Programmatic Access to Data and Statistics from the World Bank API

Tools for searching and downloading data and statistics from the World Bank Data API (<>) and the World Bank Data Catalog API (<>).

wbstats: An R package for searching and downloading data from the World Bank API.

You can install:

The latest release version from CRAN with



The latest development version from github with



The World Bank[1] is a tremendous source of global socio-economic data; spanning several decades and dozens of topics, it has the potential to shed light on numerous global issues. To help provide access to this rich source of information, The World Bank themselves, provide a well structured RESTful API[2]. While this API is very useful for integration into web services and other high-level applications, it becomes quickly overwhelming for researchers who have neither the time nor the expertise to develop software to interface with the API. This leaves the researcher to rely on manual bulk downloads of spreadsheets of the data they are interested in. This too is can quickly become overwhelming, as the work is manual, time consuming, and not easily reproducible. The goal of the wbstats R-package is to provide a bridge between these alternatives and allow researchers to focus on their research questions and not the question of accessing the data. The wbstats R-package allows researchers to quickly search and download the data of their particular interest in a programmatic and reproducible fashion; this facilitates a seamless integration into their workflow and allows analysis to be quickly rerun on different areas of interest and with realtime access to the latest available data.

  • Uses version 2 of the World Bank API that provides access to more indicators and metadata than the previous API version
  • Access to all annual, quarterly, and monthly data available in the API
  • Support for searching and downloading data in multiple languages
  • Access to the World Bank Data Catalog Metadata, providing among other information; update schedules and supported languages
  • Ability to return POSIXct dates for easy integration into plotting and time-series analysis techniques
  • Returns data in either long (default) or wide format for direct integration with packages like ggplot2 and dplyr
  • Support for Most Recent Value queries
  • Support for grep style searching for data descriptions and names
  • Ability to download data not only by country, but by aggregates as well, such as High Income or South Asia
  • Ability to specify countries_only or aggregates when querying data

Getting Started

Unless you know the country and indicator codes that you want to download the first step would be searching for the data you are interested in. wbsearch() provides grep style searching of all available indicators from the World Bank API and returns the indicator information that matches your query.

To access what countries or regions are available you can use the countries data frame from either wb_cachelist or the saved return from wbcache(). This data frame contains relevant information regarding each country or region. More information on how to use this for downloading data is covered later.

Finding available data with wb_cachelist

For performance and ease of use, a cached version of useful information is provided with the wbstats R-package. This data is called wb_cachelist and provides a snapshot of available countries, indicators, and other relevant information. wb_cachelist is by default the the source from which wbsearch() and wb() uses to find matching information. The structure of wb_cachelist is as follows

str(wb_cachelist, max.level = 1)
#> List of 7
#>  $ countries  :'data.frame': 304 obs. of  18 variables:
#>  $ indicators :'data.frame': 16978 obs. of  7 variables:
#>  $ sources    :'data.frame': 43 obs. of  8 variables:
#>  $ datacatalog:'data.frame': 238 obs. of  29 variables:
#>  $ topics     :'data.frame': 21 obs. of  3 variables:
#>  $ income     :'data.frame': 7 obs. of  3 variables:
#>  $ lending    :'data.frame': 4 obs. of  3 variables:

Accessing updated available data with wbcache()

For the most recent information on available data from the World Bank API wbcache() downloads an updated version of the information stored in wb_cachelist. wb_cachelist is simply a saved return of wbcache(lang = "en"). To use this updated information in wbsearch() or wb(), set the cache parameter to the saved list returned from wbcache(). It is always a good idea to use this updated information to insure that you have access to the latest available information, such as newly added indicators or data sources.

# default language is english
new_cache <- wbcache()

Search available data with wbsearch()

wbsearch() searches through the indicators data frame to find indicators that match a search pattern. An example of the structure of this data frame is below

indicatorID indicator unit indicatorDesc sourceOrg sourceID source
4310 UIS.E.5.B Enrolment in tertiary education, ISCED 5 programmes, both sexes (number) NA Total number of students enrolled in public and private short-cycle tertiary education programmes (ISCED 5). UNESCO Institute for Statistics 12 Education Statistics
4311 UIS.E.4.PU.F Enrolment in post-secondary non-tertiary education, public institutions, female (number) NA Total number of females enrolled in public post-secondary non-tertiary education institutions regardless of age. Public education Institutions are controlled and managed directly by a public education authority or agency of the country where it is located or by a government agency directly or by a governing body (council, committee etc.), most of whose members are either appointed by a public authority of the country where it is located or elected by public franchise. UNESCO Institute for Statistics 12 Education Statistics

