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Python NaN: 4 Ways to Check for Missing Values in Python

Explore 4 ways to detect NaN values in Python, using NumPy and Pandas. Learn key differences between NaN and None to clean and analyze data efficiently.
Feb 2024  · 5 min read

In the world of data science and analytics, encountering missing data is more a rule than an exception. Missing values can skew analysis, lead to incorrect conclusions, and generally disrupt the flow of data processing. Addressing these gaps is crucial for maintaining the integrity of your analysis. This article aims to equip you with different ways of identifying NaN (Not a Number) values in Python.

The Short Answer: Use either NumPy’s isnan() function or Pandas .isna() method

When dealing with missing values in Python, the approach largely depends on the data structure you're working with.

For Single Values or Arrays: Use NumPy

NumPy's isnan() function is ideal for identifying NaNs in numeric arrays or single values, offering a straightforward and efficient solution. Here it is in action!

import numpy as np

# Single value check
my_missing_value = np.nan
print(np.isnan(my_missing_value))  # Output: True

# Array check
my_missing_array = np.array([1, np.nan, 3])
nan_array = np.isnan(my_missing_array)
print(nan_array)  # Output: [False  True False]

For DataFrames: Use Pandas

Pandas provides comprehensive methods like .isna() and .isnull() to detect missing values across DataFrame or Series objects, seamlessly integrating with data analysis workflows.

import pandas as pd
import numpy as np

my_dataframe = pd.DataFrame({
    'Column1': ["I", "Love", np.nan], 
    'Column2': ["Python", np.nan, "The Best"]


When you run this code, the output will indicate the presence of NaN values in a more interesting context, as shown below:

   Column1  Column2
0    False    False
1    False     True
2     True    False

The Difference Between NaN and None

Understanding the distinction between NaN and None is crucial in Python. NaN is a floating-point representation of "Not a Number," used primarily in numerical computations. None, on the other hand, is Python's object representing the absence of a value akin to null in other languages. While NaN is used in mathematical or scientific computations, None is more general-purpose, indicating the lack of data.

4 Ways to Check for NaN in Python

Navigating through datasets to identify missing values is a critical step in data preprocessing. Let's explore four practical methods to check for NaN values in Python, continuing with the engaging examples we've already used.

1. Checking for NaN using np.isnan()

As we saw earlier, NumPy provides a straightforward approach to identifying NaN values in both single values and arrays, which is essential for numerical data analysis.

import numpy as np

# Checking a single value
print(np.isnan(np.nan))  # Output: True

# Checking an array
my_array = np.array([1, 5, np.nan])
print(np.isnan(my_array))  # Output: [False False  True]

2. Checking for NaN using pd.isna()

Pandas simplifies detecting NaN values in data structures, from scalars to complex DataFrames, making it invaluable for data manipulation tasks.

import pandas as pd

# Checking a single value
print(pd.isna(np.nan))  # Output: True

# Checking a pandas Series
my_series = pd.Series(["Python", np.nan, "The Best"])
print(my_series.isna())  # Output: [False  True  False]

# Checking a pandas DataFrame
my_dataframe = pd.DataFrame({
    'Column1': ["I", "Love", np.nan], 
    'Column2': ["Python", np.nan, "The Best"]

print(pd.isna(my_dataframe)) # Output a DataFrame with True for missing values

3. Checking for NaN in DataFrames using Pandas .isna() or .isnull() methods

Pandas DataFrames also offer the .isna() and .isnull() methods to effortlessly pinpoint missing values across datasets, providing a clear overview of data completeness.

import pandas as pd

# Create a dataframe with missing values
my_dataframe = pd.DataFrame({
    'Column1': ["I", "Love", np.nan], 
    'Column2': ["Python", np.nan, "The Best"]

# Output:
#    Column1  Column2
# 0    False    False
# 1    False     True
# 2     True    False

# Output:
#    Column1  Column2
# 0    False    False
# 1    False     True
# 2     True    False

4. Checking for NaN in DataFrames using math.isnan()

For individual number checks, the math.isnan() function offers a simple yet effective solution, especially when dealing with pure Python data types.

import math

# Assuming my_number is a float or can be converted to one
my_number = float('nan')
print(math.isnan(my_number))  # Output: True

Final Thoughts and Additional Resources

Identifying and managing NaN values is a fundamental step in cleaning and preparing your data for analysis. Whether you're working with arrays, series, or data frames, understanding the tools and methods available in Python to deal with missing data is essential. For further exploration, check out the following resources:

Photo of Adel Nehme
Adel Nehme

Adel is a Data Science educator, speaker, and Evangelist at DataCamp where he has released various courses and live training on data analysis, machine learning, and data engineering. He is passionate about spreading data skills and data literacy throughout organizations and the intersection of technology and society. He has an MSc in Data Science and Business Analytics. In his free time, you can find him hanging out with his cat Louis.


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