R Source Code Blocks in Org Mode

Table of Contents

Org Mode support for R


R is a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics. R source code blocks are fully supported in Org Mode with a wide variety of R-specific header arguments.

R source code blocks in Org Mode can be used to create R packages, carry out statistical analyses, create graphic displays, and produce reproducible research papers.

Requirements and Setup

R source code blocks in Org Mode require a working R installation. Precompiled binary distributions for Gnu/Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows are available at the Comprehensive R Archive Network, which also makes available the source code for compilation on other platforms.

Org Mode supports graphical output for LaTeX documents using the PGF and TikZ graphics system for TeX. In order to use this facility your R installation will need the tikzDevice package. One way to ensure that this device is loaded is to put the following lines in .Rprofile:

old <- getOption("defaultPackages")
options(defaultPackages = c(old, "tikzDevice"))

The Emacs mode, Emacs Speaks Statistics (ESS), is required for session-based evaluation. ESS is designed to support editing of scripts and interaction with various statistical analysis programs such as R, S-Plus, SAS, Stata, and JAGS.

The following two lines in .emacs point Emacs to ESS and load it. Note that you will likely need to adjust the load-path accordingly.

(add-to-list 'load-path "~/.emacs.d/src/ess-5.6/lisp")
(require 'ess-site)

Finally, you'll need to ensure that org-babel-load-languages includes an entry for R. Typically, org-babel-load-languages will contain many entries. The example below omits other languages.

 '((R . t)))

Note for Windows Users

Additional steps may be necessary on Windows. See this Org-mode mailing list thread for background information. If when trying to execute R source code from Org-mode one encouters the message The system cannot find the path specified, it may be necessary to set the variable org-babel-R-command in .emacs. Note the addition of --slave --no-save to the custom path, which are the R defaults for Babel.

(setq org-babel-R-command "C:/Progra~1/R/R-2.15.0/bin/R --slave --no-save")

Adjust the path appropriately based on your R installation.

For 64bit Windows users, the R installation process may have installed both 32bit and 64bit binaries. The above path points to the 32bit paths; for 64bit operating systems the analog is:

(setq org-babel-R-command "C:/Progra~1/R/R-2.15.0/bin/x64/R --slave --no-save")

Org Mode Features for R Source Code Blocks

Header Arguments

There are no R-specific default header arguments.

If a :file filename.ext header argument is provided to an R source block, then the output from the source block will go to the named file. What that output is depends on the value of the :results header argument.

If the value is :results graphics then "base" graphics output is captured on disk, and a link to the graphics file is inserted into the Org Mode buffer (as is also the case with the graphics-only languages such as gnuplot, ditaa, dot, and asymptote.) An attempt is made to find an R graphics device corresponding to the file extension. Currently, the following extensions are recognized: .png, .jpg, .jpeg, .tiff, .bmp, .pdf, .ps, .postscript, .tex, and .svg. If the extension of the file name passed to :file is not recognized, PNG format output is created by default.

If the source code block uses grid-based R graphics, e.g., the lattice and ggplot2 packages, then care must be taken either to print() the graphics object, specify :results output, or run the code in a :session. This is because the graphics functions from lattice and ggplot2 return objects that must be explicitly printed to see them, using the print function. This happens automatically when run interactively, e.g., :session, but when called inside another function, it does not. The way :results value is defined to operate, device and ggplot2 function calls are wrapped in a main function, and unless the object is specifically printed, no output is produced.

Some years ago, Erik Iverson summarized the different ways of getting this working.1 His summary, updated to reflect a change in Org Babel syntax 2, follows:

* does /not/ produce a file
#+begin_src R :file 1.png :results value graphics
xyplot(1:10 ~ 1:10)
* does produce a file, by printing object
#+begin_src R :file 2.png :results value graphics
print(xyplot(1:10 ~ 1:10))
* does produce a file, by using :results output
#+begin_src R :file 3.png :results output graphics
xyplot(1:10 ~ 1:10)
* does produce a file, by evaluating in :session
#+begin_src R :file 4.png :session :results graphics
xyplot(1:10 ~ 1:10)

