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An Introduction to R

1.1 What is R?

The R system for statistical computing is an environment for data analysis and graphics. The root of R is the S language, developed by John Chambers and colleagues (Becker et al., 1988, Chambers and Hastie, 1992, Chambers, 1998) at Bell Laboratories (formerly AT&T, now owned by Lucent Technolo- gies) starting in the 1960s. The S language was designed and developed as a programming language for data analysis tasks but in fact it is a full-featured programming language in its current implementations.

The development of the R system for statistical computing is heavily influ- enced by the open source idea: The base distribution of R and a large number of user contributed extensions are available under the terms of the Free Soft- ware Foundation’s GNU General Public License in source code form. This licence has two major implications for the data analyst working with R. The complete source code is available and thus the practitioner can investigate the details of the implementation of a special method, can make changes and can distribute modifications to colleagues. As a side-effect, the R system for statistical computing is available to everyone. All scientists, especially includ- ing those working in developing countries, have access to state-of-the-art tools for statistical data analysis without additional costs. With the help of the R system for statistical computing, research really becomes reproducible when both the data and the results of all data analysis steps reported in a paper are available to the readers through an R transcript file. R is most widely used for teaching undergraduate and graduate statistics classes at universities all over the world because students can freely use the statistical computing tools.

The base distribution of R is maintained by a small group of statisticians, the R Development Core Team. A huge amount of additional functionality is implemented in add-on packages authored and maintained by a large group of volunteers. The main source of information about the R system is the world wide web with the official home page of the R project being


All resources are available from this page: the R system itself, a collection of add-on packages, manuals, documentation and more.

The intention of this chapter is to give a rather informal introduction to basic concepts and data manipulation techniques for the R novice. Instead of a rigid treatment of the technical background, the most common tasks


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