R (programming language)

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Appeared in 1993 [1]
Designed by Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman
Developer R Development Core Team
Stable release 2.10.1 (December 14, 2009; 131733054 ago)
Preview release Through Subversion
Influenced by S, Scheme
OS Cross-platform
License GNU General Public License
Website http://www.r-project.org/

In computing, R is a programming language and software environment for statistical computing and graphics. It is an implementation of the S programming language with lexical scoping semantics inspired by Scheme. R was created by Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman[2] at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and is now developed by the R Development Core Team. It is named partly after the first names of the first two R authors (Robert Gentleman and Ross Ihaka), and partly as a play on the name of S.[3]

The R language has become a de facto standard among statisticians for the development of statistical software,[4][5] and is widely used for statistical software development and data analysis.[5]

R is part of the GNU project.[6] Its source code is freely available under the GNU General Public License, and pre-compiled binary versions are provided for various operating systems. R uses a command line interface, though several graphical user interfaces are available.



R provides a wide variety of statistical (linear and nonlinear modeling, classical statistical tests, time-series analysis, classification, clustering, and others) and graphical techniques. R, like S, is designed to be a true computer language, and it allows users to add additional functionality by defining new functions. There are some important differences, but much code written for S runs unaltered. Much of R's system is itself written in the language, which makes it easy for users to follow the algorithmic choices made. For computationally-intensive tasks, C, C++, and Fortran code can be linked and called at run time. Advanced users can write C code to manipulate R objects directly.

R is highly extensible through the use of user-submitted packages for specific functions or specific areas of study. Due to its S heritage, R has stronger object-oriented programming facilities than most statistical computing languages. Extending R is also eased by its permissive lexical scoping rules.[7]

Another of R's strengths is its graphical facilities, which produce publication-quality graphs which can include mathematical symbols. R has its own LaTeX-like documentation format, which is used to supply comprehensive documentation, both on-line in a number of formats and in hard copy.

Although R is mostly used by statisticians and other practitioners requiring an environment for statistical computation and software development, it can also be used as a general matrix calculation toolbox with performance benchmarks comparable to GNU Octave and its proprietary counterpart, MATLAB.[8] An R[9] interface has been added to the popular data mining software Weka which allows for the usage of data mining capabilities in Weka and statistical analysis in R.


The following examples illustrate the basic syntax of the language and usage of the command-line interface.

File:Plots from lm example.svg
Diagnostic graphs produced by plot.lm() function. Features include mathematical notation in axis labels, as at lower left.
> x <- c(1,2,3,4,5,6)   # Create ordered collection
> y <- x^2              # Square the elements of x
> mean(y)               # Calculate arithmetic mean of y
[1] 15.16667
> var(y)                # Calculate sample variance
[1] 178.9667
> summary(lm(y ~ x))    # Fit a linear regression model

lm(formula = y ~ x)

1       2       3       4       5       6
3.3333 -0.6667 -2.6667 -2.6667 -0.6667  3.3333

Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)
(Intercept)  -9.3333     2.8441  -3.282 0.030453 *
x             7.0000     0.7303   9.585 0.000662 ***
Signif. codes:  0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1

Residual standard error: 3.055 on 4 degrees of freedom
Multiple R-squared: 0.9583,	Adjusted R-squared: 0.9478
F-statistic: 91.88 on 1 and 4 DF,  p-value: 0.000662

> par(mfrow=c(2, 2))    # Request 2x2 plot layout
> plot(lm(y ~ x))       # Diagnostic plot of regression model


The capabilities of R are extended through user-submitted packages, which allow specialized statistical techniques, graphical devices, as well as and import/export capabilities to many external data formats. These packages are developed in R, LaTeX, Java, and often C and Fortran. A core set of packages are included with the installation of R, with more than 2000[10] (as of October 2009) available at the Comprehensive R Archive Network (CRAN). The official Task Views page summarizes packages that are especially useful for selected topics (such as econometrics) while Crantastic is community site for rating and reviewing all CRAN packages. R-Forge offers a central platform for the development of R packages and R-related software and further projects. It hosts many unpublished, beta packages and development versions of CRAN packages.

The Bioconductor project provides R packages for the analysis of genomic data, such as Affymetrix and cDNA microarray object-oriented data handling and analysis tools.


The full list of changes is maintained in the NEWS file. Some highlights are listed below.

  • Version 0.16 – This is the last alpha version developed primarily by Ihaka and Gentleman. Much of the basic functionality from the "White Book" (see S history) was implemented. The mailing lists commenced on April 1, 1997.
  • Version 0.49 – April 23, 1997 – This is the oldest available source release, and compiles on a limited number of Unix-like platforms. CRAN is started on this date, with 3 mirrors that initially hosted 12 packages. Alpha versions of R for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS are made available shortly after this version.
  • Version 0.60 – December 5, 1997 – R becomes an official part of the GNU Project. The code is hosted and maintained on CVS.
  • Version 1.0.0 – February 29, 2000 – Considered by its developers stable enough for production use [11].
  • Version 1.4.0 – S4 methods are introduced and the first version for Mac OS X is made available soon after.
  • Version 2.0.0 – Introduced lazy loading, which enables fast loading of data with minimal expense of system memory.
  • Version 2.9.0 – Package 'Matrix' is now a recommended package contained in the basic R distribution.

