"
[32,] "Fri" "Fri" "Fri" "Sat"
[33,] "Fri" "Fri" "Sat" "Sat"
[34,] "Fri" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat"
[35,] "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat"

## When repetition = TRUE, m can exceed length(v)
ht(comboGeneral(fourDays, 8, TRUE))
head -->
     [,1]  [,2]  [,3]  [,4]  [,5]  [,6]  [,7]  [,8] 
[1,] "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed"
[2,] "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Thu"
[3,] "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Fri"
[4,] "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Sat"
[5,] "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Wed" "Thu" "Thu"
--------
tail -->
       [,1]  [,2]  [,3]  [,4]  [,5]  [,6]  [,7]  [,8] 
[161,] "Fri" "Fri" "Fri" "Fri" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat"
[162,] "Fri" "Fri" "Fri" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat"
[163,] "Fri" "Fri" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat"
[164,] "Fri" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat"
[165,] "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat" "Sat"


fibonacci <- c(1L, 2L, 3L, 5L, 8L, 13L, 21L, 34L)
permsFib <- permuteGeneral(fibonacci, 5, TRUE)

ht(permsFib)
head -->
     [,1] [,2] [,3] [,4] [,5]
[1,]    1    1    1    1    1
[2,]    1    1    1    1    2
[3,]    1    1    1    1    3
[4,]    1    1    1    1    5
[5,]    1    1    1    1    8
--------
tail -->
         [,1] [,2] [,3] [,4] [,5]
[32764,]   34   34   34   34    5
[32765,]   34   34   34   34    8
[32766,]   34   34   34   34   13
[32767,]   34   34   34   34   21
[32768,]   34   34   34   34   34


## N.B. class is preserved
class(fibonacci)
[1] "integer"

class(permsFib[1, ])
[1] "integer"

## Binary representation of all numbers from 0 to 1023
ht(permuteGeneral(0:1, 10, T))
head -->
     [,1] [,2] [,3] [,4] [,5] [,6] [,7] [,8] [,9] [,10]
[1,]    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0     0
[2,]    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0     1
[3,]    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    1     0
[4,]    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    1     1
[5,]    0    0    0    0    0    0    0    1    0     0
--------
tail -->
        [,1] [,2] [,3] [,4] [,5] [,6] [,7] [,8] [,9] [,10]
[1020,]    1    1    1    1    1    1    1    0    1     1
[1021,]    1    1    1    1    1    1    1    1    0     0
[1022,]    1    1    1    1    1    1    1    1    0     1
[1023,]    1    1    1    1    1    1    1    1    1     0
[1024,]    1    1    1    1    1    1    1    1    1     1

Working with Multisets

Sometimes, the standard combination/permutation functions don’t quite get us to our desired goal. For example, one may need all permutations of a vector with some of the elements repeated a specific number of times (i.e. a multiset). Consider the following vector a <- c(1,1,1,1,2,2,2,7,7,7,7,7) and one would like to find permutations of a of length 6. Using traditional methods, we would need to generate all permutations, then eliminate duplicate values. Even considering that permuteGeneral is very efficient, this approach is clunky and not as fast as it could be. Observe:

getPermsWithSpecificRepetition <- function(z, n) {
    b <- permuteGeneral(z, n)
    myDupes <- duplicated(b)
    b[!myDupes, ]
}

a <- c(1,1,1,1,2,2,2,7,7,7,7,7)

system.time(test <- getPermsWithSpecificRepetition(a, 6))
  user  system elapsed 
 2.317   0.059   2.385

Enter freqs

Situations like this call for the use of the freqs argument. Simply, enter the number of times each unique element is repeated and Voila!

system.time(test2 <- permuteGeneral(unique(a), 6, freqs = rle(a)$lengths))
 user  system elapsed 
    0       0       0
      
identical(test, test2)
[1] TRUE

Here are some more general examples with multisets:

