Mastering Pandas Groupby Method [Basics to Advanced]

Python Pandas

Author: Bashir Alam
Reviewer: Deepak Prasad

Getting started with Pandas GroupBy

Data manipulation and analysis are core skills in the fields of data science, machine learning, and scientific computing. One of the key libraries for these tasks in Python is Pandas. Among the myriad functionalities offered by Pandas, data grouping—often executed through the GroupBy method—is particularly useful. This article aims to provide an in-depth look at the Pandas GroupBy method, from its basic syntax and usage to its applications in complex data manipulations.


What is GroupBy?

The GroupBy operation involves splitting the data into groups based on some criteria, applying a function to each group independently, and then combining the results. Essentially, the GroupBy method allows you to segment your DataFrame or Series and then apply aggregated functions, transformations, or filters within these groups.

# Basic Syntax
grouped_data = dataframe.groupby('column_name')


Conceptual Framework (SQL Comparison, if applicable)

If you are familiar with SQL, the concept of GROUP BY in Pandas is quite similar to the GROUP BY clause in SQL. Both are used to split data into groups and then apply functions like SUM, COUNT, MAX, etc., to these groups. The major difference lies in Pandas' ability to do this seamlessly within Python, allowing for more complex data manipulations after the GroupBy operation.

SQL Example:

SELECT column1, AVG(column2)
FROM table
GROUP BY column1;

Pandas Equivalent:



Syntax and Parameters

Understanding the syntax and key parameters of the GroupBy method is essential for effectively utilizing its capabilities. Here's a detailed look at how you can use GroupBy in Pandas.

The most basic syntax for using GroupBy is as follows:

grouped_data = dataframe.groupby('column_name')

You can also group by multiple columns:

grouped_data = dataframe.groupby(['column1', 'column2'])

Here are some of the key parameters that you can use with GroupBy:

by: The names of the columns in the DataFrame to group by. You can either provide a single column name or a list of names for multi-level grouping.

grouped_data = dataframe.groupby(by='column_name')
grouped_data_multi = dataframe.groupby(by=['column1', 'column2'])

axis: Determines the axis to group by—either 0 to group by rows or 1 to group by columns. The default is 0.

grouped_data = dataframe.groupby(by='column_name', axis=0)

level: If the DataFrame has a MultiIndex (hierarchical index), you can choose the level to group by.

grouped_data = dataframe.groupby(level=0)

as_index: A boolean that decides whether to group by the index or not. If False, it will reset the index. The default is True.

grouped_data = dataframe.groupby(by='column_name', as_index=False)

sort: A boolean that controls whether to sort the group keys or not. The default is True.

grouped_data = dataframe.groupby(by='column_name', sort=False)


How to Perform GroupBy

Once you've grasped the syntax and key parameters, performing a GroupBy operation becomes quite straightforward. In this section, we'll go through some simple examples to demonstrate how to carry out GroupBy operations, both by a single column and multiple columns.

Let's assume we have a DataFrame containing sales data:

import pandas as pd

data = {'Product': ['Apple', 'Banana', 'Apple', 'Banana', 'Apple'],
        'Sales': [100, 150, 200, 50, 300],
        'Region': ['East', 'West', 'East', 'West', 'East']}

df = pd.DataFrame(data)

The DataFrame looks like this:

  Product  Sales Region
0   Apple    100   East
1  Banana    150   West
2   Apple    200   East
3  Banana     50   West
4   Apple    300   East

Grouping by Single Column

If we want to find the total sales for each product, we can group by the Product column and sum the Sales:

grouped_by_product = df.groupby('Product')
total_sales_per_product = grouped_by_product['Sales'].sum()

This will output:

Apple     600
Banana    200
Name: Sales, dtype: int64

Grouping by Multiple Columns

Sometimes, we may want to group by more than one column. For example, we might want to know the total sales for each product in each region. To do this, we can group by both the Product and Region columns:

grouped_by_product_region = df.groupby(['Product', 'Region'])
total_sales_per_product_region = grouped_by_product_region['Sales'].sum()

This will output:

Product  Region
Apple    East      600
Banana   West      200
Name: Sales, dtype: int64


Common Operations after GroupBy

Once the data is grouped using the GroupBy operation, the next step usually involves applying one or more aggregation functions to the grouped data. The aggregation functions could range from simple statistical operations like sum, mean, maximum, and minimum, to more advanced, custom functions.

