[R] How to implement "zero-overhead" code re-use (a la Python, Perl, etc.) in R?

Bert Gunter bgunter.4567 at gmail.com
Fri Sep 30 18:35:31 CEST 2016

I believe that you should post this on the R-devel list. I think that
the expertise to give you an authoritative answer is likely to reside
there, and they may not monitor or wish to respond on this list.


Bert Gunter

"The trouble with having an open mind is that people keep coming along
and sticking things into it."
-- Opus (aka Berkeley Breathed in his "Bloom County" comic strip )

On Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 7:36 AM, Kynn Jones <kynnjo at gmail.com> wrote:
> I'm collaborating in a long-running research project that, over the
> years, has accummulated source code (written in-house) in several
> languages: Python, Perl, Mathematica, MATLAB.
> Recently I have started writing source code in R for this project, and
> I am having trouble incorporating it into our established work flow.
> Our code falls into two broad categories: "scripts" (invoked directly
> by the user) and "libraries" (invoked by "client code", i.e. scripts
> or other library code).
> The library code lives under the top-level subdirectory ./lib of the
> git-controlled project directory.  (We keep all our code, along with
> the rest of the project's documents, under git control.)
> Users of client programs of the code under ./lib are expected to
> supply (usually via some global configuration) the appropriate library
> path (.e.g PYTHONPATH=$PROJECTDIR/lib/python,
> With this arrangement, code re-use is extremely simple.  For example,
> by just dropping into the ./lib/python directory the file foo.py, with
> content
>     # foo.py
>     def bar():
>         # etc.
> ...its bar function becomes *immediately* available, in a
> namespace-safe way, to any other python code in the project, like
> this:
>     # somescript.py
>     import foo
>     foo.bar()
> I describe this form of code re-use as "zero-overhead", since it
> requires only the presence of files that actually hold the code.
> Under such a code re-use scheme, updates of library code from the
> project's git repo are no different from updates of the project's
> content in general.  All that is required is running a command like
>     git pull origin master
> After such a command, the updated library code becomes immediately
> available to client code.
> Although I used Python for the example above, the picture is very
> similar for the other languages we have been using up to now.
> For R, however, the situation is different.  The only form of code
> re-use I have found for R is through packages.  AFAICT, R packages are
> not "zero-overhead": they entail a host of "meta" and derived files
> (in addition to the source code files), together with
> build/installation steps after each update.
> I'm looking for an alternative to packages for code re-use in R, one
> that better approximates the "zero-overhead" code re-use model
> described earlier.
> The only thing that comes to mind is as follows:
>   1. a "module" is an *.R file in the directory specified a suitable
> environment variable (e.g. PROJECT_R_LIB), and defining a single
> "module object", which is simply a named list.  For example,
>     # module foo.R
>     foo <- list(
>       bar = function (...) ... ,
>       baz = function (...) ... ,
>       frobozz = function (...) ... ,
>       ...
>       opts = list(...),
>       ...
>     )
>   2. every *.R file starts with boilerplate in the spirit of the
> following (along with adequate error checking/messages, etc.):
>     # somescript.R
>     import <- function (module_name) {
>       path_to_lib <- Sys.getenv("PROJECT_R_LIB")
>       path_to_module <- file.path(path_to_lib, paste0(module_name, ".R"))
>       source(path_to_module)
>     }
>     import("foo")
>     ...
>     import("whatever")
>     foo$bar(...)
>     if (foo$opts$frobnicate) foo$frobozz(...)
> This implementation is very crude (I have very little experience with
> R), but I hope it at least conveys clearly what I'm after.
> I would appreciate any suggestions/comments on how to implement in R
> the "zero-overhead" code re-use model I described earlier.
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