## Generate all permutations of a vector with specific
## length of repetition for each element (i.e. multiset)
ht(permuteGeneral(3, freqs = c(1,2,2)))
head -->
     [,1] [,2] [,3] [,4] [,5]
[1,]    1    2    2    3    3
[2,]    1    2    3    2    3
[3,]    1    2    3    3    2
[4,]    1    3    2    2    3
[5,]    1    3    2    3    2
--------
tail -->
      [,1] [,2] [,3] [,4] [,5]
[26,]    3    2    3    1    2
[27,]    3    2    3    2    1
[28,]    3    3    1    2    2
[29,]    3    3    2    1    2
[30,]    3    3    2    2    1

## or combinations of a certain length
comboGeneral(3, 2, freqs = c(1,2,2))
     [,1] [,2]
[1,]    1    2
[2,]    1    3
[3,]    2    2
[4,]    2    3
[5,]    3    3

Parallel Computing

Using the parameter Parallel or nThreads, we can generate combinations/permutations with greater efficiency.

library(microbenchmark)

## RcppAlgos uses the "number of threads available minus one" when Parallel is TRUE
RcppAlgos::stdThreadMax()
[1] 8

## Compared to combn using 4 threads
microbenchmark(combn = combn(25, 10),
               serAlgos = comboGeneral(25, 10),
               parAlgos = comboGeneral(25, 10, nThreads = 4),
               times = 10, 
               unit = "relative")
Unit: relative
     expr        min         lq      mean     median         uq       max neval
    combn 140.873986 143.411149 66.043305 128.898187 120.543678 18.503645    10
 serAlgos   2.295844   2.302306  2.062132   2.117214   7.153547  1.080612    10
 parAlgos   1.000000   1.000000  1.000000   1.000000   1.000000  1.000000    10


## Using 7 cores w/ Parallel = TRUE
microbenchmark(serial = comboGeneral(20, 10, freqs = rep(1:4, 5)),
             parallel = comboGeneral(20, 10, freqs = rep(1:4, 5), Parallel = TRUE))
Unit: milliseconds
     expr       min         lq      mean     median         uq       max neval
   serial  3.031987   2.990349  2.969633   3.000991   2.992326  2.014025   100
 parallel  1.000000   1.000000  1.000000   1.000000   1.000000  1.000000   100
 

set.seed(2187)
bigVec <- sort(sample(10^7, 600))

## Use it with any of the combinatorial functions
system.time(permuteGeneral(bigVec, 3, Parallel = T))
  user  system elapsed
 1.067   3.645   0.902
 
prettyNum(permuteCount(bigVec, 3), big.mark = ",")
[1] "214,921,200"

Using arguments lower and upper

There are arguments lower and upper that can be utilized to generate chunks of combinations/permutations without having to generate all of them followed by subsetting. As the output is in lexicographical order, these arguments specify where to start and stop generating. For example, comboGeneral(5, 3) outputs 10 combinations of the vector 1:5 chosen 3 at a time. We can set lower to 5 in order to start generation from the 5th lexicographical combination. Similarly, we can set upper to 4 in order to only generate the first 4 combinations. We can also use them together to produce only a certain chunk of combinations. For example, setting lower to 4 and upper to 6 only produces the 4th, 5th, and 6th lexicographical combinations. Observe:

comboGeneral(5, 3, lower = 4, upper = 6)
     [,1] [,2] [,3]
[1,]    1    3    4
[2,]    1    3    5
[3,]    1    4    5

## is equivalent to the following:
comboGeneral(5, 3)[4:6, ]
     [,1] [,2] [,3]
[1,]    1    3    4
[2,]    1    3    5
[3,]    1    4    5

Generating Results Beyond .Machine$integer.max

In addition to being useful by avoiding the unnecessary overhead of generating all combination/permutations followed by subsetting just to see a few specific results, lower and upper can be utilized to generate large number of combinations/permutations in parallel (see this stackoverflow post for a real use case). Observe:

