R Packages & Updates

R’s packaging system is great, but there are a few minor annoyances it has. I think I’ve solved them, and wanted to share my setup so that others can fix these annoyances as well. I use Linux, and this setup works well there. It should work on Mac and Windows as well. If you run into problems, though, feel free to comment on this post.

Where R installs packages

By default, R installs packages somewhere quite obnoxious. You can find out where by running .libPaths() in the R console. This usually defaults to some crazy setting with a bunch of subfolders and R’s version number included in the path.

This is horrible for a few reasons. Why in the world would you want R to install packages in a version-specific folder!? If you do this, R won’t find any of your installed packages after you update it. Most people I know just delete the old folder then re-install their packages or manually copy their packages from one folder to the other. There’s an easier way, though.

You can add a single line to your .Renviron file:1

R_LIBS_USER = ~/path/to/wherever

That way, you can specify exactly where you want R to install and look for packages. I set it to ~/.config/r/library, but you can tell it wherever.

Now R installs packages to a decently-named directory. After an R update, you’ll need to tell R to make sure that your packages work with the updated R version by running:

update.packages(checkBuilt = TRUE)

How to update R

Yes, you need to update R itself every now and then. The current version as of this writing is 3.2.4. The update mechanism differs depending on your operating system. Remember that after updating you’ll need to run:

update.packages(checkBuilt = TRUE)

In order to make sure your packages will work properly on the new R version.


Use your package manager. Done.


There are two options here. Option number one is to uninstall R, download the new version from CRAN’s website, then reinstall R.

Option number two is to use the installr package from within R itself.2 The following code will update R:



Updating R on a mac depends on how you installed it in the first place. If you downloaded it from CRAN, the best thing is to uninstall R, download the new R version from CRAN, then reinstall R.

If you used homebrew to install R, you can use it to update R as well.

  1. If this doesn’t exist, you can just create it. Add that one line and end the file with an empty line. On Unix systems (Linux and Mac), this file should be at ~/.Renviron. On Windows, it’s probably C:\Users\yourusername\Documents\.Renviron. You can check where R is looking by running normalizePath("~") from an R session.

  2. Note that you need to do this from the R GUI, not from RStudio. ^