What is R?

An Introduction to R

Ben Dickins
Senior Lecturer


Introduction to R

R is a free software environment for statistical computing and graphics. It compiles and runs on a wide variety of operating systems including Windows, MacOS and assorted linux distributions.

RStudio is a set of integrated tools designed to help you be more productive with R. This is referred to as an Integrated Development Environment or IDE. Alternative IDEs for R include RKWard and even Visual Studio Code when properly configured.

Installing R

If you have administrative access to the computer you are using you should be able to install the R and RStudio programs. If you do not have admin access you can try RStudio Cloud.

To Install                 Go to
R R homepage and follow the links to CRAN (Comprehensive R Access Network), selecting a mirror site near your current location,
RStudio RStudio.com and choose the open source "Desktop edition",
RStudio Cloud RStudio Cloud and sign up for a free account.

The R Environment

The text-based R environment is known as the console and is accessible via:

A Terminal Emulator R Standalone App
iTerm2 R GUI

RStudio GUI

Here is what the RStudio Graphical User Interface (GUI) looks like:

RStudio GUI

Getting Help

Getting help from R's built-in facility. For a given function "makecupcake" you can invoke the help pages using the ? character. For this example you would type the following into the console:


Note that the console has a flashing cursor just to the right of a > character. The > is known as the prompt command and it means that R is expecting you to input a command.

Let's try this for a more informative function:


What did you get when you did this in RStudio?

Help via Fuzzy Search

Do you need more information or can't you find what you are looking for? Use ??:


Also you can obtain more details on features specified by special characters:


We'll try some of these in the next slide.

Fuzzy Search Examples

Let's try a couple:


Let's try something new (and please don't be frustrated by the result!). Type the following command:


What happened?

Fetching Examples

To get an example of the use of a function (or topic), you can try:


Have a go yourself:

## mean> x <- c(0:10, 50)
## mean> xm <- mean(x)
## mean> c(xm, mean(x, trim = 0.10))
## [1] 8.75 5.50

Try the same for the sd function. Can you figure out what it does?

Bracket Meltdown! (and how to avoid it...)

If a command is not complete at the end of a line, R will give a different prompt, by default this is +.

You will experience this a lot. So be careful with opening and closing your brackets, for example try:


You will see the prompt transform into a + meaning that it expects more input. To get out of this you can do one of two things:

  1. close all the braces in the expression (in this case this means adding another )), or
  2. (if you can't figure it out) press the "Escape" key on your keyboard.

Option 2 will cancel the command, but will rescue you from bracket meltdown.