Spark's Work

Rcall.jl: Interface with R in Julia

  1. Introduction
  2. Setting up R
  3. Running R code
  4. Interaction between R and Julia
  5. Going the other way around


While I mainly use Julia when conducting analysis with the LRMoE model, the vast majority of actuaries still use R for statistical analysis. Hence, it could be useful to improve the current R version of the package. In this process, cross checking between Julia and R is a common task.

The RCall.jl package allows for good interface between these two languages, making my life easier. The official documentation provides a comprehensive guide to the package. Here, I will just note down important steps and functionalities which I find particularly useful.

Setting up R

If no setup is done for the RCall.jl package, it automatically emulates a brand-new R session. This is undesirable since I may want to use existing R packages on my computer. To use my version of R, I need to run the following.

# Set "R_HOME" to your R directory, i.e. the path returned by `R> R.home()`
ENV["R_HOME"] = "C:\\Program Files\\R\\R-4.0.2" # R.home() for my computer"RCall")

A few things to notice:

Running R code

In the Julia REPL, we can access R by pressing $. Then, julia> will become R> and we can do the usual R stuff there. When we are done with R, just press Backspace to return to Julia. This is analogous to accessing the Pkg package manager by pressing ].

Alternatively, we can write longer R code chunks like the following, and then run the whole code chunk together.

x = 3
print(paste("My x is set to be ", x, ".", sep = ""))

It is certainly possible to source() existing R scripts, allowing for even more calculations / data manipulation / ... in native R.

Interaction between R and Julia

The most important interaction between R and Julia is probably transferring data, e.g. passing a variable in Julia into R and vice versa. This is easily done by two macros: @rget (from R to Julia) and @rput (from Julia to R).

For example, the following code will pass x_R = 3 from R to Julia. The same task can also be done by the rcopy() function.

x_R = 3

x_julia = @rget x_R

Similarly, the following code will pass y_julia = 5 from Julia to R. Note that the same variable name is also passed into R (which is different from the above where you can set a different variable name).

y_julia = 5
@rput y_julia

y_julia # Should return 5

For transferring basic data types such as numbers and strings (single variable, vectors and matrices), the examples above are sufficient. For more complex data types, e.g. logicals, or even customized data types, the procedure may be more involved, which I have not yet tried out.

Going the other way around

In this post, I have covered the basic interface with R in Julia using the RCall.jl package. Of course, it is also possible to go the other way around, interacting with Julia in R. The R package I found is JuliaCall, which I will probably write about when I use it. A good comprehensive post that covers this topic is given here.