General information

Packages for the base R system have been part of the Debian distribution since 1997, thanks to Douglas Bates, and are diligently maintained by Dirk Eddelbuettel since 2001. R, as well as many add-on packages (from CRAN and others repositories) are available via the regular Debian distribution mechanisms. Hence, running

apt-cache search "^r-.*" | sort

in a shell should get you started with a list of available packages.

Debian sid (unstable)

The latest stable version of R and many R packages from CRAN and the Bioconductor project are readily available in official Debian sid repositories.


With an appropriate entry in /etc/apt/sources.list (see below for Debian branches other than sid/unstable), the newest R release including recommended packages can be installed using a command sequence like

apt-get update
apt-get install r-base r-base-dev

While updating your package lists you might get a warning about a missing key, telling you that the integrity of packages can not be verified. You can ignore this if you trust the CRAN servers and continue with the installation. Otherwise, please refer to the section on secure apt below.

You only need r-base-dev if you want to compile R packages yourself or other software depending on R (see section below on administration and maintenance). Be aware that you may also have to install build dependencies (typically -dev packages containing headers). The list r-sig-debian is a good place to ask if you run into problems.

You may want to install the automatically tuned Atlas or the multi-threaded OpenBlas library in order to get higher performance for linear algebra operations

apt-get install libatlas3-base


apt-get install libopenblas-base 

Administration and Maintenance

The R packages part of r-base and r-recommended are installed into the directory /usr/lib/R/library. These can be updated using usual package maintenance tools like apt-get or aptitude.

The other R packages available as precompiled Debian packages r-cran-* and r-bioc-* are installed into /usr/lib/R/site-library.

The command

apt-cache rdepends r-base-core

shows all packages that depend on r-base-core. This comprises a large number of contributed packages from CRAN and other repositories.

If you want to install R packages not provided as Debian packages, or if you want to use newer versions, you need to build them from source which requires the development package r-base-dev that can be installed by

apt-get install r-base-dev

This pulls in the basic requirements for compiling R packages. R packages may then be installed by the local user/admin from the CRAN source packages, typically from inside R using the

R> install.packages()

function or using


from a shell. If you have proper write permissions in /usr/local/lib/R/site-library/, and you have not set R_LIBS_USER manually, they will be installed there. Otherwise, you will be asked if a directory in your home directory should be created for these packages. A routine update of such locally compiled packages can be done using

R> update.packages(.libPaths()[1])

which will update the packages in the first part of your library path. You can have a look at the components of this path by

R> .libPaths()

If you would like to update R packages that have been installed via the Debian package management system which are installed somewhere under /usr/lib/, I would recommend to do this the Debian way using the source packages from Debian unstable.

Pathways to R Packages

In order to find packages, R looks at the variables R_LIBS_USER and R_LIBS_SITE. On Debian and Ubuntu, R_LIBS_USER is set in /etc/R/Renviron to


where $platform is something like 'x86_64-pc-linux-gnu' and depending on the version of R installed. You can override this in ~/.Renviron. R_LIBS_SITE is set in /etc/R/Renviron to


This means that packages installed from within R take precedence over the ones installed via the Debian package management system if you happen to have two versions installed at the same time.

Backports on CRAN

As R and related packages are currently not part of the official Debian backports repositories like jessie-backports (please contact r-sig-debian if you would like to change this), the R versions in released or frozen Debian releases get out of date. Therefore, updates of a subset of these R related packages are provided here for such Debian releases.

Supported packages

The packages recommended by the R core team (r-recommended) are updated on CRAN upon each new release of R. Currently, these are:


Because they rely on the installed version of R, backports of the following packages are also supplied:

python-rpy2 (not building any more, help needed))
r-cran-coda (needed for r-cran-rjags)

A backport of the current python-rpy2 package to wheezy (oldstable) and squeeze (oldoldstable) would require a backport of python-singledispatch, which appears to be a bit tricky. Some help would be needed to bring this back. As of the backport of R 3.2.1, I did not even manage to build python-rpy2 packages for jessie any more.

