Okay, enough with the sales pitch. Let’s get started. Just as with any piece of software, R needs to be installed on a “computer”, which is a magical box that does cool things and delivers free ponies. Or something along those lines: I may be confusing computers with the iPad marketing campaigns. Anyway, R is freely distributed online, and you can download it from the R homepage, which is:
At the top of the page – under the heading “Download and Install R” – you’ll see separate links for Windows users, Mac users, and Linux users. If you follow the relevant link, you’ll see that the online instructions are pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll walk you through the installation anyway. As of this writing, the current version of R is 3.0.2 (Frisbee Sailing“), but they usually issue updates every six months, so you’ll probably have a newer version.14
3.1.1 Installing R on a Windows computer
The CRAN homepage changes from time to time, and it’s not particularly pretty, or all that well-designed quite frankly. But it’s not difficult to find what you’re after. In general you’ll find a link at the top of the page with the text “Download R for Windows”. If you click on that, it will take you to a page that offers you a few options. Again, at the very top of the page you’ll be told to click on a link that says to click here if you’re installing R for the first time. That’s probably what you want. This will take you to a page that has a prominent link at the top called “Download R 3.0.2 for Windows”. That’s the one you want. Click on that and your browser should start downloading a file called
R-3.0.2-win.exe, or whatever the equivalent version number is by the time you read this. The file for version 3.0.2 is about 54MB in size, so it may take some time depending on how fast your internet connection is. Once you’ve downloaded the file, double click to install it. As with any software you download online, Windows will ask you some questions about whether you trust the file and so on. After you click through those, it’ll ask you where you want to install it, and what components you want to install. The default values should be fine for most people, so again, just click through. Once all that is done, you should have R installed on your system. You can access it from the Start menu, or from the desktop if you asked it to add a shortcut there. You can now open up R in the usual way if you want to, but what I’m going to suggest is that instead of doing that you should now install RStudio.
3.1.2 Installing R on a Mac
When you click on the Mac OS X link, you should find yourself on a page with the title “R for Mac OS X”. The vast majority of Mac users will have a fairly recent version of the operating system: as long as you’re running Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or higher, then you’ll be fine.15 There’s a fairly prominent link on the page called “R-3.0.2.pkg”, which is the one you want. Click on that link and you’ll start downloading the installer file, which is (not surprisingly) called
R-3.0.2.pkg. It’s about 61MB in size, so the download can take a while on slower internet connections.
Once you’ve downloaded
R-3.0.2.pkg, all you need to do is open it by double clicking on the package file. The installation should go smoothly from there: just follow all the instructions just like you usually do when you install something. Once it’s finished, you’ll find a file called
R.app in the Applications folder. You can now open up R in the usual way16 if you want to, but what I’m going to suggest is that instead of doing that you should now install RStudio.
3.1.3 Installing R on a Linux computer
If you’re successfully managing to run a Linux box, regardless of what distribution, then you should find the instructions on the website easy enough. You can compile R from source yourself if you want, or install it through your package management system, which will probably have R in it. Alternatively, the CRAN site has precompiled binaries for Debian, Red Hat, Suse and Ubuntu and has separate instructions for each. Once you’ve got R installed, you can run it from the command line just by typing
R. However, if you’re feeling envious of Windows and Mac users for their fancy GUIs, you can download RStudio too.
3.1.4 Downloading and installing RStudio
Okay, so regardless of what operating system you’re using, the last thing that I told you to do is to download RStudio. To understand why I’ve suggested this, you need to understand a little bit more about R itself. The term R doesn’t really refer to a specific application on your computer. Rather, it refers to the underlying statistical language. You can use this language through lots of different applications. When you install R initially, it comes with one application that lets you do this: it’s the R.exe application on a Windows machine, and the R.app application on a Mac. But that’s not the only way to do it. There are lots of different applications that you can use that will let you interact with R. One of those is called RStudio, and it’s the one I’m going to suggest that you use. RStudio provides a clean, professional interface to R that I find much nicer to work with than either the Windows or Mac defaults. Like R itself, RStudio is free software: you can find all the details on their webpage. In the meantime, you can download it here:
When you visit the RStudio website, you’ll probably be struck by how much cleaner and simpler it is than the CRAN website,17 and how obvious it is what you need to do: click the big green button that says “Download”.
When you click on the download button on the homepage it will ask you to choose whether you want the desktop version or the server version. You want the desktop version. After choosing the desktop version it will take you to a page http://www.RStudio.org/download/desktop) that shows several possible downloads: there’s a different one for each operating system. However, the nice people at RStudio have designed the webpage so that it automatically recommends the download that is most appropriate for your computer. Click on the appropriate link, and the RStudio installer file will start downloading.
Once it’s finished downloading, open the installer file in the usual way to install RStudio. After it’s finished installing, you can start R by opening RStudio. You don’t need to open R.app or R.exe in order to access R. RStudio will take care of that for you. To illustrate what RStudio looks like, Figure 3.1 shows a screenshot of an R session in progress. In this screenshot, you can see that it’s running on a Mac, but it looks almost identical no matter what operating system you have. The Windows version looks more like a Windows application (e.g., the menus are attached to the application window and the colour scheme is slightly different), but it’s more or less identical. There are a few minor differences in where things are located in the menus (I’ll point them out as we go along) and in the shortcut keys, because RStudio is trying to “feel” like a proper Mac application or a proper Windows application, and this means that it has to change its behaviour a little bit depending on what computer it’s running on. Even so, these differences are very small: I started out using the Mac version of RStudio and then started using the Windows version as well in order to write these notes.
The only “shortcoming” I’ve found with RStudio is that – as of this writing – it’s still a work in progress. The “problem” is that they keep improving it. New features keep turning up the more recent releases, so there’s a good chance that by the time you read this book there will be a version out that has some really neat things that weren’t in the version that I’m using now.
3.1.5 Starting up R
One way or another, regardless of what operating system you’re using and regardless of whether you’re using RStudio, or the default GUI, or even the command line, it’s time to open R and get started. When you do that, the first thing you’ll see (assuming that you’re looking at the R console, that is) is a whole lot of text that doesn’t make much sense. It should look something like this:
R version 3.0.2 (2013-09-25) -- "Frisbee Sailing" Copyright (C) 2013 The R Foundation for Statistical Computing Platform: x86_64-apple-darwin10.8.0 (64-bit) R is free software and comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY. You are welcome to redistribute it under certain conditions. Type 'license()' or 'licence()' for distribution details. Natural language support but running in an English locale R is a collaborative project with many contributors. Type 'contributors()' for more information and 'citation()' on how to cite R or R packages in publications. Type 'demo()' for some demos, 'help()' for on-line help, or 'help.start()' for an HTML browser interface to help. Type 'q()' to quit R. >
Most of this text is pretty uninteresting, and when doing real data analysis you’ll never really pay much attention to it. The important part of it is this…
… which has a flashing cursor next to it. That’s the command prompt. When you see this, it means that R is waiting patiently for you to do something!