[R] Scripting capabilities for R
feldesmanm at pdx.edu
Wed May 30 17:54:30 CEST 2001
Several folks asked what I had in mind. This goes a bit beyond the
capabilities in S-Plus' script window, but here goes:
1) bracket, brace, parenthesis matching, intelligent indenting
2) persistent blocks - highlight code, execute code, return to script
window and have the code still highlighted.
3) a history that preserves submission sequence line-by-line and
4) code completion for common stuff - this is a wish, not a necessity.
5) simple help from within the window.
6) simple syntax checking within the window
Again, I know that most, if not all, of this is available in some
combination of Emacs/ESS and/or WinEDt, or can be finessed by keeping some
other editor minimized (or open) while cutting and pasting back and forth
between R and the editor.
The "display file" + cut + paste works OK but requires that the file be
created completely outside R.
Students want the ability to create a window from within R, write a series
of commands, have them checked by a parser within the script window, be
able to grab simple help (e.g. the arguments for a particular function),
and submit snippets ad libitum from the window. I don't think they need
the output redirected back to the script window as it is in S-Plus. As
long as they can find the output an R window, they'd be fine. They'd also
like to be able to have a history file that records the order that a block
of commands was submitted, not simply the history of each line of code.
Quite apart from the learning/teaching/installing/maintaining end of this
(I've got students using Linux, Unix, Windows, and 5 different flavors of
Mac) I just have real difficulty asking students to solve a problem by
spending more money - either to buy a shareware editor (on top of $150 in
books for 1 class), or to buy a bigger hard drive to install a svelte 95 MB
editor (Xemacs) that is at least 5x the size of R itself. One of the
beauties of R is that it is really compact and open-source. It ceases to
be compact if you have to add Emacs or Xemacs to the equation. It ceases
to be open-source if you have to buy something to make it work more
Again, I'm not at all ungrateful for the incredible amount of work done by
the whole R team. I wrote the original email to share some thoughts and
experiences I had after teaching with both R and S-Plus for 10 weeks. My
own work won't be affected by the addition (or non-addition) of a scripting
window for R, but I think it would make life much simpler for students who
are learning to use R - especially those who are doing so over a short
period of time. Most of these students won't become statisticians or
mathematicians. They will probably become consumers who use statistics
periodically in their work. I'd like to keep them using R - even if only
occasionally. If you don't use R often, it is easy to forget. If you
don't use Emacs often, it is nearly impossible to get reacquainted. Put
the two together and you have a prescription for - oh slap my face - SPSS!
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