[R] Using a NAMESPACE or the Imports field in DESCRIPTION?

Martin Morgan mtmorgan at fhcrc.org
Wed Mar 11 17:41:12 CET 2009

Hi Wolfgang --

Wolfgang Koller wrote:
> Hello list,
> I am writing a package which builds on a function ("foo") of another 
> package. I only need that particular function. What is the state of the 
> art to do this? Do I need a NAMESPACE file in my package? Currently I 
> still don't have one. Or can I do this with the Imports field in my 
> DESCRIPTION file? Reading chapter 1 of the "Writing R Extensions" manual 
> I do not completely understand for what situations these two 
> alternatives are intended for. The manual says that with the Imports 
> field of DESCRIPTION I can "import the name space" of another package. 
> What does that mean? What are the differences between the two 
> alternatives? Are there consequences for how I can access function "foo" 
> within the code of my package?

It sounds like you want to add Imports: OtherPackage to DESCRIPTION, and

importFrom(OtherPackage, foo)

in you NAMESPACE file, in addition perhaps to


if you'd like users of your package to access foo. Using a NAMESPACE can 
be very beneficial, especially as your software grows in complexity -- 
it ensures ready access to the symbols you want (foo, in this case) 
without relying on the structure of the user search path. I don't think 
adding Imports to DESCRIPTION and adding a NAMESPACE should really be 
viewed as 'alternatives' -- add a NAMESPACE, and many of the packages 
that you had previously listed in Depends: likely belong more 
appropriately in Imports.


> Thanks for some clarifications and recommendations!
> Wolfgang Koller
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Martin Morgan
Computational Biology / Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
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