R Recursive Function

In this tutorial, you will learn to create a recursive function (a function that calls itself) in R programming.

A function that calls itself is called a recursive function and this technique is known as recursion.

This special programming technique can be used to solve problems by breaking them into smaller and simpler sub-problems.

An example can help clarify this concept.

Let us take the example of finding the factorial of a number. Factorial of a positive integer number is defined as the product of all the integers from 1 to that number. For example, the factorial of 5 (denoted as 5!) will be

5! = 1*2*3*4*5 = 120

This problem of finding factorial of 5 can be broken down into a sub-problem of multiplying the factorial of 4 with 5.

5! = 5*4!

Or more generally,

n! = n*(n-1)!

Now we can continue this until we reach 0! which is 1.

The implementation of this is provided below.

Example: Recursive Function in R

# Recursive function to find factorial
recursive.factorial <- function(x) {
if (x == 0)    return (1)
else           return (x * recursive.factorial(x-1))

Here, we have a function which will call itself. Something like recursive.factorial(x) will turn into x * recursive.factorial(x) until x becomes equal to 0.

When x becomes 0, we return 1 since the factorial of 0 is 1. This is the terminating condition and is very important.

Without this the recursion will not end and continue indefinitely (in theory). Here are some sample function calls to our function.

> recursive.factorial(0)
[1] 1
> recursive.factorial(5)
[1] 120
> recursive.factorial(7)
[1] 5040

The use of recursion, often, makes code shorter and looks clean.

However, it is sometimes hard to follow through the code logic. It might be hard to think of a problem in a recursive way.

Recursive functions are also memory intensive, since it can result into a lot of nested function calls. This must be kept in mind when using it for solving big problems.

Check out these examples to learn more: