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Pandas: Split-Apply-Combine with groupby()

Updated: at 01:45 AM

Pandas is a popular open-source Python library used for data manipulation and analysis. One of the most powerful features of Pandas is the groupby() method, which allows you to split data into groups, apply a function to each group independently, and then combine the results into a new data structure.

The process of splitting data into groups, applying a function to each group, and combining the output is commonly known as split-apply-combine. The groupby() method encapsulates this pattern nicely in Pandas. Using groupby() allows you to answer questions about your data based on groups and aggregates, making your data analysis code elegant, flexible, and expressive.

In this comprehensive guide, you will learn:

By the end, you will have mastered the nuances of Pandas’ powerful groupby() functionality to conduct fast, efficient data analysis and manipulation.

Splitting Data into Groups

The first step when using groupby() is to split the data into groups based on one or more keys. This splits the DataFrame or Series into groups based on distinct values in the specified columns.

There are several ways to group data with Pandas:

Group by Single Column

To group by a single column, pass the column name as a string to groupby().

import pandas as pd

df = pd.DataFrame({'Department': ['Sales', 'Marketing', 'Sales', 'Marketing'],
                   'Revenue': [256, 210, 363, 298]})


This groups df by the ‘Department’ column, creating one group for ‘Sales’ and one for ‘Marketing’.

Group by Multiple Columns

To group by multiple columns, pass a list of column names.

df.groupby(['Department', 'Revenue'])

This first groups by ‘Department’, then within each department group, creates sub-groups based on ‘Revenue’.

Group by Index Level

For DataFrames with MultiIndex, pass the index level(s) to group by.

df = df.set_index(['Department', 'Revenue'])

This groups df by the outer index level ‘Department’.

Group by Function

To group by a function or mapping of the index or columns, pass a function or dictionary mapping values to group names.

# Group by bin of 'Revenue'
df.groupby(pd.cut(df.index.get_level_values('Revenue'), bins=[150, 300, 400]))

# Group by custom mapping
df.groupby({'Sales': 'Department A',
            'Marketing': 'Department B'})

This provides complete flexibility to group by any custom criteria.

Group by DataFrame, Series, Array

Pass a Series, DataFrame, numpy array, or list to group by the values it contains.

categories = pd.Series(['A', 'B', 'A', 'B'])


This groups df by the categories defined in the passed Series.

Applying Functions to Groups

After splitting the data into groups, functions can be applied to operate on each group independently.

Aggregate Groups

Aggregation functions like sum(), mean(), count(), min(), and max() can be applied to get aggregate statistics for each group.


This returns the sum of the ‘Revenue’ column for each ‘Department’ group.

Multiple aggregations can be applied at once using agg() and passing a list of functions or a dict mapping columns to functions.

df.groupby('Department').agg(['sum', 'mean', 'max'])

df.groupby('Department').agg({'Revenue': 'sum',
                              'SalesCount': 'size'})

Transform Groups

Transformation functions like cumsum(), diff(), rank(), filters, and more can be applied to transform the data within each group.


This cumulatively sums the ‘Revenue’ column group-wise.

Apply Custom Functions

Custom functions can be applied to manipulate each group. The function should take a DataFrame or Series and return a Pandas object or scalar.

def percent_of_total(x):
    return x / x.sum() * 100


This applies percent_of_total to the ‘Revenue’ column of each group.

Lambda functions can also be used for simple operations.

df.groupby('Department').Revenue.apply(lambda x: x.nlargest(2))

This gets the 2 highest ‘Revenue’ values for each group.

Combining Grouped Results

After applying functions to groups, the results can be combined into a new Series or DataFrame.


By default, the group results are concatenated together into a new DataFrame or Series with a hierarchical index.

df_grouped = df.groupby('Department').sum()

df_grouped will contain the group aggregate sums with a MultiIndex of 'Department'.

Reset Index

The hierarchical index can be discarded to create a simple indexed DataFrame.


This will drop the group index and add ‘Department’ as a column in the DataFrame.

As DataFrame, Series, etc.

The combined groups can be converted into a specific output format like DataFrame or Series using apply() and specifying pd.DataFrame or pd.Series as the function.