There are many R-specific header arguments used to configure R graphics devices. They include:

the width of the graphics region in inches
the height of the graphics region in inches
for raster devices, the units in which width and height are given – px, in, cm, or mm
the background color defaults to "transparent"
the foreground color defaults to "black"
the default point size in the graphics defaults to 12
the quality of a JPEG image as a percentage
the type of compression to be used
the nominal resolution in pixels per inch
the bitmap type, one of "Xlib", "quartz", or "cairo"
the type of antialiasing to be used when type = "cairo" or type = "quartz"
in normal use, one of "AvantGarde", "Bookman", "Courier", "Helvetica" (default), "Helvetica-Narrow", "NewCenturySchoolbook", "Palatino", or "Times"
string to embed as the /Title field in the file defaults to "R Graphics Output"
an R graphics font family name – "sans", "serif", or "mono"
string describing the PDF version required to view the output defaults to "1.4"
the target paper size – "special" (default), "default", "a4", "letter", "legal", "us", "executive", "a4r", or "USr", where the latter two are rotated to landscape orientation
the name of an encoding file
if paper != "special" then a logical that defaults to true and determines whether the graphic device region is centered on the page
a character string describing the color model, "srgb" (default), "gray", "grey", or "cmyk".
if TRUE (default) small circles will be rendered with the Dingbats font
for the postscript device, a logical that defaults to true and dtermines the orientation of the printed image
for graphics parameters not directly supported by Org Mode (see below)

See the R help page for the graphics devices (e.g., using ?png, ?pdf, ?postscript in an R session) for additional information on these arguments.

Arguments to the R graphics device can also be passed as a string in R argument syntax, using the header arg :R-dev-args. This is useful for graphics device arguments that don't have an Org Mode header argument counterpart.

The following example source block illustrates use of :R-dev-args to pass background and foreground colors. Note that both of these arguments can also be passed directly as header args, using :fg and :bg.

#+header: :width 8 :height 8 :R-dev-args bg="olivedrab", fg="hotpink"
#+begin_src R :file z.pdf :results graphics
,plot(matrix(rnorm(100), ncol=2), type="l")


Sessions are fully supported by R source code blocks. They can be used as one way to preserve state accessed by several source code blocks. Sessions are also useful for debugging, since it is possible to view the values of variables created during the session.

Result Types

R source code blocks can return text or graphical results.

The ascii package coerces R objects to Org Mode, among other markup languages. The Hmisc, xtable and tables packages contain functions to write R objects into LaTeX representations.

R is capable of creating graphical displays in several formats. The outputs supported by R source code blocks in Org Mode include:

bitmap image file format commonly used on Microsoft Windows and OS/2
jpg, jpeg
Joint Photographics Expert Group method of lossy compression for digital photography widely used in a number of raster image file formats
output tikz graphics language which can be typeset by LaTeX so the fonts for text in the plot match the fonts used in the LaTeX document
a sophisticated raster image format that allows multiple pages in a document
Portable Network Graphics is a lossless raster image file format
Scalable Vector Graphics is an open standard vector format that can be embedded in web pages and readily edited in open source software applications such as Inkscape
Portable Document Format can faithfully produce anything R graphics can output
ps, postscript
PostScript is a predecessor of PDF that does not support semitransparent colors or hyperlinking

When using R to produce graphical displays, you will typically set :results graphics. However, if you use the ggplot implementation of the grammar of graphics in R, then you will need to set :results output graphics.

Examples of Use


This section contains some tips on how to proceed if your R code is not doing what you had hoped.

Use :session

Evaluate your code using the :session header argument, then visit the R buffer (i.e. the buffer containing the "inferior ESS" process). Then you can inspect the objects that have been created, and try out some lines of code. Useful R functions for inspecting objects include (as always in R, type a "?" followed by the name of the function to get help with the function)

  • str
  • dim
  • summary

Use ESS to step through evaluation line-by-line

  1. Use C-c ' to visit the edit buffer for your code block
  2. Use ess-eval-line-and-step to evaluate each line in turn

In addition to ess-eval-line-and-step, there are several other ESS functions with names beginning ess-eval-*. They evaluate lines and regions in different ways; it's worth looking at their descriptions (C-h f).

Org Mode Output from R

David Hajage's ascii R package creates appropriate plain text representations of many R objects. It features an option to specify that the plain text representations should be in Org format. This can be particularly useful for retrieving non-tabular R data structures in Org Mode for export.

