Chapter 1 Getting Started with RStudio

RStudio is an integrated development environment (IDE) for R that provides an alternative interface to R that has several advantages over other the default R interfaces:

  • RStudio runs on Mac, PC, and Linux machines and provides a simplified interface thatlooks and feels identical on all of them. The default interfaces for R are quite different on the various platforms. This can be distracting for the beginner.

  • RStudio can run in a web browser. RStudio can be installed locally or on a server. In this class we will be using rstudio.cloud, a web-based server that is nearly identical to the desktop version.

  • RStudio provides support for reproducible research. RStudio makes it easy to include text, statistical analysis (R code and R output), and graphical displays all in the same document. The RMarkdown system provides a simple markup language and renders the results in HTML. The knitr/LATEX system allows users to combine R and LATEX in the same document. The reward for learning this more complicated system is much finer control over the output format. Depending on the level of the course, students can use either of these for homework and projects.

  • Studio provides an integrated support for editing and executing R code and documents.

  • RStudio provides some useful functionality via a graphical user interface. RStudio is not a GUI for R, but it does provide a GUI that simplifies things like installing and updating packages; monitoring, saving and loading environments; importing and exporting data; browsing and exporting graphics; and browsing files and documentation.

While one can certainly use R without using RStudio, RStudio makes a number of things easier and we highly recommend using RStudio. Furthermore, since RStudio is in active development, we fully expect more useful features in the future. R can also be obtained from http://cran.r-project. org/. Download and installation are pretty straightforward for Mac, PC, or Linux machines. RStudio is available from http://www.rstudio.org/.

1.1 Using RStudio Cloud

In this course, we will use a cloud-based version of RStudio, RStudio Cloud rather than a program installed on your computer. You will need to sign up for a free account on RStudio Cloud, then create a new Project for use in this class.

All your R programs will now be available from any computer using a web-browser.

1.2 RStudio Interface

Once you start RStudio, you will see the RStudio interface:

Notice that RStudio divides its world into four panels. Several of the panels are further subdivided into multiple tabs. Which tabs appear in which panels can be customized by the user. R can do much more than a simple calculator, and we will introduce additional features in due time. But performing simple calculations in R is a good way to begin learning the features of RStudio. Commands entered in the Console tab are immediately executed by R. A good way to familiarize yourself with the console is to do some simple calculator-like computations. Most of this will work just like you would expect from a typical calculator. Try typing the following command in the console panel.


This last example demonstrates how functions are called within R as well as the use of comments. Comments are prefaced with the # character. Comments can be very helpful when writing scripts with multiple commands or to annotate example code for your students.

You can also save values to named variables for later reuse.


Once variables are defined, they can be referenced in other operations and functions

1.3 Working with R Script Files

Rather than typing R commands into the Console, we typically write short programs, known as “R scripts” that contain the R commands that we wish to execute. This allows for reproducibility because everytime you run your R script you’ll get the same result (assuming the input is the same). Or you could give your script to someone else and they’ll get the same result as well.


To To create a new R Script, select File, then New File, then R Script from the RStudio menu. A file editor tab will open in the Source panel. R code can be entered here, and buttons and menu items are provided to run all the code (called sourcing the file) or to run the code on a single line or in a selected section of the file.

Use File, then Save to give your script a name and save it in your working directory.

Next, type the following commands into your R script:


Note that any command that begins with a hash mark (#) is considered a comment and will not be evaluated by R. You may now run each line of your script by clicking on the RUN button, or press the CTRL+ENTER keys simultaneously.


Notice that your results are now displayed in the Console window. Your R commands are shown with “>” and results are shown with “[1]”.

1.4 Using R Packages

Much of the functionality of R is provided through open-source “packages”, which are freely available for download from a central clearing website called CRAN (Comprehensive R Archive Network). There is a large community of R users who contribute various packages that do useful things like perform statistical procedures or produce custom output. Many packages also come with useful data files which can be used to learn how to use R commands.

Here are the packages that we will be using in this class:

  • mosaic - Datasets and utilities from Project MOSAIC, used to teach math, statistics, computation and modeling.
  • data.table - We will use the fread and fwrite functions for importing various types of data.

1.4.1 Installing a package

Before you start using an R package, you must first install it into your environment. The easiest way to do this is by clicking the Tools then Install Packages… menu option

You only need to do this ONE time within your R environment.