## Over 3 billion results
comboCount(35, 15)
[1] 3247943160

## 10086780 evenly divides 3247943160, otherwise you need to ensure that
## upper does not exceed the total number of results (E.g. see below, we
## would have "if ((x + foo) > 3247943160) {myUpper = 3247943160}" where
## foo is the size of the increment you choose to use in seq()).

system.time(lapply(seq(1, 3247943160, 10086780), function(x) {
     temp <- comboGeneral(35, 15, lower = x, upper = x + 10086779)
     ## do something
     x
}))
   user  system elapsed 
 99.495  49.993 149.467


## Enter parallel
library(parallel)
system.time(mclapply(seq(1, 3247943160, 10086780), function(x) {
     temp <- comboGeneral(35, 15, lower = x, upper = x + 10086779)
     ## do something
     x
}, mc.cores = 6))
   user  system elapsed 
125.361  85.916  35.641

GMP Support

The arguments lower and upper are also useful when one needs to explore combinations/permutations where the number of results is large:

set.seed(222)
myVec <- rnorm(1000)

## HUGE number of combinations
comboCount(myVec, 50, repetition = TRUE)
Big Integer ('bigz') :
[1] 109740941767310814894854141592555528130828577427079559745647393417766593803205094888320

## Let's look at one hundred thousand combinations in the range (1e15 + 1, 1e15 + 1e5)
system.time(b <- comboGeneral(myVec, 50, TRUE, 
                              lower = 1e15 + 1,
                              upper = 1e15 + 1e5))
   user  system elapsed 
  0.008   0.000   0.008
  
b[1:5, 45:50]
          [,1]      [,2]      [,3]     [,4]      [,5]       [,6]
[1,] 0.5454861 0.4787456 0.7797122 2.004614 -1.257629 -0.7740501
[2,] 0.5454861 0.4787456 0.7797122 2.004614 -1.257629  0.1224679
[3,] 0.5454861 0.4787456 0.7797122 2.004614 -1.257629 -0.2033493
[4,] 0.5454861 0.4787456 0.7797122 2.004614 -1.257629  1.5511027
[5,] 0.5454861 0.4787456 0.7797122 2.004614 -1.257629  1.0792094

User Defined Functions

You can also pass user defined functions by utilizing the argument FUN. This feature’s main purpose is for convenience, however it is somewhat more efficient than generating all combinations/permutations and then using a function from the apply family (N.B. the argument Parallel has no effect when FUN is employed).

funCustomComb = function(n, r) {
    combs = comboGeneral(n, r)
    lapply(1:nrow(combs), function(x) cumprod(combs[x,]))
}

identical(funCustomComb(15, 8), comboGeneral(15, 8, FUN = cumprod))
[1] TRUE

microbenchmark(f1 = funCustomComb(15, 8),
               f2 = comboGeneral(15, 8, FUN = cumprod), unit = "relative")
unit: relative
 expr      min       lq     mean   median       uq      max neval
   f1 6.948574 6.955633 6.960554 6.961681 6.515623 9.688503   100
   f2 1.000000 1.000000 1.000000 1.000000 1.000000 1.000000   100
   
comboGeneral(15, 8, FUN = cumprod, upper = 3)
[[1]]
[1]     1     2     6    24   120   720  5040 40320

[[2]]
[1]     1     2     6    24   120   720  5040 45360

[[3]]
[1]     1     2     6    24   120   720  5040 50400


## An example involving the powerset
unlist(comboGeneral(c("", letters[1:3]), 3, 
                    freqs = c(2, rep(1, 3)),
                    FUN = function(x) paste0(x, collapse = "")))
[1] "a"   "b"   "c"   "ab"  "ac"  "bc"  "abc"

Cartesian Product where Order does not Matter

Given a list of vectors, v1, v2, … , vn, where the intersection of two or more vectors in non-empty, find all unique combinations (order does not matter) of elements of the cartesian product of all of the vectors.