Standard Aggregation Functions

Here are some common aggregation functions you can apply to a GroupBy object:

Sum: Total sum of a column.


Mean: Average value of a column.


Max: Maximum value in each group.


Min: Minimum value in each group.


Count: Number of non-null entries.


Standard Deviation:


You can also apply multiple functions at once using the agg() method:

grouped_data['Sales'].agg(['sum', 'mean', 'max', 'min'])

Custom Aggregation Functions

In addition to built-in functions, Pandas allows for custom aggregation functions. To use a custom function, you can pass it into the agg() method.

Here's an example of using a custom function to find the range of sales (max - min) in each group:

def sales_range(series):
    return series.max() - series.min()


Or using a lambda function:

grouped_data['Sales'].agg(lambda x: x.max() - x.min())

Let's consider the previous DataFrame:

import pandas as pd

data = {'Product': ['Apple', 'Banana', 'Apple', 'Banana', 'Apple'],
        'Sales': [100, 150, 200, 50, 300],
        'Region': ['East', 'West', 'East', 'West', 'East']}

df = pd.DataFrame(data)

grouped_data = df.groupby('Product')

Now apply various aggregation methods:

# Using built-in functions
print("Sum:", grouped_data['Sales'].sum())
print("Mean:", grouped_data['Sales'].mean())

# Using custom function
print("Sales Range:", grouped_data['Sales'].agg(sales_range))


GroupBy with Indexing

After performing a GroupBy operation, one of the most common requirements is to access specific groups for further analysis or operations. This can be achieved through various indexing techniques, most notably using the get_group() method and leveraging a MultiIndex.

get_group() Method

The get_group() method allows you to retrieve a specific group from a GroupBy object. For example, if you have grouped data by the 'Product' column and you want to retrieve all data belonging to the 'Apple' product, you can do so as follows:

import pandas as pd

# Sample DataFrame
data = {'Product': ['Apple', 'Banana', 'Apple', 'Banana', 'Apple'],
        'Sales': [100, 150, 200, 50, 300],
        'Region': ['East', 'West', 'East', 'West', 'East']}

df = pd.DataFrame(data)

# Group by the 'Product' column
grouped_data = df.groupby('Product')

# Retrieve the 'Apple' group
apple_group = grouped_data.get_group('Apple')


  Product  Sales Region
0   Apple    100   East
2   Apple    200   East
4   Apple    300   East

MultiIndex in GroupBy

When you group by multiple columns, Pandas automatically creates a MultiIndex (hierarchical index) for the result. You can use this MultiIndex to access or filter specific levels of the grouped data.

Here's an example:

# Group by both 'Product' and 'Region'
grouped_by_product_region = df.groupby(['Product', 'Region'])

# The result has a MultiIndex


Product  Region
Apple    East      600
Banana   West      200
Name: Sales, dtype: int64

To access a specific combination of 'Product' and 'Region', you can use the MultiIndex like so:

# Access sum of sales for 'Apple' in 'East'
print(grouped_by_product_region['Sales'].sum().loc[('Apple', 'East')])




GroupBy Sorting

Grouped data can be sorted in various ways to better understand the dataset or prepare it for further analysis. Sorting is particularly helpful when you have large datasets and need to focus on specific segments. Below, we explore how to use sort_values() and sort_index() methods and the parameters that influence sorting.


The sort_values() method is used to sort the data within each group. For instance, you can sort each group by 'Sales':

# Group by 'Product'
grouped_data = df.groupby('Product')

# Sort each group by 'Sales'
sorted_group = grouped_data.apply(lambda x: x.sort_values('Sales', ascending=False))



         Product  Sales Region
Apple    4   Apple    300   East
         2   Apple    200   East
         0   Apple    100   East
Banana   1  Banana    150   West
         3  Banana     50   West


The sort_index() method sorts the index of the grouped object. This is particularly useful when you have a MultiIndex.