1.4.2 Activating a package

To activate a package, use the require() or library() command. The two commands are identical except that require() will produce a more verbose output. If you are curious, you can type ‘require(mosaic)’ and ‘library(mosaic)’ to see the difference.

Here’s how to use the ‘library()’ command to activate the ‘mosaic’ package:

library(mosaic)
bwplot(wday~births, data=Births78)

To learn more about a particular package, use the help (?) command. For example to find more information about the ‘mosaic’ package you could type ‘?mosaic’ in the Console window.

1.5 The Other Panels and Tabs

1.5.1 The History Tab

As commands are entered in the console, they appear in the History tab. These histories can be saved and loaded, there is a search feature to locate previous commands, and individual lines or sections can be transferred back to the console. Keeping the History tab open will allow you to go back and see the previous several commands. This can be especially useful when commands produce a fair amount of output and so scroll off the screen rapidly.

1.5.2 The Files Tab

The Files tab provides a simple file manager. It can be navigated in familiar ways and used to open, move, rename, and delete files. In the browser version of RStudio, the Files tab also provides a file upload utility for moving files from the local machine to the server. In RMarkdown and knitr files one can also run the code in a particular chunk or in all of the chunks in a file. Each of these features makes it easy to try out code “live” while creating a document that keeps a record of the code.

In the reverse direction, code from the history can be copied either back into the console to run them again (perhaps after editing) or into one of the file editing tabs for inclusion in a file.

1.5.3 The Help Tab

The Help tab is where RStudio displays R help files. These can be searched and navigated in the Help tab. You can also open a help file using the ? operator in the console.
For example typing ‘?paste’ will provide the help file for the paste function.

1.5.4 The Environment Tab


The Environment tab shows the variables that you’ve created and objects available to the console. These are subdivided into data, values (nondataframe, non-function objects) and functions. The broom icon can be used to remove all objects from the environment, and it is good to do this from time to time. The ‘rm(list=ls())’ command will do the same thing.

1.5.5 The Plots Tab

Plots created in the console are displayed in the Plots tab. For example, the following commands display the number of births in the United States for each day in 1978.

# activating the mosaic package will make lattice graphics available to the session
# as well as the Births78 dataset
library(mosaic)
xyplot(births ~ day_of_year, data=Births78)

From the Plots tab, you can navigate to previous plots and also export plots in various formats after interactively resizing them.

1.5.6 The Packages Tab

The Packages tab displays which package are installed and/or loaded into your environment. It will also allow you to search for packages that have been updated since you installed them.

1.6 Useful options

1.6.1 How to clear your environment

The following command should be used at the top of every R script you write. It will clear out any environment variables that you may have stored in a prior R session.

In order for your R code to be reproducible you must start with a blank slate (empty environment) every time you run the code.

1.6.2 How many significant digits to show

Use the ‘following code’options(digits = x)’ command to tell R to only show 4 signficant digits:

1.6.3 How to set your color scheme

You can change the color scheme for the RStudio editor by selecting ‘Tools’ then ‘Global Options’. Click on “Appearance”, then select the Editor theme that you prefer.

1.7 Important things to know about R

1.7.1 R is case-sensitive

If you mis-capitalize something in R it won’t do what you want. Pay careful attention to the spelling and capitalization of variables and datasets.

A variable named ‘Mydata’ is not the same as one named ‘mydata’.

1.7.2 Special characters used by R:

  • ~ (tilde) - found in the upper left corner of the keyboard (must use SHIFT). This is used in many commands to separate parameters, as in “time ~ group”.
  • ` (back-tic) - found in the upper left corner of the keyboard. This is used as a delimeter for strings, as in this is a string
  • ' (single quote) - found on the right side of the keyboard next to ENTER. This is used for …..

1.7.3 Common Errors from R:

  • If you see a + prompt in the Console, it means R is waiting for more input. Often this means that you have forgotten a closing parenthesis or made dome other syntax error.

How to fix it: Press ESC key to return to the > prompt and start the command fresh.

  • Error in xxxxxxxxx : object ‘xxxx’ not found

R was not expecting to find “xxxx” where it did. You probably either misspelled something, forgot a comma, or put the arguments in the incorrect order.

  • What happens if you use a function before loading the library ….

1.7.4 How to knit an R file

Put the following code at the top of an R script:

/#‘—
/#’output: word_document
/#’—