Supported branches

Debian jessie (stable)

For a backport of R 3.2.2 to jessie, simply add something like

deb http://<favourite-cran-mirror>/bin/linux/debian jessie-cran3/

to the file /etc/apt/sources.list on your computer. You need to substitute <favourite-cran-mirror> by one of the mirror URLs listed in the mirror list.

This repository also contains backports of tcl8.6, tk8.6 and texinfo for wheezy, as the upstream Debian package needs these versions.

Debian wheezy (oldstable)

The milestone release R 3.0.0 published on April 3, 2013 is not compatible with any R packages built on earlier versions. This means that R packages from the Debian wheezy archive do not work under R 3.x.y (this also applies to squeeze alias oldoldstable). This is the source line needed for R 3.x.y on Debian wheezy

deb <favourite-cran-mirror>/bin/linux/debian wheezy-cran3/

Again, you need to substitute <favourite-cran-mirror> by one of the mirror URLs listed in the mirror list.

Of course the R packages r-cran-* provided here are compiled using the current R version. Before installing R 3.x.y be sure you do not rely on loading R packages from Debian wheezy. If unsure, look at the debs you have installed using

dpkg --get-selections | grep r-cran

and compare with the list of packages supported here (see above, also for a procedure to upgrade packages install locally from source R packages).

R 3.2.x is compiled against tcl/tk 8.5 on squeeze, as version 8.6 is not available and my attempt to backport tcl8.6 failed with an error I did not understand. Please let me know if you encounter problems.

This repository also contains backports of tcl8.6, tk8.6 and texinfo for wheezy, as the upstream Debian package of R >= 3.2.0 need these versions.

Please be aware that the R packages available as binary .deb packages in wheezy (with names starting with r-cran-) are not compatible with R versions 3.0.0 and later. Only a confined number of binary packages is provided here.

Updating packages installed locally from sources, which you need to do after an upgrade from R 2.a.b to R 3.x.y, is explained below under the section administration and maintenance. What you probably need to do is

R> update.packages(.libPaths()[1], checkBuilt=TRUE)

in R in order to rebuild packages that are installed in addition to the Debian r-cran-* packages. For other changes in R please refer to the NEWS file.

Debian squeeze (oldoldstable)

The same notes regarding binary compatibility of R packages with R 3.x.y given for oldstable (wheezy) above also apply to squeeze.

As the first backports for squeeze were still from the R 2.x.y series, the backport of R 3.x.y to Debian squeeze is published in a different location (squeeze-cran3) from what whas used before (squeeze-cran), in order to avoid breaking production systems using the R backports from CRAN plus such Debian stable binary packages.

In addition, R 3.2.x is compiled against tcl/tk 8.5 on squeeze, as version 8.6 is not available and my attempt to backport tcl8.6 failed with an error I did not understand. Please let me know if you encounter problems.

Secure apt

The Debian backports archives on CRAN are signed with the key of Johannes Ranke (CRAN Debian archive) <> with key ID 381BA480. You can fetch and import this with

apt-key adv --keyserver --recv-key 381BA480

If this doesn’t work, it might be due to a firewall blocking port 11371. Alternatively, you can search for 0x381BA480 at and copy the key block into a plain text file, named, for instance, jranke_cran.asc wich you add to apt with apt-key add.

Supported Platforms

There are i386 and amd64 binaries for jessie, wheezy, squeeze. Since R 3.1.0, R is fully functional on arm and armel binaries for jessie and wheezy are provided here as well.

Before R 3.1.0 lazyloading of datasets did not work on arm. Thanks to Orion Poplawski from the Fedora project, among others, these issues are now fixed.