# Sort index after a multi-column GroupBy
grouped_by_product_region = df.groupby(['Product', 'Region'])
sorted_by_index = grouped_by_product_region.sum().sort_index(ascending=[True, False])



Product Region       
Apple   East      600
Banana  West      200

Parameters Influencing Sorting

ascending: Determines whether the data should be sorted in ascending order (default is True). It can be a boolean or a list of booleans if you are sorting by multiple columns or a MultiIndex.

sorted_group = grouped_data.apply(lambda x: x.sort_values('Sales', ascending=False))

na_position: Specifies the position where NaN (Not a Number) values will appear within the sorted data. It could be either 'first' or 'last'.

sorted_group = grouped_data.apply(lambda x: x.sort_values('Sales', na_position='last'))


Filtering After GroupBy

Once you've grouped data, you may want to filter out certain groups that meet specific conditions. Pandas provides the filter() method for this purpose. By applying conditions, you can exclude unwanted groups from your final output, making it easier to focus on the data that is most relevant to your analysis.

Using filter() Function

The filter() method takes a function as an argument, and applies this function to each group in the DataFrame. The function should return either True or False to indicate whether the group should be included in the output.

Here's a simple example:

# Sample DataFrame
data = {'Product': ['Apple', 'Banana', 'Apple', 'Banana', 'Apple'],
        'Sales': [100, 150, 200, 50, 300],
        'Region': ['East', 'West', 'East', 'West', 'East']}

df = pd.DataFrame(data)

# Group by 'Product'
grouped_data = df.groupby('Product')

# Use filter to keep groups where the sum of Sales is greater than 250
filtered_data = grouped_data.filter(lambda x: x['Sales'].sum() > 250)



  Product  Sales Region
0   Apple    100   East
2   Apple    200   East
4   Apple    300   East

In this example, the group belonging to 'Apple' has total sales of 600, which is greater than 250, so all the rows with 'Apple' are included in the output. The 'Banana' group has total sales of 200, which does not meet the condition, so it is excluded.

Conditions for Filtering

You can specify any condition that can be evaluated for each group to filter the data. Some common types of conditions include:

Sum or mean of a specific column in each group.

# Keep groups where the average sales are greater than 100
grouped_data.filter(lambda x: x['Sales'].mean() > 100)

Size of each group.

# Keep groups with more than 2 entries
grouped_data.filter(lambda x: len(x) > 2)

Custom conditions based on business logic.

# Keep groups where the maximum sales are not in the 'West' region
grouped_data.filter(lambda x: x.loc[x['Sales'].idxmax()]['Region'] != 'West')


Advanced GroupBy Features

Once you've got the basics of Pandas GroupBy down, you can start exploring more advanced features to get even more out of your data. Here, we will discuss using transform() and apply() methods and introduce the concept of rolling and expanding functions.


transform() and apply()

Both transform() and apply() methods allow you to perform complex operations on each group in the DataFrame.

transform(): The transform() method performs an operation on each element of each group. For example, you can use transform() to center the data by subtracting the mean.

grouped_data = df.groupby('Product')
centered_data = grouped_data['Sales'].transform(lambda x: x - x.mean())

This will subtract the mean of 'Sales' for each 'Product' group from each 'Sales' value within the respective group.

apply(): The apply() method is more flexible and can operate on each group as a sub-dataframe. You can return a modified dataframe, series, or scalar from the function passed to apply().

def normalize(x):
    x['Sales'] = (x['Sales'] - x['Sales'].min()) / (x['Sales'].max() - x['Sales'].min())
    return x

normalized_data = grouped_data.apply(normalize)


Rolling and Expanding Functions

Sometimes you need to apply a function to a "window" of data within each group. This is where rolling and expanding functions come in handy.

Rolling Functions: These functions allow you to apply a function to a fixed-size window of data within each group. The window will "roll" along the data, making them useful for calculating things like moving averages.

# Calculate the rolling mean of 'Sales' for each group with window size 2
rolling_mean = grouped_data['Sales'].rolling(window=2).mean()

Expanding Functions: These are similar to rolling functions, but the window size increases as you move along the data, incorporating all the data points up to the current one. Expanding functions can be useful for calculating running totals or running averages.

