Altcademy - a Forbes magazine logo Best Coding Bootcamp 2023

How to find unique values in a column Pandas

Understanding Unique Values in Pandas

When working with data, it's often important to identify unique values within a column to understand the diversity of the data, find outliers, or simply to count how many different categories exist. To grasp this concept, imagine you have a basket of fruit with various types of fruits mixed together. If you want to know what kinds of fruit are in the basket without counting duplicates, you're looking for the unique fruits.

Pandas is a powerful Python library that provides tools for data manipulation and analysis. One of its many features is the ability to easily find unique values within a column of a dataset, which is akin to sorting through our hypothetical basket of fruit to identify the different kinds we have.

Setting Up Your Environment

Before diving into finding unique values, ensure you have Pandas installed in your Python environment. If not, you can install it using pip, Python's package installer:

pip install pandas

Once installed, you'll need to import Pandas in your Python script or notebook to start using its functionalities:

import pandas as pd

Creating a DataFrame

A DataFrame is one of the primary data structures in Pandas. It's similar to a table in a database or an Excel spreadsheet. Let's create a simple DataFrame to work with:

data = {
    'Fruit': ['Apple', 'Banana', 'Cherry', 'Apple', 'Cherry', 'Banana', 'Banana'],
    'Color': ['Red', 'Yellow', 'Red', 'Green', 'Red', 'Yellow', 'Green']

df = pd.DataFrame(data)

This will output the following DataFrame:

    Fruit   Color
0   Apple    Red
1  Banana Yellow
2  Cherry    Red
3   Apple  Green
4  Cherry    Red
5  Banana Yellow
6  Banana  Green

Finding Unique Values

To find unique values in the 'Fruit' column, we use the unique() method:

unique_fruits = df['Fruit'].unique()

The output will be:

['Apple', 'Banana', 'Cherry']

Just like identifying the different types of fruit in our basket, the unique() method gives us an array of the unique values in the 'Fruit' column.

Understanding nunique() Method

In addition to finding the unique values, you might also want to know how many unique values there are. This is where the nunique() method comes in handy:

number_of_unique_fruits = df['Fruit'].nunique()

The output tells us there are 3 unique fruits in our DataFrame.

Dealing with Missing Values

Sometimes, data can have missing values, which can affect the count of unique values. In Pandas, missing values are usually represented by NaN (Not a Number). Let's add a missing value to our DataFrame:

df.loc[7] = [None, 'Purple']

Now, if we run the unique() method again:

unique_fruits_with_nan = df['Fruit'].unique()

We will see the following output:

['Apple', 'Banana', 'Cherry', None]

The None represents the missing value in the 'Fruit' column. It's important to be aware of missing values as they can represent additional unique entries.

Using value_counts() for a Detailed View

If you're interested in not only the unique values but also how often each value appears, you can use the value_counts() method:

fruit_counts = df['Fruit'].value_counts(dropna=False)

This will give you a Series with the count of each unique value, including missing values (NaN) if dropna is set to False:

Banana    3
Apple     2
Cherry    2
NaN       1
Name: Fruit, dtype: int64

Filtering Unique Values

Sometimes, you might want to create a new DataFrame that only contains the unique rows. You can do this using the drop_duplicates() method:

unique_rows = df.drop_duplicates(subset='Fruit')

This will output a DataFrame with only the first occurrence of each unique value in the 'Fruit' column:

    Fruit   Color
0   Apple    Red
1  Banana Yellow
2  Cherry    Red

Intuition and Analogies

Understanding how to find unique values in Pandas is like being a detective looking for distinct fingerprints at a crime scene. Each unique value is a clue that can lead to different insights about your data. Just as a detective sifts through evidence to find what's relevant, you can use Pandas methods to filter through your data and identify the unique pieces of information that are most pertinent to your analysis.


Finding unique values in a column using Pandas is an essential skill for data analysis. It's like having a superpower that allows you to quickly sift through vast amounts of information and pick out the unique elements that tell the story of your data. Whether you're counting different fruit types in a basket or analyzing complex datasets, the ability to identify and work with unique values can unlock new understandings and reveal patterns that might otherwise remain hidden. As you continue on your programming journey, remember that each unique value in your dataset is a piece of the puzzle, and with Pandas, you have the tools to put those pieces together.