Activating renv for Subdirectories in Project

Hello everyone,

I am currently tracking R package dependencies in one of my projects with renv. While renv works great when launching R sessions or calling scripts from the project's root directory (where renv, renv.lock and .Rprofile reside), many of the used R scripts are not placed at the top level directory but rather in a chain of subdirectories, e.g.

├── long-directory-name
│   └── even-longer-subdirectory-name
│       ├── script-1.R
│       ├── ...
│       └── script-n.R
├── renv
└── renv.lock

Invoking these scripts by using the full path starting at the project's root folder is possible and enables correct usage of the package library installed through renv. However, I find myself often wanting to cd into the specific subfolder and launching the script from within these subfolders without having to type out long path names over and over again.

Surely, I am not the only one concerned with this problem but I am currently not aware of a better solution than to create .Rprofile files in every subdirectory and manually sourcing the top-level .Rprofile from within them. There must a better way :thinking:

Thanks for helping and answering my possibly basic R question :smiley::wave:




I searched the renv Issues, renv FAQ, and RStudio Community, but I couldn't find any proposed solutions for this issue.

One option would be instead of using cd in the terminal, start R in the root directory (to activate renv), and then use setwd() to change directories, and source() to execute the R scripts.

Some general terminal tips to avoid typing long path names are:

  1. Tab completion: after typing the few first letters, press Tab to complete the rest of the directory or file name
  2. Navigate history: use the up and down arrows to scroll through recently entered commands
  3. Reverse history search: Type Ctrl-R and then start typing the long command you previously entered. The most recent match will display first. Type Ctrl-R again to continue searching back in the command history, and hit one of the arrow keys to select a command (or type Enter to automatically execute it)

Unfortunately, I can't think of a better method other than having a .Rprofile for each directory where you might want to use renv.

The other slightly more heavy-weight option would be to have some custom initialization logic in your user .Rprofile; e.g.

if (identical(getwd(), "/path/to/project/subdir")) {

but having this sort of directory-specific initialization logic in the user profile might feel awkward.

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Thanks for the response. I guess this situation not as common as I thought :smiley:

The concerned R scripts are mainly designed as programs taking command line arguments, so manually launching R followed by setwd(...) and source(...) is no long term solution in this case.

Sadly, I was already aware of the mentioned shell tips and tricks but thanks again for pointing them out again :ok_hand:

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I agree with your opinion :confused: This kind of approach would also suffer in case of collaboration with team members / distribution of scripts to non-developers. However, thanks for the additional idea. Thought there must be a standard way to achieve this kind of recursive search in parent directories for .Rprofile files but I guess not :see_no_evil:

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+1 to what @cwaterman brought up here. I thought that this was simply user error on my part, but I often have projects with R scripts or Rmd files in sub-directories that I want to use the renv in the top-level of the project directory as described.

I feel like there should be a solution doing something like the here library does to find the top-level directory of a project, and use the renv directory there. As this post is already a year old, maybe there's already a way to do this? I'll explore ...

In the meantime, I can provide the approaches that I ended up using:

  1. For CLI scripts which are shared with other team members who are not directly concerned with their development, we simply added appropriate documentation to indicate that only execution from the top-level project directory is possible. Maybe not the most convenient solution but with some useful shell features you can get pretty far as indicated above.
  2. For EDA & Rmd scripts which are mainly executed from within Rstudio, you can set up a project within Rstudio located at the top-level project directory. This causes the appropriate .Rprofile to be executed when opening the project in Rstudio. Thus, you have access to the packages installed through renv in all R session within the IDE.

Regarding your suggestion to provide some functionality like the here package: I think renv is running into a kind of technical limitation in this case. As far as I can tell, renv does not have a suitable entry point during script execution if the .Rprofile is absent, which usually performs the necessary actions for the renv activation (including the potential installation of the renv package itself). Therefore, even if renv::activate would perform a recursive upward search for a top-level project directory and you would be willing to insert renv::activate calls at the top of each script, at that point renv might not even be available on the system. For this reason, I doubt that there is a possibility for renv to integrate the desired functionality. Of course this would change if renv worked more like Python‘s venv which takes a more shell-centered approach. I hope my train of thought makes sense to you :nerd_face:

Please share if you find something during your explorations :ok_hand:

Thanks for the response. I see your point about about here and your approach seems like the best path forward without larger changes!