# Calculate the expanding sum of 'Sales' for each group
expanding_sum = grouped_data['Sales'].expanding().sum()


Common Pitfalls and Mistakes

Working with Pandas' GroupBy can be incredibly powerful, but it also comes with its own set of challenges, particularly for those who are new to it. Here are some common pitfalls and mistakes you might encounter:

Misunderstanding of MultiIndex

A frequent source of confusion is the MultiIndex that can be generated when grouping by multiple columns. While MultiIndex allows for complex queries and operations, it can be difficult to manipulate if you're not familiar with its structure.

Problem: Forgetting that a MultiIndex has multiple levels that need to be specified for certain operations.

# This will raise an error because 'Product' is not unique, it's part of a MultiIndex

Solution: You can either convert the MultiIndex into a simpler index using reset_index() or use .loc correctly by specifying all the levels.

# Using reset_index()
flattened_data = grouped_data.reset_index()

# Using .loc with all levels
grouped_data.loc[('Apple', 'East')]

Inefficient Aggregation Functions

Another common mistake is using inefficient methods to perform aggregation, which can significantly slow down your data processing pipeline.

Problem: Using Python loops or inefficient methods to perform operations that could be vectorized or performed more efficiently with built-in Pandas methods.

# Inefficient way to find the mean of each group
means = {}
for name, group in grouped_data:
    means[name] = sum(group['Sales']) / len(group['Sales'])

Solution: Utilize built-in aggregation methods that are optimized for performance.

# Efficient way to find the mean
means = grouped_data['Sales'].mean()


Performance Considerations in Pandas GroupBy

Performance is an important aspect to consider when working with large data sets in Pandas. While the GroupBy operation is generally optimized, there are several ways to make it even faster and more efficient.


Built-in Functions vs Custom Functions

Built-in aggregation functions like sum(), mean(), max(), etc., are highly optimized and should be preferred over custom functions created with apply() or agg() when possible.

import pandas as pd
import numpy as np
import time

# Create a DataFrame with 1 million rows
df = pd.DataFrame({
    'Category': np.random.choice(['A', 'B', 'C'], 1000000),
    'Value': np.random.randint(1, 100, 1000000)

start_time = time.time()
result = df.groupby('Category')['Value'].sum()
end_time = time.time()

print(f"Time taken using built-in function: {end_time - start_time:.4f} seconds")

def custom_sum(series):
    return sum(series)

start_time = time.time()
result = df.groupby('Category')['Value'].apply(custom_sum)
end_time = time.time()

print(f"Time taken using custom function: {end_time - start_time:.4f} seconds"

You'll likely find that the built-in function is significantly faster than the custom function.

Time taken using built-in function: 0.0359 seconds
Time taken using custom function: 0.1739 seconds


Avoid Using Python Loops

Python loops are notoriously slow for large data sets. Pandas' built-in functions use optimized C extensions under-the-hood, making them much faster.

start_time = time.time()

result_dict = {}
for category, group_data in df.groupby('Category'):
    result_dict[category] = group_data['Value'].sum()

end_time = time.time()

print(f"Time taken using Python loop: {end_time - start_time:.4f} seconds")

The time taken using Python loops is generally much higher than using Pandas' optimized functions.


Using Vectorized Operations

Whenever possible, use vectorized operations for transformation tasks. These operations are applied at once over an array and are generally more efficient.

start_time = time.time()
result = df.groupby('Category')['Value'].transform('mean')
end_time = time.time()

print(f"Time taken using vectorized operation: {end_time - start_time:.4f} seconds")


Comparison with Similar Methods

Pandas offers multiple methods for reshaping and aggregating data, each with its own use-cases and functionalities. Below, we will compare GroupBy with two such methods: pivot_table() and crosstab().


GroupBy vs. pivot_table()

Feature GroupBy pivot_table()
Primary Use-case General-purpose grouping and aggregation Data summarization in a structured format
Flexibility High (can do arbitrary grouping and apply multiple aggregate functions) Moderate (designed for structured data summaries)
Indexing MultiIndex for multiple groups MultiIndex for rows and columns
Syntax Complexity Can become complex for multiple operations More straightforward for creating summary tables
Aggregation Methods Multiple aggregation methods can be applied at once using agg() Allows aggregation specification via aggfunc parameter
Handling Missing Data No special handling, need to manage explicitly Fills in missing data automatically based on specified parameters