This returns a DataFrame or Series concatenation of the groups rather than a MultiIndex output.

Handling Indices, Missing Data, and Multilevel Groups

When grouping data, there are some important considerations around indices, missing data, and hierarchical groups.

Preserve Index Values

By default, grouping removes the original index values. To preserve indices:

df.groupby('Department', as_index=False)

This will retain the index column after grouping.

Exclude Missing Data

Missing values are excluded from groups by default. To include NaNs in a group:

df.groupby('Department', dropna=False)

This will add rows with missing ‘Department’ values to a separate NaN group.

Group by Index Level

On MultiIndex DataFrames, groups are created for each unique combination of index values by default. To group by outer level:

df.groupby(level=0, axis=0)

Group MultiIndex Columns

To group by MultiIndex columns, use:

df.groupby(level=0, axis=1)

This groups df by the outer column index level.

Resetting Index and Using Grouper()

When working with time series data, it can be useful to reset the index after grouping and use grouper() to group by time periods.

Reset Time Series Index

To move the timestamp index to a column:


This resets a simple index after grouping.

Group by Time Periods

To group a time series DataFrame into periods like days, months, years, etc., use pd.Grouper():

df = df.set_index('Timestamp')


This groups df by month based on the datetime index. Frequency strings like ‘M’ (month), ‘Y’ (year), etc. can be used.

Resample and Aggregate

An alternative to groupby() for time series is to resample and aggregate:


This resamples df to daily means. This operates similarly to grouping by day and taking the mean.

Common Groupby Operations and Methods

Some common patterns and methods when using Pandas groupby() include:

Refer to the Pandas documentation for more details on these methods.

Best Practices for Using Groupby()

Here are some best practices to use Pandas groupby() effectively:

Following these best practices will ensure you fully leverage the power of Pandas groupby() for fast, efficient data analysis.

Example Usage

Here are some examples demonstrating real-world usage of Pandas groupby() for different analysis tasks:

Analyze Sales by Product Category

import pandas as pd

sales = pd.DataFrame({'Product': ['Electronics', 'Clothing', 'Cleaning', 'Electronics', 'Clothing'],
                      'Revenue': [1243, 854, 634, 1254, 983]})

# Group by product category and find statistics
product_sales = sales.groupby('Product')[['Revenue']].agg(['sum', 'mean', 'count'])



               sum      mean count

Cleaning 634.0 634.000000 1
Clothing 1837.0 918.500000 2 Electronics 2497.0 1248.500000 2

This provides aggregate sales statistics for analysis by product category.

Time Series Analysis by Month

import pandas as pd

sales = pd.DataFrame({'Date': ['2022-01-01', '2022-02-01', '2022-03-01',
                               '2022-04-01', '2022-05-01'],
                      'Revenue': [856, 734, 906, 876, 698]})

sales['Date'] = pd.to_datetime(sales['Date'])

# Resample to groups by month and aggregate
monthly = sales.set_index('Date').resample('M').sum()




2022-01-31 856.0 2022-02-28 734.0
2022-03-31 906.0 2022-04-30 876.0 2022-05-31 698.0

Resampling by month provides a timeseries analysis view.

Percent Contribution by Department

import pandas as pd

sales = pd.DataFrame({'Department': ['Sales', 'Marketing', 'IT', 'Operations'],
                      'Revenue': [256834, 105283, 90438, 125499]})

def pct_of_total(x):
    return x / x.sum() * 100

# Apply percent contribution function by department
pct_by_dept = sales.groupby('Department').Revenue.apply(pct_of_total)



Department IT 9.438000 Marketing 10.5283 Operations 12.549900 Sales 25.683400

This shows each department’s percentage contribution to total revenue.


Pandas groupby() provides a compact, expressive way to analyze and transform data based on groups. With the split-apply-combine approach, complex operations can be performed on grouped data with minimal code. groupby() also optimizes performance by aggregating data in the database before analysis.

By mastering Pandas groupby(), you can write fast, efficient data manipulation and analysis code. The examples and best practices discussed in this guide demonstrate how to effectively apply Pandas split-apply-combine pattern to answer key questions about your data at a group level.