In R:

> library(ascii)
> options(asciiType = "org")
> library(Hmisc)
> ascii(describe(esoph))
#+CAPTION: esoph
- 5 Variable
- 88 Observations

|  n | missing | unique |
| 88 |       0 |      6 |

|           | 25-34 | 35-44 | 45-54 | 55-64 | 65-74 | 75+ |
| Frequency |    15 |    15 |    16 |    16 |    15 |  11 |
| %         |    17 |    17 |    18 |    18 |    17 |  12 |

|  n | missing | unique |
| 88 |       0 |      4 |

 0-39g/day (23, 26%), 40-79 (23, 26%), 80-119 (21, 24%), 120+ (21, 24%)

|  n | missing | unique |
| 88 |       0 |      4 |

 0-9g/day (24, 27%), 10-19 (24, 27%), 20-29 (20, 23%), 30+ (20, 23%)

|  n | missing | unique |  Mean | .05 | .10 | .25 | .50 | .75 | .90 | .95 |
| 88 |       0 |     10 | 2.273 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 0.0 | 1.0 | 4.0 | 5.3 | 6.0 |

|           |  0 |  1 |  2 |  3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 8 | 9 | 17 |
| Frequency | 29 | 16 | 11 |  9 | 8 | 6 | 5 | 1 | 2 |  1 |
| %         | 33 | 18 | 12 | 10 | 9 | 7 | 6 | 1 | 2 |  1 |

|  n | missing | unique |  Mean | .05 | .10 | .25 | .50 |  .75 |  .90 |  .95 |
| 88 |       0 |     30 | 11.08 | 1.0 | 1.0 | 3.0 | 6.0 | 14.0 | 29.1 | 40.0 |

 lowest:  1  2  3  4  5, highest: 40 46 48 49 60

The Org Mode source code block specifies :results org so the output is wrapped in #+BEGIN_ORG#+END_ORG. This way, arbitrary output can be included and easily replaced on subsequent evaluations of the source code block.

#+begin_src R :results output org
  ascii(summary(table(1:4, 1:4)))

- Number of cases in table: 4 
- Number of factors: 2 
- Test for independence of all factors:
  - Chisq = 12, df = 9, p-value = 0.2133
  - Chi-squared approximation may be incorrect

The results in this case are exported as a nested list structure:

  • Number of cases in table: 4
  • Number of factors: 2
  • Test for independence of all factors:
    • Chisq = 12, df = 9, p-value = 0.2133
    • Chi-squared approximation may be incorrect

The caption, header, and include.colnames options are useful.

#+BEGIN_SRC R :results output org
 a <- runif(100)
 c <- "Quantiles of 100 random numbers"
 b <- ascii(quantile(a),header=T,include.colnames=T,caption=c)

#+CAPTION: Quantiles of 100 random numbers
| 0%   | 25%  | 50%  | 75%  | 100% |
| 0.03 | 0.28 | 0.52 | 0.74 | 1.00 |

The output exported to HTML can be quite nice.

Table 1: Quantiles of 100 random numbers
0% 25% 50% 75% 100%
0.03 0.28 0.52 0.74 1.00

LaTeX code from R

This example summarises a linear regression fit. Usually the Org Mode user should not have to be involved in LaTeX code generation, because this is the responsibility of Org Mode's LaTeX export engine. In this example, neither the printed representation, nor the value of summary(lm(y ~ x)) is tabular, and it would therefore require some work to get the information in to an Org Mode table. However, the xtable package can be used to output a LaTeX table. Using :results latex as a header argument to the R source code block ensures that this is returned as a LaTeX block in the Org Mode buffer and thus can be included correctly in LaTex-based export targets.

#+begin_src R :results output latex
x <- rnorm(100)
y <- x + rnorm(100)
xtable(summary(lm(y ~ x)))
% latex table generated in R 2.9.2 by xtable 1.5-5 package
% Wed Dec  9 17:17:53 2009
 & Estimate & Std. Error & t value & Pr($>$$|$t$|$) \\ 
(Intercept) & -0.0743 & 0.0969 & -0.77 & 0.4454 \\ 
  x & 1.0707 & 0.0923 & 11.60 & 0.0000 \\ 


When in an Org Mode R code edit buffer with an associated R session, M-x ess-switch-to-end-of-ESS will bring the R session buffer into view and place point at the prompt. ESS binds this to C-c C-z and C-M-r by default.


Documentation from the http://orgmode.org/worg/ website (either in its HTML format or in its Org format) is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License version 1.3 or later. The code examples and css stylesheets are licensed under the GNU General Public License v3 or later.