# Using GroupBy to find mean sales by Product and Region
grouped_data = df.groupby(['Product', 'Region'])['Sales'].mean()

# Using pivot_table to find mean sales by Product and Region
pivot_data = pd.pivot_table(df, values='Sales', index='Product', columns='Region', aggfunc=np.mean)


GroupBy vs. crosstab()

Feature GroupBy crosstab()
Primary Use-case General-purpose grouping and aggregation Frequency distribution tables
Flexibility High Low (mainly for counting occurrences)
Indexing MultiIndex for multiple groups Standard indexing with row and column names
Syntax Complexity Can become complex for multiple operations Simpler, focused on tabular summary
Aggregation Methods Multiple aggregation methods can be applied at once Limited to counting frequencies or specified aggregation
Handling Missing Data No special handling, need to manage explicitly Automatically handles missing data by excluding it


# Using GroupBy to count occurrences by Product and Region
grouped_data = df.groupby(['Product', 'Region']).size()

# Using crosstab to count occurrences by Product and Region
crosstab_data = pd.crosstab(index=df['Product'], columns=df['Region'])


Frequent Asked Questions

When working with Pandas' GroupBy method, newcomers often have similar questions or misconceptions. Below are some of the most commonly encountered issues.

What's the difference between sum() and agg('sum')?

Functionally, sum() and agg('sum') do the same thing when used after a GroupBy. However, agg() is more flexible and allows you to perform multiple aggregate operations at once. For example, Using GroupBy to count occurrences by Product and Region: grouped_data = df.groupby(['Product', 'Region']).size() Or Using crosstab to count occurrences by Product and Region: crosstab_data = pd.crosstab(index=df['Product'], columns=df['Region'])

Why does GroupBy sometimes return a DataFrame and sometimes a Series?

If you group by a single column and apply an aggregation method to a single column, Pandas will typically return a Series. For multiple columns, it will return a DataFrame.

Do I have to sort the DataFrame before using GroupBy?

No, sorting is not required, but it may affect the order of the output.

Can I group by the index?

Yes, you can use the level parameter to group by one or more levels of a MultiIndex DataFrame. For Example: df.groupby(level=0).sum()

Why are some groups missing from my GroupBy output?

By default, groups with all NaN values are excluded from the aggregation. You can control this behavior using the dropna parameter.

Is GroupBy lazy? When does the computation actually happen?

Pandas' GroupBy is "lazy" in that it doesn't do any computation until an aggregation function is applied. It essentially creates a grouping object waiting to have an aggregation method called on it.

Why is my GroupBy operation so slow?

The performance can depend on multiple factors such as the size of the DataFrame, the complexity of the grouping, and the aggregation operations. Using built-in aggregation functions and avoiding loops can speed up your operations.

Can I use GroupBy with text data?

Yes, GroupBy works with any data type, including text data. However, aggregation functions like sum() or mean() won't be applicable to text data.



The GroupBy method in Pandas is an indispensable tool for data aggregation and summarization, offering a wide array of functionalities for complex data manipulation tasks. Whether you're a beginner looking to get your hands dirty with data grouping or an advanced user wanting to optimize your workflow, understanding GroupBy can significantly enhance your data analysis capabilities.

Key Takeaways

  • GroupBy is a versatile method for grouping rows based on some criteria and applying an aggregation function on each group.
  • You can perform single or multiple column grouping and apply a variety of aggregation functions, including custom ones.
  • Advanced features like transform(), apply(), and rolling and expanding functions offer additional layers of complexity and power.
  • Be aware of common pitfalls like misunderstanding MultiIndex and inefficient aggregation functions.
  • GroupBy is different from other similar methods like pivot_table() and crosstab(), each having its unique use-cases and limitations.


Additional Resources

Mastering Pandas' GroupBy functionality can greatly enhance your data manipulation and analysis capabilities. The following resources can provide more in-depth information and insights:

Official Documentation Links

Recommended Tutorials

Related Pandas Functions and Methods


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Bashir Alam

Bashir Alam

He is a Computer Science graduate from the University of Central Asia, currently employed as a full-time Machine Learning Engineer at uExel. His expertise lies in Python, Java, Machine Learning, OCR, text extraction, data preprocessing, and predictive models. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn profile.

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