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SoK 2024 - Implementing package management features from RKWard into Cantor via a GUI First Blog

Tuesday, 2 April 2024  | 


Hi! I’m Krish, an undergraduate student at the University of Rochester studying Computer Science and this KDE Season of Code I’m working on implementing package management features from RKWard into Cantor via a GUI. I’m being mentored by Alexander Semke.

In an effort to improve usability and functionality, this project seeks to strengthen Cantor's capabilities as a scientific computing platform by incorporating package management tools modeled after those found in RKWard and RStudio. The goal is to create an intuitive graphical interface within Cantor for managing packages in R, Octave, Julia, and other languages.

Set up development environment for Cantor

  • Used virt-manager to setup an “Kubuntu” virtual machine
  • Installed dependencies for Cantor
  • Open a terminal emulator and in your favorite shell:
cd cantor
mkdir build
cd build
make install

Digging into RKWard's package management system

RKWard, an open-source, cross-platform integrated development environment for the R programming language, implements package management using R's built-in package management system and provides a GUI to simplify package installation, updating, and removal. This writeup will discuss the technical aspects of package management in RKWard.

Broadly, RKWard leverages R's built-in package management functions, such as install.packages(), update.packages(), and remove.packages(), to handle package management tasks. These functions interact with R's package repository (CRAN by default) and local package libraries to perform package-related operations.

RKWard's package management GUI is built on top of these R functions, allowing users to perform package management tasks without directly interacting with the command-line interface. The GUI provides a more user-friendly experience and enables users to manage packages with just a few clicks.

When a user requests to install or update a package, RKWard performs the following technical steps:

  • Dependency resolution: RKWard checks for dependencies required by the package and resolves them using R's available.packages() and installed.packages() functions. If dependencies are not satisfied, RKWard prompts the user to install them automatically.
  • CMake Configuration: The FindR.cmake script is used during the compilation of RKWard to locate the R installation and its components, including the R library directory. This information is necessary for RKWard to interface with R and manage packages.
  • Package download and installation: RKWard downloads package source code or binary files from CRAN or other repositories using R's download.file() function. The packages are then installed using install.packages() with appropriate options, such as specifying the library directory and installing dependencies.
  • Package library management: RKWard installs packages in the R library directory, which is typically located in the user's home folder. The library directory can be configured in RKWard's settings. RKWard ensures that packages are installed in the correct library directory, depending on the user's R version and operating system.
  • Integration with R Console: RKWard includes an embedded R console, which allows users to see the output of package management commands and interact with them directly if needed. Error Handling: RKWard provides error messages and troubleshooting advice if package installation or loading fails. This can include issues like missing dependencies, compilation errors, or permissions problems.
  • Package loading: After installation, RKWard loads the package into the current R session using R's library() or require() functions, making its functions and datasets available for use.
  • RKWard supports package management on various platforms, including Windows, macOS, and Linux. On Windows and macOS, RKWard typically installs packages as pre-compiled binaries for improved performance and ease of installation. On Linux, RKWard installs packages from source, which may require additional development libraries or tools to be installed on the user's system.

RKWard also supports installing packages from local files, Git repositories, and other sources by providing options to specify custom package repositories or URLs. This flexibility allows users to manage their R packages according to their specific needs.

In summary, RKWard implements package management using R's built-in package management functions and provides a user-friendly GUI to simplify package installation, updating, and removal. By leveraging R's package management system, RKWard enables users to manage their R packages efficiently and effectively, regardless of their operating system or R version.

Next Steps

  • Begin implementing package management features in Cantor.
  • Focus on creating a consistent and user-friendly interface for package management.