For example, lets say we have: v1 = 1:4 and v2 = 2:5. The cartestion product is given by expand.grid(v1, v2):

expand.grid(1:4, 2:5)
   Var1 Var2
1     1    2
2     2    2
3     3    2  <-- Same as row 6
4     4    2  <-- Same as row 10
5     1    3
6     2    3  <-- Same as row 3
7     3    3
8     4    3  <-- Same as row 11
9     1    4
10    2    4  <-- Same as row 4
11    3    4  <-- Same as row 8
12    4    4
13    1    5
14    2    5
15    3    5
16    4    5

If we don’t care about order, the following row pairs are considered equal and can therefore be pruned to obtain our desired results:

  • (r3, r6)
  • (r4, r10)
  • (r8, r11)

With comboGrid no duplicates are generated:

comboGrid(1:4, 2:5)
      Var1 Var2
 [1,]    1    2
 [2,]    1    3
 [3,]    1    4
 [4,]    1    5
 [5,]    2    2
 [6,]    2    3
 [7,]    2    4
 [8,]    2    5
 [9,]    3    3
[10,]    3    4
[11,]    3    5
[12,]    4    4
[13,]    4    5

Note that the order of expand.grid and comboGrid differ. The order of comboGrid is lexicographical meaning that the last column will vary the fastest whereas with expand.grid, the first column will vary the fastest.

You will also note that the output of expand.grid is a data.frame whereas with comboGrid, we get a matrix. With comboGrid, we only get a data.frame when the classes of each vector are different as generally speaking, working with matrices is preferrable.

With the small example above, we only had to filter out 3 out of 16 total results (less than 20%). That isn’t that bad. If this was the general case, we might as well just stick with expand.grid as it is very efficient. Unfortunately, this is not the general case and as the number of vectors with overlap increases, filtering will become impractical.

Consider the following example:

pools = list(c(1, 10, 14, 6),
             c(7, 2, 4, 8, 3, 11, 12),
             c(11, 3, 13, 4, 15, 8, 6, 5),
             c(10, 1, 3, 2, 9, 5,  7),
             c(1, 5, 10, 3, 8, 14),
             c(15, 3, 7, 10, 4, 5, 8, 6),
             c(14, 9, 11, 15),
             c(7, 6, 13, 14, 10, 11, 9, 4),
             c(6,  3,  2, 14,  7, 12,  9),
             c(6, 11,  2,  5, 15,  7))
  
## If we used expand.grid, we would have to filter
## more than 100 million results
prod(lengths(pools))
[1] 101154816

## With comboGrid, this is no problem
system.time(myCombs <- comboGrid(pools))
   user  system elapsed 
  0.958   0.069   1.027

print(object.size(myCombs), unit = "Mb")
92 Mb

ht(myCombs)
head -->
     Var1 Var2 Var3 Var4 Var5 Var6 Var7 Var8 Var9 Var10
[1,]    1    2    3    1    1    3    9    4    2     2
[2,]    1    2    3    1    1    3    9    4    2     5
[3,]    1    2    3    1    1    3    9    4    2     6
[4,]    1    2    3    1    1    3    9    4    2     7
[5,]    1    2    3    1    1    3    9    4    2    11
--------
tail -->
           Var1 Var2 Var3 Var4 Var5 Var6 Var7 Var8 Var9 Var10
[1205736,]   14   12   15   10   14   15   15   11   12    15
[1205737,]   14   12   15   10   14   15   15   13   12    15
[1205738,]   14   12   15   10   14   15   15   13   14    15
[1205739,]   14   12   15   10   14   15   15   14   12    15
[1205740,]   14   12   15   10   14   15   15   14   14    15


## This is just the time to create the cartesian product
## Generating keys, then filtering will take much more time
system.time(cartProd <- expand.grid(pools))
   user  system elapsed 
  7.531   2.899  10.431