By default the search is done over the indicator and indicatorDesc fields and returns the columns indicatorID and indicator of the matching rows. The indicatorID values are inputs into wb(), the function for downloading the data. To return all columns for the indicators data frame, you can set extra = TRUE.

unemploy_vars <- wbsearch(pattern = "unemployment")
#>    indicatorID
#> 35   WP15177.9
#> 36   WP15177.8
#> 37   WP15177.7
#> 38   WP15177.6
#> 39   WP15177.5
#> 40   WP15177.4
#>                                                                                        indicator
#> 35         Received government transfers in the past year, income, richest 60% (% ages 15+) [w2]
#> 36         Received government transfers in the past year, income, poorest 40% (% ages 15+) [w2]
#> 37 Received government transfers in the past year, secondary education or more (% ages 15+) [w2]
#> 38   Received government transfers in the past year, primary education or less (% ages 15+) [w2]
#> 39                Received government transfers in the past year, older adults (% ages 25+) [w2]
#> 40              Received government transfers in the past year, young adults (% ages 15-24) [w2]

Other fields can be searched by simply changing the fields parameter. For example

blmbrg_vars <- wbsearch(pattern = "Bloomberg", fields = "sourceOrg")
#>        indicatorID                             indicator
#> 262   WHEAT_US_HRW        Wheat, US, HRW, $/mt, current$
#> 766       SUGAR_US         Sugar, US, cents/kg, current$
#> 2563  RUBBER1_MYSG Rubber, Singapore, cents/kg, current$
#> 9488    GFDD.SM.01                Stock price volatility
#> 9496    GFDD.OM.02 Stock market return (%, year-on-year)
#> 12003       BARLEY                Barley, $/mt, current$

Regular expressions are also supported.

# 'poverty' OR 'unemployment' OR 'employment'
povemply_vars <- wbsearch(pattern = "poverty|unemployment|employment")
#>    indicatorID
#> 35   WP15177.9
#> 36   WP15177.8
#> 37   WP15177.7
#> 38   WP15177.6
#> 39   WP15177.5
#> 40   WP15177.4
#>                                                                                        indicator
#> 35         Received government transfers in the past year, income, richest 60% (% ages 15+) [w2]
#> 36         Received government transfers in the past year, income, poorest 40% (% ages 15+) [w2]
#> 37 Received government transfers in the past year, secondary education or more (% ages 15+) [w2]
#> 38   Received government transfers in the past year, primary education or less (% ages 15+) [w2]
#> 39                Received government transfers in the past year, older adults (% ages 25+) [w2]
#> 40              Received government transfers in the past year, young adults (% ages 15-24) [w2]

The default cached data in wb_cachelist is in English. To search indicators in a different language, you can download an updated copy of wb_cachelist using wbcache(), with the lang parameter set to the language of interest and then set this as the cache parameter in wbsearch(). Other languages are supported in so far as they are supported by the original data sources. Some sources provide full support for other languages, while some have very limited support. If the data source does not have a translation for a certain field or indicator then the result is NA, this may result in a varying number matches depending upon the language you select.

# download wbcache in spanish
wb_cachelist_es <- wbcache(lang = "es")
gini_vars <- wbsearch(pattern = "Coeficiente de Gini", cache = wb_cachelist_es)
#>           indicatorID                                       indicator
#> 14774   3.2.TheilInd1                   Índice de Theil, GE(1),Urbano
#> 14776        3.2.Gini                                    Gini, Urbano
#> 14787   3.1.TheilInd1                   Índice de Theil, GE(1), Rural
#> 14789        3.1.Gini                                     Gini, Rural
#> 14792   3.0.TheilInd1                          Índice de Theil, GE(1)
#> 14801 3.0.Gini_nozero Coeficiente de Gini (Ingreso diferente de cero)

Downloading data with wb()

Once you have found the set of indicators that you would like to explore further, the next step is downloading the data with wb(). The following examples are meant to highlight the different ways in which wb() can be used and demonstrate the major optional parameters.

The default value for the country parameter is a special value of all which as you might expect, returns data on the selected indicator for every available country or region.

