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Drat Step-By-Step

Roman Hornung and Dirk Eddelbuettel
2021-Apr-04

Overview, Scope and Background

This step-by-step tutorial shows how to use drat to let an R package utilise an R package available on some other place that is not CRAN. We will assume GitHub here as the (source) location of the 'other' package, but any other source repository applies equally for the source part of the other package.

The situation assumes your package (which you would like to publish on CRAN) has a weak dependency on this other package (which is something CRAN allows via an Additional_repositories entry). We will use this feature here, and have drat be the helper to create one such additional repository. The other package may be written by you, or maybe someone else. Here we assume for simplicity that it is written by someone else, under a suitable license but for whichever reason not on CRAN. So the plan is to get the other package into a drat repo we set up so that your package can refer to it via Additional_repositories in its DESCRIPTION file.

We assume the following tools to be available, as well as reasonable familiarity with them:

  • a GitHub account (as we use GitHub to host the drat package repo),
  • R (as all this work is in the context of caring for R packages),
  • git (and some familiarity with git on the command-line).

Steps

Prepare the dependent package

We first prepare the other depended-upon R package so it is ready for upload to the to-be-created (not yet existing) new repository.

We start by downloading this R package from its GitHub repository.

  • Go to the GitHub page of the package, e.g. https://github.com/donaldduck/quacking, and click the green "Code" button.
  • The "Clone" option should have choices for http, ssh, the newer CLI.
  • If you have an ssh key registered at GitHub, choose ssh.
  • Else http is fine (though the frequent password checks get tiring).
  • Hit the little folder icon to copy the URL and paste it into your command-line to form the git clone command:
git clone git@github.com:donalduck/quacking

This will clone the repository to your local machine which creates a local copy typically used for read-only access.

Now that you have the source, create a package from them via R CMD build . inside the quacking repository. This will generate a source file, say quacking_1.2.3.tar.gz, for this repository.

(You can also create a binary package if you want, and/or do so from, say, within RStudio.
We focus on command-line use here.)

Create the drat repository

Go to https://github.com/drat-base/drat and fork the repository by clicking the button "Fork". You now have a remote copy of that repository named https://github.com/YourName/drat that can serve as your drat repository, and to which we will add your own content below. (There are other ways using e.g. dratInit() but we ignore this here to focus on the start via forking.)

Next, we have to ensure your drat repository can server over https. Go to "Settings" on https://github.com/YourName/drat and scroll down to "GitHub Pages". Specify "master" below "Branch" and "docs" right of it and click "Save". GitHub should now state that Your site is ready to be published and list https://YourName.github.io/drat/ as its address. Note that the forked drat repository still contains a copy of the drat sources (in order to be a viable repository.) Once you added your content, you can remove it, or just keep it.

Create a local copy of your fork

This follows the steps above for creating a local copy of the depended-upon package. Now we bring the freshly-forked drat repository 'home' to your computer. So in the directory in which you keep your git repositories, say

git clone https://github.com/YourName/drat

or

git clone git@github.com:YourName/drat.git

depending upon whether you prefer authentication via http or ssh.

Ensure you have the drat package

This usually entails just a simple install.packages("drat") as drat is on CRAN. However, currently (spring 2021), we also want to ensure you have the most current version of drat that can use docs/. To ensure this, install drat from its source repo from within R via

remotes::install_github("eddelbuettel/drat")

(as we are using the drat repo serving from docs/ whereas the CRAN version still defaults to the older scheme of a gh-pages branch.)

Now continue in R (and we assume we are in your git working directory with both the cloned dependent quacking repository as well as a drat repo right below the working directory).

library(drat)
options(dratBranch="docs")   # to default to using docs/ as we set up
insertPackage(file=c("quacking/quacking_1.2.3.tar.gz", 
                     "quacking/quacking_1.2.3.zip"), 
              repodir="drat/")

In the above "1.2.3" is a possible placeholder for the actual version number of the quacking package, just as quacking is a placeholder for your actual package of interest. This will add the quacking source and binary package to the folders drat/docs/src/contrib and drat/docs/bin/windows/contrib/4.0. If you only have a source package, just omit the binary package ending in .zip.

Optionally, change the content of the file drat/README.md to fit your purpose. The file can be also be deleted altogether.

Finalising

In the terminal, execute cd drat to get into the drat repository.

If you use git for the first time, execute:

git config --global user.email "youremail@yourdomainhere"
git config --global user.name "YourName"

This will tell git your identity. If you want to use ssh, you may want to upload an ssh key; see the relevant GitHub tutorials.

Then type:

git add .
git commit -m "Added quacking"
git push origin master

This will upload the quacking package to the repository on GitHub. (You could add the quacking package version and/or git sha1 to the commit message but that is entirely optional.)

Test it

To test whether the package can be installed from your new repository, type in R

install.packages("quacking", repos="https://yourname.github.io/drat")

and verify that the package is installed successfully. (Note that you may have to say type="source" if your operating system prefers source installation and you only added a source version to your drat repository.)

Use the drat repo

Prepare the DESCRIPTION file of your R package:

  • List the quacking package under Suggests:
  • Add the line Additional_repositories: https://yourname.github.io/drat

Test the package via R CMD check --as-cran packageName_0.1.2.tar.gz. If everything passes, you are now ready for submission to CRAN.

Additional optional step

As the directory has no content, browsing https://yourname.github.io/drat will show "404 File not found". If you want to show empty pages there instead, you should add an empty "index.html" to the repository "drat":

  • Using an editor just make an empty file named "index.html" (file extension "html").
  • Copy "index.html" to the directory "drat/docs".
  • In the terminal inside the drat repository, execute
git add docs/index.html
git commit -m "Added empty index.html"
git push origin master

Summary

This step by step demonstrated how to set up a drat repository to serve an optional package referenced by Additional_repositories and Suggests in a CRAN-compliant way.