R for Windows FAQ

R for Windows FAQ

Version for rw1001

B. D. Ripley

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

This FAQ is for the Windows port of R: it describes features specific to that version. The main R FAQ can be found at


There have been two versions of R for Windows, but only is under active development, that described here. It is often called something like rw1001 (although not officially). The information here applies only to recent versions (rw0901 or later).

There is also information on the use of R for Windows in the Venables & Ripley `R Complements' at http://www.stats.ox.ac.uk/pub/MASS2.

2 Installation and Usage

2.1 Where can I find the latest version?

Go to any CRAN site (see http://cran.r-project.org/mirrors.html for a list), navigate to the bin/windows/windows-NT/base directory and collect the files you need. You will need at least the files

      rwXxxxb1.zip rwXxxxb2.zip
      rwXxxxh.zip (text help) or rwXxxxch.zip (Compiled HTML help)

and you may want rwXxxxwh.zip (the Windows help files) or rwXxxxw.zip (the HTML format help files), rwXxxxl.zip (the LaTeX format help files, used for offline printing), or rwXxxxd?.zip (the draft manuals, in PDF).

Optionally, you can download the installer, rwinst.exe.

2.2 How do I install R for Windows?

First, you need Windows 95 or 98 or NT4 or 2000: Windows 3.11+win32s will not work. Your file system must allow long file names (as is likely except perhaps for some network-mounted systems).

The simplest way is to run the installer (double-click on the icon for rwinst.exe and navigate its wizard-like pages). Alternatively, choose a location and unzip the zip files (with a tool that preserves long file names and the directory structure: we recommend the INFO-ZIP project's unzip). All the files will unpack into a directory called rwXxxx, for some Xxxx.

Choose a working directory for R. Make a shortcut to rwXxxx\bin\Rgui.exe on your desktop or somewhere on the Start menu file tree. Right-click the shortcut, select Properties... and change the `Start in' field to your working directory.

You may also want to add command-line arguments at the end of the Target field. We use --vsize=10M --nsize=400k. You can also set environment variables at the end of the Target field, for example R_LIBS=e:/R/library.

2.3 How do I run it?

Just double-click on the shortcut you prepared at installation.

If you want to set up another project, make a new shortcut or use the existing one, and change the `Start in' field of the Properties.

2.4 How can I keep workspaces for different projects in different directories?

Create a separate shortcut for each project: see Q2.3. All the paths to files used by R are relative to the starting directory, so setting the `Start in' field automatically helps separate projects.

2.5 How do I print from R?

It depends what you want to print.

2.6 Can I use R BATCH?

No, but you can set up a batch file using rterm.exe. A sample batch file might contain (as one line)

path_to_R\bin\rterm.exe --vsize=10M --nsize=500k --no-restore --no-save < %1 > %1.out

2.7 Can I use rwXxxx with ESS and emacs?

Yes. The latest versions of ESS (e.g. 5.1.13) come with support for this version of R, and there is support for interrupting the R process from ESS (by C-c C-c).

For help with ESS, please send email to ESS-help@stat.ethz.ch, not the R mailing lists.

2.8 What are HOME and working directories?

Several places in the documentation use these terms.

The working directory is the directory from which Rgui or Rterm was launched, unless a shortcut was used when it is given by the `Start in' field of the shortcut's properties. You can find this from R code by the call getwd().

The home directory is set as follows:
If environment variable R_USER is set, its value is used.
Otherwise if environment variable HOME is set, its value is used.
Otherwise if environment variables HOMEDRIVE and HOMEPATH are set, the value is ${HOMEDRIVE}${HOMEPATH}.
If all of these fail, the current working directory is used.

You can find this from R code by getenv("R_USER").

3 Packages

3.1 Can I install packages (libraries) in this version?

Yes, of course. The easy way is to see if a pre-compiled binary version of the package is available: look on CRAN at bin/windows/windows-NT/contrib. If there is, download the zip file and unpack it in the rwXxxx\library directory, using unzip or similar, or using the installer rwinst.exe. Perhaps even easier is to use the R function install.packages(): check out its help page.

If there is not a binary version or that is not up-to-date or you prefer compiling from source, get rwXxxxsp.zip from the distribution (see Q1.1) and unpack it in rwXxxx. Then cd src\gnuwin32 and read README.packages. You will need to collect and install several tools to use this. Once you have done so, installation is easy: just run make pkg-pkgname. To check the package (run all the examples on its help pages) use make pkgcheck-pkgname.

3.2 I don't have permission to write to the rwXxxx/library directory.

You can install packages anywhere and use the environment variable R_LIBS to point to the library location(s). You can also set the R variable .lib.loc in your .Rprofile or when running R.

Suppose your packages are installed in p:\mylibs. Then you can EITHER

set R_LIBS to p:\mylibs

OR put in the .Rprofile in the working directory or your home directory

.lib.loc <- c("p:/mylibs", .Library)

OR use a package by, e.g.

library(MASS, lib.loc="p:/mylibs")

How you set an environment variable is system specific: in Windows 9x you can set them in autoexec.bat or in an MS-DOS window from which you launch Rgui / Rterm. Under Windows NT/2000 you can use the control panel or the properties of `My Computer'. You can also set them on the command line, for example in the shortcut you could have

path_to_R\bin\rgui.exe --vsize=10M R_LIBS=e:/R/library

and you can set variables in a file .Renviron in the working directory or your home directory, for example


The order of precedence is the command line (flags before variables) then .Renviron then the inherited environment.

You can also build packages from anywhere to anywhere, but may be simpler to install a private copy of R to do the building.

3.3 The packages I installed do not appear in the HTML help system.

HTML help only works for packages installed in rwXxxx\library.

To update the HTML help files after you have installed a binary package, run at the R prompt.