# Population, total
pop_data <- wb(indicator = "SP.POP.TOTL", startdate = 2000, enddate = 2002)
#>   iso3c date     value indicatorID         indicator iso2c
#> 1   ARB 2002 296026575 SP.POP.TOTL Population, total    1A
#> 2   ARB 2001 289850357 SP.POP.TOTL Population, total    1A
#> 3   ARB 2000 283832016 SP.POP.TOTL Population, total    1A
#> 4   CSS 2002   6623792 SP.POP.TOTL Population, total    S3
#> 5   CSS 2001   6577216 SP.POP.TOTL Population, total    S3
#> 6   CSS 2000   6530691 SP.POP.TOTL Population, total    S3
#>                  country
#> 1             Arab World
#> 2             Arab World
#> 3             Arab World
#> 4 Caribbean small states
#> 5 Caribbean small states
#> 6 Caribbean small states

If you are interested in only some subset of countries or regions you can pass along the specific codes to the country parameter. The country and region codes that can be passed to the country parameter correspond to the coded values from the iso2c, iso3c, regionID, adminID, and incomeID from the countries data frame in wb_cachelist or the return of wbcache(). Any values from the above columns can mixed together and passed to the same call

# Population, total
# country values: iso3c, iso2c, regionID, adminID, incomeID
pop_data <- wb(country = c("ABW","AF", "SSF", "ECA", "NOC"),
               indicator = "SP.POP.TOTL", startdate = 2012, enddate = 2012)
#> Warning in wb(country = c("ABW", "AF", "SSF", "ECA", "NOC"), indicator =
#> "SP.POP.TOTL", : The following country values are not valid and are being
#> excluded from the request: NOC
#>   iso3c date     value indicatorID         indicator iso2c
#> 1   ABW 2012    102577 SP.POP.TOTL Population, total    AW
#> 2   AFG 2012  30696958 SP.POP.TOTL Population, total    AF
#> 3   ECA 2012 407706585 SP.POP.TOTL Population, total    7E
#> 4   SSF 2012 926548177 SP.POP.TOTL Population, total    ZG
#>                                         country
#> 1                                         Aruba
#> 2                                   Afghanistan
#> 3 Europe & Central Asia (excluding high income)
#> 4                            Sub-Saharan Africa

Queries with multiple indicators return the data in a long data format by default

pop_gdp_long <- wb(country = c("US", "NO"), indicator = c("SP.POP.TOTL", "NY.GDP.MKTP.CD"),
                   startdate = 1971, enddate = 1971)
#>   iso3c date        value    indicatorID         indicator iso2c
#> 1   NOR 1971 3.903039e+06    SP.POP.TOTL Population, total    NO
#> 2   USA 1971 2.076610e+08    SP.POP.TOTL Population, total    US
#> 3   NOR 1971 1.458311e+10 NY.GDP.MKTP.CD GDP (current US$)    NO
#> 4   USA 1971 1.167770e+12 NY.GDP.MKTP.CD GDP (current US$)    US
#>         country
#> 1        Norway
#> 2 United States
#> 3        Norway
#> 4 United States

or a wide format if parameter return_wide = TRUE. Note that to necessitate a this transformation the indicator column is dropped.

pop_gdp_wide <- wb(country = c("US", "NO"), indicator = c("SP.POP.TOTL", "NY.GDP.MKTP.CD"),
                   startdate = 1971, enddate = 1971, return_wide = TRUE)
#>   iso3c date iso2c       country NY.GDP.MKTP.CD SP.POP.TOTL
#> 1   NOR 1971    NO        Norway   1.458311e+10     3903039
#> 2   USA 1971    US United States   1.167770e+12   207661000

Using mrv

If you do not know the latest date an indicator you are interested in is available for you country you can use the mrv instead of startdate and enddate. mrv stands for most recent value and takes a integer corresponding to the number of most recent values you wish to return

eg_data <- wb(country = c("IN"), indicator = 'EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS', mrv = 1)
#>   iso3c date    value    indicatorID
#> 1   IND 2014 79.16926 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#>                                 indicator iso2c country
#> 1 Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India

You can increase this value and it will return no more than the mrv value. However, if mrv is greater than the number of available data it will return less

eg_data <- wb(country = c("IN"), indicator = 'EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS', mrv = 10)
#>    iso3c date    value    indicatorID
#> 1    IND 2014 79.16926 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 2    IND 2013 77.73752 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 3    IND 2012 79.90000 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 4    IND 2011 67.60000 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 5    IND 2010 76.30000 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 6    IND 2009 75.00000 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 7    IND 2008 70.61525 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 8    IND 2007 69.21004 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 9    IND 2006 67.90000 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 10   IND 2005 66.43195 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#>                                  indicator iso2c country
#> 1  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 2  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 3  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 4  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 5  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 6  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 7  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 8  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 9  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 10 Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India

