Joins in Pandas: Master the Different Types of Joins in Python

Abhishek Sharma 25 Jun, 2020
7 min read

Introduction to Joins in Pandas

“I have two different tables in Python but I’m not sure how to join them. What criteria should I consider? What are the different ways I can join these tables?”

Sound familiar? I have come across this question plenty of times on online discussion forums. Working with one table is fairly straightforward but things become challenging when we have data spread across two or more tables.

joins in pandas

This is where the concept of Joins comes in. I cannot emphasize the number of times I have used these Joins in Pandas! They’ve come in especially handy during data science hackathons when I needed to quickly join multiple tables.

We will learn about different types of Joins in Pandas here:

  • Inner Join in Pandas
  • Full Join in Pandas
  • Left Join in Pandas
  • Right Join in Pandas

We will also discuss how to handle redundancy or duplicate values using joins in Pandas. Let’s begin!

Note: If you’re new to the world of Pandas and Python, I recommend taking the below free courses:

Looking to learn SQL joins? We have you covered! Head over here to learn all about SQL joins.


Understanding the Problem Statement

I’m sure you’re quite familiar with e-commerce sites like Amazon and Flipkart these days. We are bombarded by their advertisements when we’re visiting non-related websites – that’s the power of targeted marketing!

We’ll take a simple problem from a related marketing brand here. We are given two tables – one which contains data about products and the other that has customer-level information.

We will use these tables to understand how the different types of joins work using Pandas.


Inner Join in Pandas

inner join pandas

Inner join is the most common type of join you’ll be working with. It returns a dataframe with only those rows that have common characteristics.

An inner join requires each row in the two joined dataframes to have matching column values. This is similar to the intersection of two sets.

Let’s start by importing the Pandas library:

import pandas as pd

For this tutorial, we have two dataframes – product and customer. The product dataframe contains product details like Product_ID, Product_name, Category, Price, and Seller_City. The customer dataframe contains details like id, name, age, Product_ID, Purchased_Product, and City.

Our task is to use our joining skills and generate meaningful information from the data. I encourage you to follow along with the code we’ll cover in this tutorial.


product dataframe


customer dataframe

Let’s say we want to know about all the products sold online and who purchased them. We can get this easily using an inner join.

The merge() function in Pandas is our friend here. By default, the merge function performs an inner join. It takes both the dataframes as arguments and the name of the column on which the join has to be performed:


inner join

Here, I have performed inner join on the product and customer dataframes on the ‘Product_ID’ column.

But, what if the column names are different in the two dataframes? Then, we have to explicitly mention both the column names.

‘left_on’ and ‘right_on’ are two arguments through which we can achieve this. ‘left_on’ is the name of the key in the left dataframe and ‘right_on’ in the right dataframe:


inner join product

Let’s take things up a notch. The leadership team now wants more details about the products sold. They want to know about all the products sold by the seller to the same city i.e., seller and customer both belong to the same city.

In this case, we have to perform an inner join on both Product_ID and Seller_City of product and Product_ID and City columns of the customer dataframe.

So, how we can do this?

joins in pandas

Don’t scratch your head! Just pass an array of column names to the left_on and right_on arguments:


multi column join


Full Join in Pandas

full outer join

Here’s another interesting task for you. We have to combine both dataframes so that we can find all the products that are not sold and all the customers who didn’t purchase anything from us.

We can use Full Join for this purpose.

Full Join, also known as Full Outer Join, returns all those records which either have a match in the left or right dataframe.

When rows in both the dataframes do not match, the resulting dataframe will have NaN for every column of the dataframe that lacks a matching row.

We can perform Full join by just passing the how argument as ‘outer’ to the merge() function:


full outer join

Did you notice what happened here? All the non-matching rows of both the dataframes have NaN values for the columns of other dataframes. But wait – we still don’t know which row belongs to which dataframe.

For this, Pandas provides us with a fantastic solution. We just have to mention the indicator argument as True in the function, and a new column of name _merge will be created in the resulting dataframe:


full outer join indicator

As you can see, the _merge column mentions which row belongs to which dataframe.


Left Join in Pandas

left join

Now, let’s say the leadership team wants information about only those customers who bought something from us. You guessed it – we can use the concept of Left Join here.

Left join, also known as Left Outer Join, returns a dataframe containing all the rows of the left dataframe.

All the non-matching rows of the left dataframe contain NaN for the columns in the right dataframe. It is simply an inner join plus all the non-matching rows of the left dataframe filled with NaN for columns of the right dataframe.

Performing a left join is actually quite similar to a full join. Just change the how argument to ‘left’:


left join

Here, you can clearly see that all the unsold products contain NaN for the columns belonging to the customer dataframe.


Right Join in Pandas

right join

Similarly, if we want to create a table of customers including the information about the products they bought, we can use the right join.

Right join, also known as Right Outer Join, is similar to the Left Outer Join. The only difference is that all the rows of the right dataframe are taken as it is and only those of the left dataframe that are common in both.

Similar to other joins, we can perform a right join by changing the how argument to ‘right’:


right join pandas

Take a look carefully at the above dataframe – we have NaN values for columns of the product dataframe. Pretty straightforward, right?


Handling Redundancy/Duplicates in Joins

Duplicate values can be tricky obstacles. They can cause problems while performing joins. These values won’t give an error but will simply create redundancy in our resulting dataframe. I’m sure you can imagine how harmful that can be!

Here, we have a dataframe product_dup with duplicate details about products:


product duplicates

Let’s see what happens if we perform an inner join on this dataframe:


duplicate joins in pandas

As you can see, we have duplicate rows in the resulting dataset as well. To solve this, there is a validate argument in the merge() function, which we can set to ‘one_to_one’, ‘one_to_many’, ‘many_to_one’, and ‘many_to_many’.

This ensures that there exists only a particular mapping across both the dataframes. If the mapping condition is not satisfied, then it throws a MergeError. To solve this, we can delete duplicates before applying join:


drop duplicates in join

But, if you want to keep these duplicates, then you can give validate values as per your requirements and it will not throw an error:


many to many join

Now, you can say:

joins in pandas


What’s Next?

There is also a concat() function in Pandas that we can use for joining two dataframes. I encourage you to explore that and apply it in your next project alongside what you’ve learned about joins in this tutorial.

If you have any queries or feedback on this article, feel free to share it in the comments section below. I have listed some insightful and comprehensive articles and courses related to data science and Python below.



Abhishek Sharma 25 Jun, 2020

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Responses From Readers


Erika K
Erika K 26 Jun, 2020

Thanks! This was a helpful and clear explanation.

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10 Nov 23 • 08:00pm

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