## Creates huge object
print(object.size(cartProd), unit = "Mb")
7717.5 Mb

## What if we want results with unique values... 
## Simply set repetition = FALSE
system.time(myCombs <- comboGrid(pools, repetition = FALSE))
   user  system elapsed 
  0.029   0.007   0.035

ht(myCombsNoRep)
head -->
     Var1 Var2 Var3 Var4 Var5 Var6 Var7 Var8 Var9 Var10
[1,]    1    2    3    5    8    4    9    6    7    11
[2,]    1    2    3    5    8    4    9    6    7    15
[3,]    1    2    3    5    8    4    9    6   12     7
[4,]    1    2    3    5    8    4    9    6   12    11
[5,]    1    2    3    5    8    4    9    6   12    15
--------
tail -->
        Var1 Var2 Var3 Var4 Var5 Var6 Var7 Var8 Var9 Var10
[2977,]   14    3    4    5    8   15    9   13   12    11
[2978,]   14    3    4    7    5   15    9   13   12    11
[2979,]   14    3    4    7    8   15    9   13   12    11
[2980,]   14    3    5    7    8   15    9   13   12    11
[2981,]   14    4    5    7    8   15    9   13   12    11

The function comboGrid was highly inspired by the following question on stackoverflow:

Currenlty, the underlying algorithm is not the gold standard. By that, we mean that results are not generated one by one. Efforts are underway to achieve this, but up until this point it has proven quite difficult (See the comprehensive answer by Tim Peters (yes, that Tim Peters)).

The algorithm in comboGrid leverages The Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic to efficiently generate keys that will be used in a hash function to determine if a particular combination of elements have been encountered. For greater efficiency, we make use of deduplication as user2357112 suggests.

Partitions of Groups of Equal Size with comboGroups

Given a vector of length n and k groups, where k divides n, each group is comprised of a combination of the vector chosen g = n / k at a time. As is stated in the documentation (see ?comboGroups), these can be constructed by first generating all permutations of the vector and subsequently removing entries with permuted groups. Let us consider the following example. Given v = 1:12, generate all partitions v into 3 groups each of size 4.

funBruteGrp <- function(myLow = 1, myUp) {
    mat <- do.call(rbind, permuteGeneral(12, lower = myLow, upper = myUp,
        FUN = function(x) {
        sapply(seq(0, 8, 4), function(y) {
            paste0(c("(", x[(y + 1):(y + 4)], ")"), collapse = " ")
        })
    }))
    colnames(mat) <- paste0("Grp", 1:3)
    rownames(mat) <- myLow:myUp
    mat
}

## All of these are the same as only the 3rd group is being permuted
funBruteGrp(myUp = 6)
  Grp1          Grp2          Grp3            
1 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 8 )" "( 9 10 11 12 )"
2 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 8 )" "( 9 10 12 11 )"
3 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 8 )" "( 9 11 10 12 )"
4 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 8 )" "( 9 11 12 10 )"
5 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 8 )" "( 9 12 10 11 )"
6 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 8 )" "( 9 12 11 10 )"

## We found our second distinct partition
funBruteGrp(myLow = 23, myUp = 26)
   Grp1          Grp2          Grp3            
23 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 8 )" "( 12 11 9 10 )"
24 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 8 )" "( 12 11 10 9 )"
25 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 9 )" "( 8 10 11 12 )"  ## <<-- 2nd distinct partition of groups
26 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 9 )" "( 8 10 12 11 )"

funBruteGrp(myLow = 48, myUp = 50)
   Grp1          Grp2           Grp3            
48 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 9 )"  "( 12 11 10 8 )"
49 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 10 )" "( 8 9 11 12 )"  ## <<-- 3rd distinct partition of groups
50 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 10 )" "( 8 9 12 11 )" 

We are starting to see a pattern. Each new partition is exactly 24 spots away. This makes sense as there are factorial(4) = 24 permutations of size 4. Now, this is an oversimplification as if we simply generate every 24th permutation, we will still get duplication as they start to carry over to the other groups. Observe:

do.call(rbind, lapply(seq(1, 145, 24), function(x) {
    funBruteGrp(myLow = x, myUp = x)
}))
Grp1          Grp2           Grp3            
1   "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 8 )"  "( 9 10 11 12 )"
25  "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 9 )"  "( 8 10 11 12 )"
49  "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 10 )" "( 8 9 11 12 )" 
73  "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 11 )" "( 8 9 10 12 )" 
97  "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 7 12 )" "( 8 9 10 11 )" 
121 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 8 7 )"  "( 9 10 11 12 )"  ## <<-- This is the same as the 1st
145 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 8 9 )"  "( 7 10 11 12 )"  ## partition. The only difference is
169 "( 1 2 3 4 )" "( 5 6 8 10 )" "( 7 9 11 12 )"   ## that the 2nd Grp has been permuted

This only gets more muddled as the number of groups increases. It is also very inefficient, however this exercise hopefully serves to better illustrate these structures.