Using gapfill = TRUE

An additional parameter that can be used along with mrv is gapfill. gapfill allows you to "fill-in" the values between actual observations. The "filled-in" value for an otherwise missing date is the last observed value carried forward.The only difference in the data call below from the one directly above is gapfill = TRUE (the default is FALSE). Note the very important difference

eg_data <- wb(country = c("IN"), indicator = 'EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS', mrv = 10, gapfill = TRUE)
#>    iso3c date    value    indicatorID
#> 1    IND 2017 79.16926 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 2    IND 2016 79.16926 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 3    IND 2015 79.16926 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 4    IND 2014 79.16926 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 5    IND 2013 77.73752 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 6    IND 2012 79.90000 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 7    IND 2011 67.60000 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 8    IND 2010 76.30000 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 9    IND 2009 75.00000 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#> 10   IND 2008 70.61525 EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS
#>                                  indicator iso2c country
#> 1  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 2  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 3  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 4  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 5  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 6  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 7  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 8  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 9  Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India
#> 10 Access to electricity (% of population)    IN   India

Because gapfill returns data that does reflect actual observed values, use this option with care.

Using POSIXct = TRUE

The default format for the date column is not conducive to sorting or plotting, especially when downloading sub annual data, such as monthly or quarterly data. To address this, if TRUE, the POSIXct parameter adds the additional columns date_ct and granularity. date_ct converts the default date into a POSIXct. granularity denotes the time resolution that the date represents. This option requires the use of the package lubridate (>= 1.5.0). If POSIXct = TRUE and lubridate (>= 1.5.0) is not available, a warning is produced and the option is ignored

oil_data <- wb(indicator = "CRUDE_BRENT", mrv = 10, freq = "M", POSIXct = TRUE)
#>   iso3c    date value indicatorID                          indicator iso2c
#> 1   WLD 2017M10 57.62 CRUDE_BRENT Crude oil, Brendt, $/bbl, nominal$    1W
#> 2   WLD 2017M09 55.16 CRUDE_BRENT Crude oil, Brendt, $/bbl, nominal$    1W
#> 3   WLD 2017M08 51.37 CRUDE_BRENT Crude oil, Brendt, $/bbl, nominal$    1W
#> 4   WLD 2017M07 48.69 CRUDE_BRENT Crude oil, Brendt, $/bbl, nominal$    1W
#> 5   WLD 2017M06 46.89 CRUDE_BRENT Crude oil, Brendt, $/bbl, nominal$    1W
#> 6   WLD 2017M05 50.87 CRUDE_BRENT Crude oil, Brendt, $/bbl, nominal$    1W
#>   country    date_ct granularity
#> 1   World 2017-10-01     monthly
#> 2   World 2017-09-01     monthly
#> 3   World 2017-08-01     monthly
#> 4   World 2017-07-01     monthly
#> 5   World 2017-06-01     monthly
#> 6   World 2017-05-01     monthly

The POSIXct = TRUE option makes plotting and sorting dates much easier.

oil_data <- wb(indicator = c("CRUDE_DUBAI", "CRUDE_BRENT", "CRUDE_WTI", "CRUDE_PETRO"),
               startdate = "2012M01", enddate = "2014M12", freq = "M", POSIXct = TRUE)
ggplot(oil_data, aes(x = date_ct, y = value, colour = indicator)) + geom_line(size = 1) +
  labs(title = "Crude Oil Price Comparisons", x = "Date", y = "US Dollars")

The POSIXct = TRUE option also makes plotting time series with different time coverage seamless

# querying seperate for differing time coverage example
gold_data <- wb(indicator = "GOLD", mrv = 120, freq = "M", POSIXct = TRUE)
plat_data <- wb(indicator = "PLATINUM", mrv = 60, freq = "M", POSIXct = TRUE)
metal_data <- rbind(gold_data, plat_data)
ggplot(metal_data, aes(x = date_ct, y = value, colour = indicator)) + geom_line(size = 1) +
  labs(title = "Precious Metal Prices", x = "Date", y = "US Dollars")

Some Sharp Corners

There are a few behaviors of the World Bank API that being aware of could help explain some potentially unexpected results. These results are known but no special actions are taken to mitigate them as they are the result of the API itself and artifically limiting the inputs or results could potentially causes problems or create unnecessary rescrictions in the future.