Productivity tools

There are various interfaces to R.

Graphical user interfaces

  • gretl - R can be run from inside gretl
  • Java Gui for R – cross-platform stand-alone R terminal and editor based on Java (also known as JGR)
  • Rattle GUI - cross-platform GUI based on RGtk2 and specifically designed for data mining
  • R Commander – cross-platform menu-driven GUI based on tcltk (several plug-ins to Rcmdr are also available)
  • RExcel – Using R and Rcmdr from within Microsoft Excel
  • rggobi, an interface to GGobi for visualization of matrices
  • RKWard – based on the KDE libraries
  • Sage – web browser interface as well as rpy support
  • Statistical Lab
  • nexusBPM – Automation Tool for R, eclipse plug-in to create R process flows and run R in parallel
  • R AnalyticFlow - drawing software for analysis flowcharts
  • Deducer menu and spreadsheet based GUI.

Editors and IDEs

Text editors and Integrated development environments (IDEs) with some support for R include Bluefish[12], Crimson Editor, ConTEXT, Eclipse[13], Emacs (Emacs Speaks Statistics), Geany, jEdit[14], Kate[15], Syn, TextMate, Tinn-R, Vim, gedit, SciTE, WinEdt (R Package RWinEdt), and notepad++[16].

Sweave is a document processor that can execute R code embedded within LaTeX code and convert both the source and results (including graphical output) into LaTeX source code. One may also use LyX to create and compile Sweave documents. The odfWeave package enables similar processing of R code embedded within word processing documents in OpenDocument format (ODF), and has experimental support for spreadsheets and presentations. An alternative to sweave is the R package brew[17] which allows looping over R-code, thus easing repetitive reports.[18]

Scripting languages

R functionality has been made accessible from several scripting languages such as Python (by the RPy[19] interface package) and Perl (by the Statistics::R[20] module). Scripting in R itself is possible via littler[21] as well as via Rscript which has been part of the R core distribution since release 2.5.0.

See also

Commercialized versions of R

There are several commercialized or enterprise versions of R, which include support and services.


  1. A Brief History R : Past and Future History, Ross Ihaka, Statistics Department, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand, available from the CRAN website
  2. "Robert Gentleman's home page". http://gentleman.fhcrc.org/. Retrieved 2009-07-20. 
  3. Kurt Hornik. The R FAQ: Why is R named R?. ISBN 3-900051-08-9. http://cran.r-project.org/doc/FAQ/R-FAQ.html#Why-is-R-named-R_003f. Retrieved 2008-01-29. 
  4. Fox, John and Andersen, Robert (January 2005) (PDF). Using the R Statistical Computing Environment to Teach Social Statistics Courses. Department of Sociology, McMaster University. http://www.unt.edu/rss/Teaching-with-R.pdf. Retrieved 2006-08-03. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Vance, Ashlee (2009-01-06). "Data Analysts Captivated by R's Power". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/07/technology/business-computing/07program.html. Retrieved 2009-04-28. "R is also the name of a popular programming language used by a growing number of data analysts inside corporations and academia. It is becoming their lingua franca..." 
  6. "What is R?". http://www.r-project.org/about.html. Retrieved 2009-04-28. 
  7. Jackman, Simon (Spring 2003). "R For the Political Methodologist" (PDF). The Political Methodologist (Political Methodology Section, American Political Science Association) 11 (1): 20–22. http://polmeth.wustl.edu/tpm/tpm_v11_n2.pdf. Retrieved 2006-08-03. 
  8. "Speed comparison of various number crunching packages (version 2)". SciView. http://www.sciviews.org/benchmark. Retrieved 2007-11-03. 
  9. "RWeka: An R Interface to Weka. R package version 0.3-17". Kurt Hornik, Achim Zeileis, Torsten Hothorn and Christian Buchta. http://CRAN.R-project.org/package=RWeka. Retrieved 2009. 
  10. Henrik Bengtsson, "Milestone: 2000 packages on CRAN"
  11. Peter Dalgaard. "R-1.0.0 is released". https://stat.ethz.ch/pipermail/r-announce/2000/000127.html. Retrieved 2009-06-06. 
  12. Customizable syntax highlighting based on Perl Compatible regular expressions, with subpattern support and default patterns for..R, tenth bullet point, Bluefish Features, Bluefish website, retrieved 9 July 2008.
  13. Stephan Wahlbrink. "StatET: Eclipse based IDE for R". http://www.walware.de/goto/statet. Retrieved 2009-09-26. 
  14. Jose Claudio Faria. "R syntax". http://community.jedit.org/?q=node/view/2339. Retrieved 2007-11-03. 
  15. "Syntax Highlighting". Kate Development Team. http://kate-editor.org/downloads/syntax_highlighting. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  16. NppToR: R in Notepad++
  17. brew at cran
  18. Learnr blogpost descibing brew
  19. RPy home page
  20. Statistics::R page on CPAN
  21. littler web site
  22. "Press Release: Intel Capital Makes Series A Investment in REvolution Computing". Intel. 2008-01-22. http://www.intel.com/capital/news/releases/080122.htm. Retrieved 2008-01-29. 

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