The algorithm in comboGroups avoids all of this duplication by implementing a novel algorithm akin to std::next_permutation from the algorithm library in C++.

system.time(comboGroups(12, numGroups = 3))
   user  system elapsed 
      0       0       0
      
ht(comboGroups(12, numGroups = 3))
head -->
     Grp1 Grp1 Grp1 Grp1 Grp2 Grp2 Grp2 Grp2 Grp3 Grp3 Grp3 Grp3
[1,]    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9   10   11   12
[2,]    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    9    8   10   11   12
[3,]    1    2    3    4    5    6    7   10    8    9   11   12
[4,]    1    2    3    4    5    6    7   11    8    9   10   12
[5,]    1    2    3    4    5    6    7   12    8    9   10   11
--------
tail -->
        Grp1 Grp1 Grp1 Grp1 Grp2 Grp2 Grp2 Grp2 Grp3 Grp3 Grp3 Grp3
[5771,]    1   10   11   12    2    5    8    9    3    4    6    7
[5772,]    1   10   11   12    2    6    7    8    3    4    5    9
[5773,]    1   10   11   12    2    6    7    9    3    4    5    8
[5774,]    1   10   11   12    2    6    8    9    3    4    5    7
[5775,]    1   10   11   12    2    7    8    9    3    4    5    6

Just as in combo/permuteGeneral, we can utilize the arguments lower, upper, Parallel, and nThreads.

comboGroupsCount(30, 6)
Big Integer ('bigz') :
[1] 123378675083039376

system.time(a1 <- comboGroups(30, numGroups = 6, 
                              lower = "123378675000000000",
                              upper = "123378675005000000"))
   user  system elapsed 
  0.299   0.113   0.412

## Use specific number of threads
system.time(a2 <- comboGroups(30, numGroups = 6, 
                              lower = "123378675000000000",
                              upper = "123378675005000000", nThreads = 4))
   user  system elapsed 
  0.358   0.197   0.146

## Use n - 1 number of threads (in this case, there are 7)
system.time(a3 <- comboGroups(30, numGroups = 6, 
                              lower = "123378675000000000",
                              upper = "123378675005000000", Parallel = TRUE))
   user  system elapsed 
  0.466   0.307   0.118
  
identical(a1, a2)
[1] TRUE

identical(a1, a3)
[1] TRUE

There is one additional argument (i.e. retType) not present in the other two general functions that allows the user to specify the type of object returned. The user can select between "matrix" (the default) and "3Darray". This structure has a natural connection to 3D space. We have a particular result (1st dimension) broken down into groups (2nd dimension) of a certain size (3rd dimension).

my3D <- comboGroups(factor(month.abb), 4, retType = "3Darray")
my3D[1, , ]
     Grp1 Grp2 Grp3 Grp4
[1,] Jan  Apr  Jul  Oct 
[2,] Feb  May  Aug  Nov 
[3,] Mar  Jun  Sep  Dec 
Levels: Apr Aug Dec Feb Jan Jul Jun Mar May Nov Oct Sep

comboGroupsCount(12, 4)
[1] 15400

my3D[15400, , ]
     Grp1 Grp2 Grp3 Grp4
[1,] Jan  Feb  Mar  Apr 
[2,] Nov  Sep  Jul  May 
[3,] Dec  Oct  Aug  Jun 
Levels: Apr Aug Dec Feb Jan Jul Jun Mar May Nov Oct Sep