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The injection operator !! injects a value or expression inside another expression. In other words, it modifies a piece of code before R evaluates it.

There are two main cases for injection. You can inject constant values to work around issues of scoping ambiguity, and you can inject defused expressions like symbolised column names.

Where does !! work?

!! does not work everywhere, you can only use it within certain special functions:

All data-masking verbs in the tidyverse support injection operators out of the box. With base functions, you need to use inject() to enable !!. Using !! out of context may lead to incorrect results, see What happens if I use injection operators out of context?.

The examples below are built around the base function with(). Since it's not a tidyverse function we will use inject() to enable !! usage.

Injecting values

Data-masking functions like with() are handy because you can refer to column names in your computations. This comes at the price of data mask ambiguity: if you have defined an env-variable of the same name as a data-variable, you get a name collisions. This collision is always resolved by giving precedence to the data-variable (it masks the env-variable):

cyl <- c(100, 110)
with(mtcars, mean(cyl))
#> [1] 6.1875

The injection operator offers one way of solving this. Use it to inject the env-variable inside the data-masked expression:

  with(mtcars, mean(!!cyl))
#> [1] 105

Note that the .env pronoun is a simpler way of solving the ambiguity. See The data mask ambiguity for more about this.

Injecting expressions

Injection is also useful for modifying parts of a defused expression. In the following example we use the symbolise-and-inject pattern to inject a column name inside a data-masked expression.

var <- sym("cyl")
  with(mtcars, mean(!!var))
#> [1] 6.1875

Since with() is a base function, you can't inject quosures, only naked symbols and calls. This isn't a problem here because we're injecting the name of a data frame column. If the environment is important, try injecting a pre-computed value instead.

When do I need !!?

With tidyverse APIs, injecting expressions with !! is no longer a common pattern. First, the .env pronoun solves the ambiguity problem in a more intuitive way:

cyl <- 100
mtcars %>% dplyr::mutate(cyl = cyl * .env$cyl)

Second, the embrace operator {{ makes the defuse-and-inject pattern easier to learn and use.

my_mean <- function(data, var) {
  data %>% dplyr::summarise(mean({{ var }}))

# Equivalent to
my_mean <- function(data, var) {
  data %>% dplyr::summarise(mean(!!enquo(var)))

!! is a good tool to learn for advanced applications but our hope is that it isn't needed for common data analysis cases.