For other architectures, you can use the source packages from one of the repositories

deb-src <favourite-cran-mirror>/bin/linux/debian squeeze-cran3/
deb-src <favourite-cran-mirror>/bin/linux/debian wheezy-cran3/
deb-src <favourite-cran-mirror>/bin/linux/debian jessie-cran3/

to compile binary Debian packages. Note that you need to install current versions of debhelper and dpkg-dev in order to build r-cran-rjags from the source package provided in the latter location.

Reporting Problems

The best place to report problems with these packages or ask R questions specific to Debian is the r-sig-debian mailing list. See

for more information.

Backporting for Debian

Anyone interested in building Debian packages (e.g. for an unsupported release, another architecture or an old R version) can have a look at the build scripts used by the current maintainer. These can be anonymously checked out from my Subversion repository

svn co

The scripts contain some small changes needed to compile the original Debian packages on the supported release. Note that I did install up to date versions of debhelper and dpkg-dev in the build system for the backports to squeeze.

Installing R-devel or a release branch from svn

The following notes are an attempt to merge the hints given in a thread on r-sig-debian started end of March 2015, and the tips given at I have not used this a lot and I assume you have some experience in building software on unix systems. No warranties, your mileage may vary.

First, make sure you have a source repository in your /etc/apt/sources/list, like

deb-src <favourite-cran-mirror>/bin/linux/debian jessie-cran3/

in order to make it easier to get the build dependencies. Then update your list of available packages and run as root

apt-get build-dep r-base

To install the build dependencies. The following commands do not need root privileges, and are safer to run as a normal user.

I keep all sources managed by subversion under ~/svn, so I do

export RTOP=~/svn/R

Please adapt to your needs. The location of the source code for the base R system is conveniently defined as en environment variable by

export REPOS=


We change to our RTOP directory and check out the latest revision of R-devel

cd $RTOP
svn co $REPOS/trunk r-devel/source
mkdir $RTOP/r-devel/build

The second time around we only need to

cd $RTOP/r-devel/source
svn up

Then we need to get the sources of the recommended packages

cd $RTOP/r-devel/source/tools

We build in the separate directory created above, in order not to pollute the source code

cd $RTOP/r-devel/build

There are a lot of configure options you might want to use. However, we are not using the install target here, so we do not set --prefix. This is to avoid conflicts with the Debian packages of released versions of R. The next step builds the sources.

make check
make pdf
make info

Of course doing checks and making pdf and info documentation is optional. Then we use links to make R-devel and Rscript-devel available (obviously supposes write permission on /usr/local/bin).

cd /usr/local/bin
ln -s /$RTOP/r-devel/build/bin/R R-devel
ln -s /$RTOP/r-devel/build/bin/Rscript Rscript-devel

This will make the commands R-devel and Rscript-devel available. Note that the only entry on .libPaths() is $RTOP/r-devel/build/library, so this is where packages will be installed.


After the release of a version R-x.y.0, the so-called release branch is used to introduce changes that meet the development guidelines.

We can build such branches (aka R-patched) using the following scheme, which is adapted from the procedure given for R-devel, but without duplicating all comments.

At the time of this writing, the release branch can be defined by

export RPATCHED=branches/R-3-2-branch

R-patched can than be built and made available by

cd $RTOP
svn co $REPOS/$RPATCHED r-patched/source
mkdir $RTOP/r-patched/build
cd $RTOP/r-patched/source/tools

Again, we build in the separate directory created above, in order not to pollute the source code

cd $RTOP/r-patched/build
make check
make pdf
make info

Then, as privileged user:

cd /usr/local/bin
ln -s /$RTOP/r-patched/build/bin/R R-patched
ln -s /$RTOP/r-patched/build/bin/Rscript Rscript-patched

The builds can be updated by updating the sources from the repository, syncing the latest versions of the recommended packages and rebuilding.


The Debian R packages are maintained by Dirk Eddelbuettel. The packages present on CRAN for Debian stable, oldstable and oldoldstable are provided by Johannes Ranke. Thanks to Mathieu Basille for restructuring the README in March 2015.