Sean Warlick

3 minute read

I have a confession to make. When I first started using R, I hated RStudio. I want to emphasize the past tense of the previous sentence, given that it is a rather adversarial statement. However, over the past year I have really come to appreciate the power of RStudio and have since rebuilt my workflow around it.

The restructuring of my work flow around RStudio has been driven by three things. First, improvements to RStudio allowed it to fit into my workflow. Second, the type of tasks I’ve been trying to accomplish with R have changed. Finally, I have accrued a lot more time using the program.

Prior to incorporating RStudio into my workflow, I used Sublime Text with the R-Box extension to pass code to the R console. I utilized this setup because it allowed me to have my text editor (in dark mode) on one monitor and the console output and graphics window on a different monitor. With older versions of RStudio, I couldn’t replicate this workflow. The four-pane layout felt constricting by comparison. The constant re-sizing of the console and source panes to make one or the other readable was a huge annoyance.

With the release of RStudio 0.99.878, I was able to replicate my preferred workflow. I can now pop out the source editor to one monitor and put the console pane of RStudio on my other screen. I no longer need to re-size the windows to make the code or the output readable. This new set-up also allows me to have other tools like a file browser and details about my environment right at my finger tips. The most recent release of RStudio (Version 1.1.383) included an improved dark mode, ending one of my remaining gripes with the UI.

In addition to fitting into my preferred work set-up, RStudio has features that make building packages, working with Rmarkdown and developing shiny applications much easier. While I could carry out these tasks in Sublime Text, it wasn’t as convenient. While working on any of these types of projects, I needed to keep switching to an additional R script with helper functions like devtools::test() or rmarkdown::render() to check on things as I progressed. RStudio provides excellent keyboard shortcuts like Shift + Cmd + T and Shift + Cmd + K for these functions.

In addition to nice shortcuts, RStudio includes bigger features that make development easier. I particularly like the inclusion of a viewer to view for Rmarkdown documents output to html and Shiny applications. There is no need to switch over to a web browser to preview these products. The most recent version of RStudio also includes a terminal window so I can run UNIX/Linux system commands without needing to open a separate program. Given that I prefer to take advantage of git’s power from the command line rather than the included GUI, this is a nice feature.

Perhaps the biggest reason for my incorporation of RStudio into my workflow is the fact that I’ve spent more time with it over the past year. Initially some of the time felt forced. At work I don’t get as much say about my workflow; I could either use the default R set up for Windows or RStudio. As a result I RStudio became my default at work. This exposure led me to encounter many of the features I mentioned above. As I found more and more advantages, I slowly moved on from Sublime Text at home too.

For the longest time I resisted RStudio. It didn’t fit well into my preferred work set-up and I didn’t see the advantages over my old set-up. However, greater practice with the IDE, the powerful development features and improvements to the GUI led me to adopt RStudio as my default programming environment for R.

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  • R