> link.html.help()

(Using install.packages() does this for you. The source-code installation also does this automatically, and if you have that installed you can use (preferably)

cd rwXxxx\src\gnuwin32\help
make indices


3.4 My functions are not found by the HTML help search system.

The following conditions need to hold for functions in a package you installed.

If those all hold true, this works for us.

4 Windows Features

4.1 What should I expect to behave differently from the Unix version of R?

4.2 I hear about some nifty features: please tell me about them!

You have read the README? There are file menus on the R console, pager and graphics windows. You can source and save from those menus, and copy the graphics to png, jpeg, bmp, postscript or metafile. There are right-click menus giving shortcuts to menu items, and optionally toolbars with buttons giving shortcuts to frequent operations.

If you resize the R console the options(width=) is automatically set to the console width (unless disabled in the configuration file).

The graphics has a history mechanism. As the README says:

`The History menu allows the recording of plots. When plots have been recorded they can be reviewed by <PgUp> and <PgDn>, saved and replaced. Recording can be turned on automatically (the Recording item on the list) or individual plots can be added (Add or the <INS> key). The whole plot history can be saved to or retrieved from an R variable in the global environment.

There is only one graphics history shared by all the windows devices.'

The R console and graphics windows have configuration files stored in the RHOME\etc directory called Rconsole and Rdevga; you can keep personal copies in your HOME directory. They contain comments which should suffice for you to edit them to your preferences. For more details see ?Rconsole.

5 Workspaces

5.1 My workspace gets saved in a strange place: how do I stop this?

Have you changed the working directory?: see Q5.2.

5.2 How do I store my workspace in a different place?

Use the `File | Change Dir' menu item to select a new working directory: this defaults to the last directory you loaded a file from. The workspace is saved in the working directory. You can also save a snapshot of the workspace from the `Save Image' menu item.

5.3 Can I load workspaces saved under Unix/GNU-Linux?

Yes. The converse (saving on Windows, loading on Unix) also works.

6 The R Console and Fonts

6.1 I would like to be able to use Japanese fonts

for example, in the console and to annotate graphs.

We believe this is possible by setting suitable fonts in the Rconsole and Rdevga configuration files (see Q4.2). You can specify additional fonts in Rdevga, and use them by

par(font=, font.lab=, font.main=, font.sub=)

Nineteen fonts are specified (as 1 to 19) by default: you can add to these (up to 13 more) or replace them.

6.2 I don't see characters with accents at the R console, for example in ?text.

You need to specify a font in Rconsole (see Q4.2) that supports latin1 encoding. The default, Courier New, does on our systems, as does FixedSys. This may be a problem in other locales, especially for non-Western European languages.

6.3 When using Rgui the output to the console seems to be delayed.

This is deliberate: the console output is buffered and re-written in chunks to be less distracting. You can turn buffering off or on from the Misc menu or the right-click menu: <Ctrl-W> toggles the setting.

If you are sourcing R code or writing from a function, there is another option. A call to the R function flush.console() will write out the buffer and so update the console.

6.4 Long lines in the console or pager are truncated.

They only seem to be truncated: that $ at the end indicates you can scroll the window to see the rest of the message. Use the <CTRL+arrow> keys to scroll horizontally, or (rw0990 and later) use the horizontal scrollbar.

7 Building from Source

7.1 How can I compile R from source?

Get the R sources. Suppose you want to compile R-1.0.1.

tar zxvf R-1.0.1.tgz
cd R-1.0.1
cd src\gnuwin32

Now read the INSTALL file and set up all the tools needed. Then you can just use make, sit back and wait. (A complete build takes about 15 minutes on a 300MHz PII with a fast local disc.)

You may need to compile under a case-honouring file system: we found that a samba-mounted file system (which maps all file names to lower case) did not work.

7.2 How do I debug code that I have compiled and dyn.load-ed?

First, build a version of the R system with debugging information by

make clean
make DEBUG=T

and make a debug version of your package by

make DEBUG=T pkg-mypkg

Then you can debug by

gdb /path/to/rwXxxx/bin/Rgui.exe

However, note

If you have an X server available on the PC, there is a version of DDD available that runs under the cygwin emulation layer (follow the links at http://sourceware.cygnus.com/cygwin) and provides a graphical user interface to gdb. Another (Windows-native) GUI for gdb is Insight, from ftp://ftp.xraylith.wisc.edu/pub/khan/gnu-win32/cygwin/ports/.

7.3 How do I include C++ code?

You need to do two things:

(a) Write a wrapper to export the symbols you want to call from R as extern "C".

(b) Include the C++ libraries in the link to make the DLL. Suppose X.cc contains your C++ code, and X_R.cc is the wrapper. Then build the DLL by (gcc-2.95.x)

g++ -c X.cc X_R.cc
dlltool --export-all-symbols --output-def X.def X_R.o
dllwrap -o X.dll --def X.def X.o X_R.o -lstdc++

or (VC++)

cl /MT /c X.cpp X_R.cpp
link /dll /out:XX.dll /export:X_main X.obj X_R.obj

and call the entry point(s) in X_R. Construction of static variables will occur when the DLL is loaded, and destruction when the DLL is unloaded, usually when R terminates.

7.4 The output from my C code disappears. Why?

The Rgui.exe console is a Windows application: writing to stdout or stderr will not produce output in the console. (This will work with Rterm.exe.) Use Rprintf or REprintf instead. These are declared in header file R_ext/PrtUtil.h.

7.5 The output from my Fortran code disappears. Why?

Writing to Fortran output writes to a file, not the Rgui console. Use one of the subroutines dblepr, intpr or realpr documented in the `Writing R Extensions' manual.

Last edited 2000 April 6 by Brian Ripley ripley@stats.ox.ac.uk