Most Recent Values

If you use the mrv parameter in wb() with mutliple countries or regions, it searches for the most recent dates for which any country or region in your selection has data and then returns the data for those dates. In other words the mrv value is not determined on a country by country basis, rather it is determined across the entire selection.

per_data_1 <- wb(country = "all", indicator = 'per_lm_ac.cov_pop_tot', mrv = 1)
#>     iso3c date     value  indicatorID                          indicator
#> 17    ARM 2014 0.8872044 Performance. Coverage (%) - Active Labor Market
#> 35    CMR 2014 0.9365870 Performance. Coverage (%) - Active Labor Market
#> 70    IDN 2014 4.2099258 Performance. Coverage (%) - Active Labor Market
#> 155   VNM 2014 8.9763930 Performance. Coverage (%) - Active Labor Market
#>     iso2c   country
#> 17     AM   Armenia
#> 35     CM  Cameroon
#> 70     ID Indonesia
#> 155    VN   Vietnam
per_data_2 <- wb(country = "all", indicator = 'per_lm_ac.cov_pop_tot', mrv = 2)
#>     iso3c date      value  indicatorID                          indicator
#> 33    ARM 2014  0.8872044 Performance. Coverage (%) - Active Labor Market
#> 34    ARM 2013  3.2058376 Performance. Coverage (%) - Active Labor Market
#> 68    KHM 2013  1.2168315 Performance. Coverage (%) - Active Labor Market
#> 69    CMR 2014  0.9365870 Performance. Coverage (%) - Active Labor Market
#> 76    CHL 2013 20.4540718 Performance. Coverage (%) - Active Labor Market
#> 139   IDN 2014  4.2099258 Performance. Coverage (%) - Active Labor Market
#> 196   MDA 2013  0.9159697 Performance. Coverage (%) - Active Labor Market
#> 309   VNM 2014  8.9763930 Performance. Coverage (%) - Active Labor Market
#>     iso2c   country
#> 33     AM   Armenia
#> 34     AM   Armenia
#> 68     KH  Cambodia
#> 69     CM  Cameroon
#> 76     CL     Chile
#> 139    ID Indonesia
#> 196    MD   Moldova
#> 309    VN   Vietnam

Searching in other languages

Not all data sources support all languages. If an indicator does not have a translation for a particular language, the non-supported fields will return as NA. This could potentially result in a differing number of matching indicators from wbsearch()

# english
cache_en <- wbcache()
#> [1] 0
# spanish
cache_es <- wbcache(lang = "es")
#> [1] 15084


The World Bank Group, or any of its member instutions, do not support or endorse this software and are not libable for any findings or conclusions that come from the use of this software.




wbstats 0.2.0

Bug fixes:

  • wbdatacatalog() now returns all catalog entries instead of first 10
  • When only Namibia is queried the iso2c column now returns "NA" instead of logical NA
  • For some indicators wb() queries would return iso3c IDs in the iso2c column. This is a behavior of the world bank API. This is now properly handled.
  • Indicators from source WDI Database Archives are now accessible


  • Now uses Version 2 of the World Bank API.

    This new version of the API returns some new columns the old version didn't. Including data of last update for all available data sources This version also provides access to over 700 indicators that were moved to the WDI Database Archives. These indicators are not available using the older API

  • added the parameter return_wide to wb() allowing data returns to be formatted in a wide format with each queried indicator being its own column named by its corresponding indicatorID.

    This added functionality was done by importing the tidyr package and using tidyr::spread_. While it is not ideal to add a dependency for one feature I believe the tidyr and other tidyverse packages are inline with future wbstats features and are now common enough that the added dependency is worth the addition.

  • More explicit error messaging when encountering API call errors

  • update cached data in wb_cachelist

wbstats 0.1.1


  • Add 'aggregates' and 'countries_only' options to wb() per bapfeld pr
  • update cached data in wb_cachelist

Reference manual

It appears you don't have a PDF plugin for this browser. You can click here to download the reference manual.


0.2 by Jesse Piburn, 2 months ago

Browse source code at

Authors: Jesse Piburn [aut, cre], UT-Battelle, LLC [cph]

Documentation:   PDF Manual  

Task views: Econometrics

MIT + file LICENSE license

Imports httr, jsonlite, tidyr

Suggests ggplot2, knitr, lubridate

Suggested by googleVis.

See at CRAN