Understanding DataFrame.shift() method in Pandas

Updated: February 20, 2024 By: Guest Contributor Post a comment


The DataFrame.shift() method in Pandas is a valuable tool for data manipulation and analysis, allowing you to shift the data in a DataFrame along a specified axis. This technique is particularly useful in time series analysis but can be applied in a variety of contexts to achieve lag or lead operations, difference computations, and other transformations that require data realignment. In this tutorial, we will explore the shift() method in detail, providing a comprehensive guide through examples ranging from basic to advanced uses.

Syntax & Parameters of DataFrame.shift()

Before we dive into examples, let’s understand what the shift() method does. Simply put, shift() moves the data in a DataFrame or Series up or down along the index axis (vertical shift) or columns axis (horizontal shift), leaving the index or columns unchanged. By default, it shifts the data downward and along the index axis.

The method signature is:

DataFrame.shift(periods=1, freq=None, axis=0, fill_value=None)


  • periods: Number of periods to shift. Positive for downwards/rightwards, negative for upwards/leftwards.
  • freq: A frequency string indicating the timestamp increment to use for datetime-like index data.
  • axis: Whether to shift along the index (0 or ‘index’) or columns (1 or ‘columns’).
  • fill_value: The scalar value to use for newly introduced missing values.

Basic Example

Let’s start with a basic example of shifting a simple DataFrame.

import pandas as pd

df = pd.DataFrame({
    'A': [1, 2, 3, 4],
    'B': [5, 6, 7, 8]



     A    B
0  NaN  NaN
1  1.0  5.0
2  2.0  6.0
3  3.0  7.0

This shifts all values down by one row, introducing NaN values at the beginning.

Shifting Up

To shift the data up, we set periods to a negative value.



     A    B
0  2.0  6.0
1  3.0  7.0
2  4.0  8.0
3  NaN  NaN

This removes the first row’s data, shifting everything else up and introducing NaN at the end.

Shifting Columns

To shift columns instead of rows, we use the axis parameter.

print(df.shift(1, axis='columns'))


    A    B
0 NaN  1.0
1 NaN  2.0
2 NaN  3.0
3 NaN  4.0

This shifts all column data to the right, introducing NaN values in the first column.

Time Series Data

Shifting is particularly useful in time series analysis for creating lagged features or performing calculations like differences over time. Let’s shift a time series DataSet.

ts = pd.Series([10, 20, 30, 40], index=pd.date_range('2020-01-01', periods=4))


2020-01-01     NaN
2020-01-02    10.0
2020-01-03    20.0
2020-01-04    30.0
Freq: D, dtype: float64

This can be particularly useful for calculating the day-to-day change in value, or creating features for machine learning models.

Advanced Examples

Now let’s explore some more advanced use cases of the shift() method.

Custom Fill Values

You can use the fill_value parameter to specify a value to replace the NaN values that are introduced by shifting.

print(df.shift(1, fill_value=0))


   A  B
0  0  0
1  1  5
2  2  6
3  3  7

This replaces the NaN values with zeros.

Shifting with Frequency

For time series data with a datetime-like index, you can use the freq parameter to shift the data in time rather than along the index or columns. This shifts the index values according to the specified frequency, which can be very handy for resampling operations or time series manipulations.

print(ts.shift(1, freq='D'))


2020-01-02    10
2020-01-03    20
2020-01-04    30
2020-01-05    40
Freq: D, dtype: float64


The shift() method is a flexible tool in Pandas, suitable for a wide range of data manipulation tasks, especially in the context of time series analysis. Through the examples provided, we’ve seen how it can be used to modify data frame positions, introduce lagged features, and perform qualitative shifts. Whether working with numerical, categorical, or date-time indices, shift() can be your go-to method for efficient data transformation.