Drat Basics for Package Authors: Distributing Packages

Dirk Eddelbuettel


Drat Overview

The drat package makes it trivially easy to deploy package repositories. There are essentially just two ways to use a package repository:

  1. You write to the repository as a package author to publish your package; or
  2. You read from the reposiory as a package user to install or update one or more packages.

This vignette deals with the first case: How to use drat as a package author. A companion vignette for package users is available as well.

Case 1: Using GitHub

GitHub as a Web Server

The core motivation for drat comes from GitHub and its implied web server. As you may know, any GitHub user (or organization) can enable a website for a given repository. All it takes is to create either a git branch named gh-pages (if following the original scheme), or creating a directory docs/ in the main branch. After that, a website should be automatically visible (though you should check under ‘Settings’).

To make this more explicit, consider a hypothetical user John with account johndoe. Once John creates a repo foo and in it a branch gh-pages (or an activated directory docs/), he will have a web address http://johndoe.github.io/foo for this repo.

More formally, for a user USER, and a given repo named drat, we can always assume http://USER.github.io/drat.

So for you as a package author with a given GitHub account, all that is needed is a repository named drat with a gh-pages branch. If you are familiar with git at the command-line, you can just create the branch (and the src/contrib/ directory structure in it; see below).

If you are less familiar with git, a really easy shortcut is to simply fork the actual drat repo. It contains the drat source code which you could keep, or remove. The fork only serves to set up the required directory layout, and the src/contrib/ directory.

Place Files into the Local Repo

We can now assume that you have a local git repository named drat with a subdirectory src containing a further subdirectory contrib.

You are now ready to insert a package into it. For simplicit, let us assume the package is named myPkg and is at version 0.5. So R CMD build created a file myPkg_0.5.tar.gz.

Then via

## insert given package into default drat repo on local file system

the source package will be copied into the default drat repo at location ~/git/drat. Should your git repository checkouts live in a different place on your machine, just specify this either via the options() entry “dratRepo” or directly:

## insert given package into given repo on local file system
drat::insertPackage("myPkg_0.5.tar.gz", "/srv/projects/git/drat")

In either case, the package will be copied into the repo, and the PACKAGES file will be updated.

Lastly, if you have git (the command-line tool) or the wicked git2r package installed, then you can also use the commit=TRUE option to have the new files added and committed. Neither of these variant pushes, so that last step is left to the user (as it commonly requires authentication).

GitHub and Travis Integration

Colin Gillespie has provided a nice walk-through of how to have Travis CI automagically push packages into a drat repo. This is included as another (currently work-in-progress) vignette entitled Combining Drat And Travis which can be found in the drat package just like this vignette.

Case 2: Using Another Server or Local Storage

Use of drat is not limited to GitHub. Any server you can

is suitable. A common use case may be a local repository within a work group or deparment, meant to be locally accessible but not from an outside network.

Place Files into the Local Repo

This is similar to the usage described above. Suppose that you are part of groupABC which has access to directory on shared filesystem somewhere, say under /nfs/groups/groupABC/ where you created a directory drat within a directory R. We once again require that the resulting directory /nfs/groups/groupABC/R/drat contains a src/contrib directory structure.

Hence, the following command would copy the package and update the index files:

## insert given package into given repo on a network-local file system
drat::insertPackage("myPkg_0.5.tar.gz", "file://nfs/groups/groupABC/R/drat")

This updates the PACKAGES file (and its compressed variant) after which the repository is ready to serve files. See the companion vignette for how to deploy it. Note that the location URL should begin with file:.


drat permits package authors to add packages very easily to R package repositories. These repositories can be public, and GitHub provides a very natural option to serve a package repository via the web server (based on either the gh-pages branch of a drat or a docs/ directory) to serve as GitHub Pages.

Repositories can also be local (and private) as well: all that drat requires to add packages is write access to a directory.

Lastly, serving that directory as a repository then requires a web server (easiest via the automatic GitHub repo option) or other file access. How to access packages from drat repository is described in the companion vignette.