Chapter 2 Introduction

2.1 What is R?

R was not designed to be a bona-fide programming language. It is an evolution of the S language, developed at Bell labs (later Lucent) as a wrapper for the endless collection of statistical libraries they wrote in Fortran.

As of 2011, half of R’s libraries are actually written in C.

2.2 The R Ecosystem

A large part of R’s success is due to the ease in which a user, or a firm, can augment it. This led to a large community of users, developers, and protagonists. Some of the most important parts of R’s ecosystem include:

  • CRAN: a repository for R packages, mirrored worldwide.

  • R-help: an immensely active mailing list. Noways being replaced by StackExchange meta-site. Look for the R tags in the StackOverflow and CrossValidated sites.

  • Task Views: part of CRAN that collects packages per topic.

  • Bioconductor: A CRAN-like repository dedicated to the life sciences.

  • Neuroconductor: A CRAN-like repository dedicated to neuroscience, and neuroimaging.

  • Books: An insane amount of books written on the language. Some are free, some are not.

  • The Israeli-R-user-group: just like the name suggests.

  • Commercial R: being open source and lacking support may seem like a problem that would prohibit R from being adopted for commercial applications. This void is filled by several very successful commercial versions such as Microsoft R, with its accompanying CRAN equivalent called MRAN, Tibco’s Spotfire, and others.

  • RStudio: since its earliest days R came equipped with a minimal text editor. It later received plugins for major integrated development environments (IDEs) such as Eclipse, WinEdit and even VisualStudio. None of these, however, had the impact of the RStudio IDE. Written completely in JavaScript, the RStudio IDE allows the seamless integration of cutting edge web-design technologies, remote access, and other killer features, making it today’s most popular IDE for R.

  • CheatSheets Rstudio curates a list of CheatSheets. Very useful to print some, and have them around when coding.

  • RStartHere: a curated list of useful packages.

2.3 Bibliographic Notes

For more on the history of R see AT&T’s site, John Chamber’s talk at UserR!2014, Nick Thieme’s recent report in Significance, or Revolution Analytics’ blog.

You can also consult the Introduction chapter of the MASS book (Venables and Ripley 2013).


Venables, William N, and Brian D Ripley. 2013. Modern Applied Statistics with S-Plus. Springer Science & Business Media.