[R] open source and R

Mike Miller mbmiller at taxa.epi.umn.edu
Sun Nov 13 23:23:33 CET 2005

On Sun, 13 Nov 2005, Roger Bivand wrote:

> On Sun, 13 Nov 2005, Robert wrote:
>> If I do not know C or FORTRAN, how can I fully understand the package 
>> or possibly improve it?
> By learning enough to see whether that makes a difference for your 
> purposes. Life is hard, but that's what makes life interesting ...

None of us "fully understands" what we are doing with computer software. 
If you understand R code, that's great, but then there is the R 
interpreter -- do you understand how it works?  That interpreter was 
written in another language that was then compiled by a compiler which was 
written by someone else for some other purpose -- do you understand the 
compiler?  Then it all gets processed by some very complex hardware that 
practically none of us *fully* understands.  We have to accept that we 
can't have a complete grasp of what R is doing, but we can still read the 
R docs and test R in many ways.

When functions are written in R, they may be easier for you to read, but 
they may run much slower than code written in C, C++ or FORTRAN.  I don't 
think it is wise to forgo the speed improvement so that people who don't 
know FORTRAN can enjoy contributing to R development.  The contribution of 
FORTRAN libraries R functionality and efficiency is probably much greater 
than the contributions would be from any group of people who could code in 
R but could't code in C or FORTRAN.

That said, I appreciate the sentiment and I think we should prefer 
straight R code for many functions, but some things just run too slowly 
when written that way.


More information about the R-help mailing list