Why we do not have nor want R packages in the tree

Here’s a bug and my response to it which both deserve a little bit more visibility than being buried under some random bug number. I’m actually surprised nobody complained about that before.

GNU R supports to run
> install.packages(‘ggplot2’)
in the R console as user. The library ggplot2 will then be installed in users home. Most distros like debian and the like provide a package per library.

First, thank you for pointing out that it is possible to install and maintain your own packages in your $HOME. It didn’t use to work, and the reason why it now does is a little further down but I will not spoil it.

Here’s my response:

Please, do not ever add R packages to the tree. There are thousands of them and they are mostly very badly written, to be polite. If you look at other distros you will see that they give an illusion of having some R packages, but almost all of them (if not all) are seriously lagging behind their respective upstream or simply unmaintained. The reason is that it’s a massive amount of very frustrating and pointless work.

Upstream recommends maintaining your packages yourself in your $HOME and we’ll go with that. I have sent patches a couple of years ago to fix the way this works, and now (as you can obviously see) it does work correctly on all distros, not just Gentoo. Also, real scientists usually like to lock down the exact versions of packages they use, which is not possible when they are maintained by a third party.

If you want to live on the edge then feel free to ask Benda Xu (heroxbd) for an access to the R overlay repository. It serves tens of thousands of ebuilds for R packages automatically converted from a number of sources. It mostly works, and helps in preserving a seemingly low but nonetheless functional level of mental sanity of your beloved volunteer developers.

That, or you maintain your own overlay of packages and have it added to layman.

While we are on that subject, I would like to publicly thank André Erdmann for the fantastic work he has done over the past few years. He wrote, and still occasionally updates, the magical software which runs behind the R overlay server. Thank you, André.