Installing R on OS X

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I was in a conversation with an academic colleague (wicked smart dude) and the subject of installing R came up (NOTE: this will happen to you, too, if you ever have the misfortune to have a face-to-face convo with me ;-). They noted that getting up and running with R was not as seamless as one would like it to be and, to be honest, I have to agree, especially after typing the rest of this post out.

I recently had a similar experience helping folks who use Windows get R & RStudio up and running and that’s even more of a nightmare, especially if you do not have Administrator privileges (or, perhaps I just scare easily).

Prior to these experiences, I never really stopped to consider just how less friendly the installation process of R is when compared to Excel, Tableau or other apps one might use for data analysis and visualization. Hopefully this will becomre a top priority for the R Consortium.

Since this colleague uses OS X, I offered to put together instructions for how to get R & RStudio installed and finally had 5 minutes to crank out a blog post to help the broader community with the information.

Get R


Verify R itself is working

  • Look in the Applications folder for the R application.
  • Double-click it and you should see an R console window.
  • If that did not work, try installing R again
  • Once you’ve verified R is working, quit the app


Download RStudio

RStudio is an integrated development environment for R that will make your life and coding easier.


Verify RStudio & R are working together

  • Look in the Applications folder for the RStudio application.
  • Double-click it and you should see an RStudio window with four panes.


From now on, just start RStudio when you want to work in R.

[Optional] Install XQuartz

Some functions in R require an “X11 Server” and/or libraries associated with an X11 server. Apple does not provide this software with OS X anymore so you have to do it on your own via a third-party application called XQuartz.


[Optional] Install Xcode Tools

Some R packages require compilation. That requires utilities not installed on OS X by default. You can wait to do the following until it’s needed, but since you’re already installing things…

  • Get Xcode and install it like any “normal” Mac application
  • When the intallation is done, open Xcode then close it just to verify it installed correctly
  • Find and open the Terminal program in the Utilities folder under the Applications folder
  • Paste the following into the Termainal window and hit enter/return (accept any dialog/prompt):
xcode-select --install`
  • Close the Terminal application

[Optional] Set yourself up for easier future compiled package installation

Some R packages need additional libraries to work and most aren’t on your system by default. There are a myriad of ways to get these libraries, and the way I obtain them is via the homebrew utility. You can save yourself the trouble of installing homebrew later by doing the following now:

  • Find and open the Terminal program in the Utilities folder under the Applications folder
  • Paste the following into the Terminal window and hit enter/return:
ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL"
  • Read and accept the various prompts until it’s installed
  • Close the Terminal application

You can now do brew install xyz in the future when a library is needed to support a package. Drop a note in the comments if you’d like this discussed more in a future blog post.

[Optional] [If you have an hour+ to kill] Install MacTeX

R has an academic history and there are many semi-advanced functions that are tied to something called latex. Installing latex for OS X is not hard, just time (and bandwidth) consuming (it’s about the same size as a new OS X installer). If you delve into package creation or do more detailed output work in R, you’ll want to install MacTex sooner than later.


If you have any changes/additions/etc drop a note in the comments. I may even stick this on github to make it easier to contribute in the future.

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