cRafty tRicks – No more typing brackets!

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Calling functions in R usually involves typing brackets. And since many of our actions in R involve calling a function, we will have to type a lot of brackets working with R. Often it would make our life a lot easier if we could omit the need to type brackets where convenient. We will do exactly that today.

Work in R faster with custom bracketless commands

A good starting example is, well, quitting R altogether. Usually, one may do:

quit()

Which will in turn likely get you and extra question regarding saving a workspace image. So you then finally type n and are done with it. If you want to be a bit faster, you may do:

q("no")

Better, but still an awful lot of typing just to quit R, especially when working in a terminal-like environment with multiple sessions.

Let us be a bit craftier and make R quit just by typing qq

To make a bracketless command, we will (mis)use the fact that typing an object name into R console and pressing enter will often invoke a print method specific for the class of that object.

All we have to do to create our very first bracketless command is to create a custom print method for a funky class made for this single purpose. Then we make an object of that class and type its name to the console:

qq <- structure("no", class = "quitter")
print.quitter <- function(quitter) base::quit("no")

# This will quit your session NOT saving a workspace image!
qq

Oops…I Did It Again

Oops…I Did It Again

Switching debugging modes with ease

Quitting R quickly is more useful then it may sound when using multiple sessions in a terminal environment, but we can use the above approach to create different useful shortcuts making our life much easier.

One example I use very frequently is to change the error option, which governs how R behaves when encountering non-catastrophic errors such as those generated by stop, etc.

  • I find setting the option to options(error = utils::recover) very useful for debugging and at the same time very annoying when undesired.
  • Typing options(error = NULL) to change it back is however even more annoying. Or is it options("error") = NULL? Or maybe even options(error) = NULL?

In comes the gg shortcut:

gg <- structure(FALSE, class = "debuggerclass")
print.debuggerclass <-  function(debugger) {
  if (!identical(getOption("error"), as.call(list(utils::recover)))) {
    options(error = recover)
    message(" * debugging is now ON - option error set to recover")
  } else {
    options(error = NULL)
    message(" * debugging is now OFF - option error set to NULL")
  }
}

Now we switch between the options with ease:

# When in need of debugging
gg

##  * debugging is now ON - option error set to recover

# The option is now set to recover
getOption("error")

## (function () 
## {
##     if (.isMethodsDispatchOn()) {
##         tState <- tracingState(FALSE)
##         on.exit(tracingState(tState))
##     }
##     calls <- sys.calls()
##     from <- 0L
##     n <- length(calls)
##     if (identical(sys.function(n), recover)) 
##         n <- n - 1L
##     for (i in rev(seq_len(n))) {
##         calli <- calls[[i]]
##         fname <- calli[[1L]]
##         if (!is.na(match(deparse(fname)[1L], c("methods::.doTrace", 
##             ".doTrace")))) {
##             from <- i - 1L
##             break
##         }
##     }
##     if (from == 0L) 
##         for (i in rev(seq_len(n))) {
##             calli <- calls[[i]]
##             fname <- calli[[1L]]
##             if (!is.name(fname) || is.na(match(as.character(fname), 
##                 c("recover", "stop", "Stop")))) {
##                 from <- i
##                 break
##             }
##         }
##     if (from > 0L) {
##         if (!interactive()) {
##             try(dump.frames())
##             cat(gettext("recover called non-interactively; frames dumped, use debugger() to view\n"))
##             return(NULL)
##         }
##         else if (identical(getOption("show.error.messages"), 
##             FALSE)) 
##             return(NULL)
##         calls <- limitedLabels(calls[1L:from])
##         repeat {
##             which <- menu(calls, title = "\nEnter a frame number, or 0 to exit  ")
##             if (which) 
##                 eval(substitute(browser(skipCalls = skip), list(skip = 7 - 
##                   which)), envir = sys.frame(which))
##             else break
##         }
##     }
##     else cat(gettext("No suitable frames for recover()\n"))
## })()

# When done debugging
gg

##  * debugging is now OFF - option error set to NULL

# The option is now back to NULL
getOption("error")

## NULL

Making it practical (and a bit less barbaric)

Defining all the shortcuts in the way shown above every time is both tedious and ugly, making a mess in our global environment. We can therefore decrease the tedium and ugliness by:

  1. Adding the definitions into our .Rprofile with a proper notice, which will run the definitions and make the shortcuts available every time we start R standardly
  2. Enclosing the definitions into a separate environment attached to the search path, potentially with a command to detach it easily

Such an .Rprofile can look similar to:

message("________________________________________")
message("|                                      |")
message("|      SOURCING CUSTOM .Rprofile       |")
message("|                                      |")
message("|  * qq => quit('no')                  |")
message("|  * gg => toggle error = recover/NULL |")
message("|  * dd => detach this madness         |")
message("|______________________________________|")
message("\n")

customCommands <- new.env()

assign("qq", structure("no", class = "quitterclass"), envir = customCommands)
assign("print.quitterclass", function(quitter) {
  message(" * quitting, not saving workspace")
  base::quit(quitter[1L])
}, envir = customCommands)

assign("gg", structure("", class = "debuggerclass"), envir = customCommands)
assign("print.debuggerclass", function(debugger) {
  if (!identical(getOption("error"), as.call(list(utils::recover)))) {
    options(error = recover)
    message(" * debugging is now ON - option error set to recover")
  } else {
    options(error = NULL)
    message(" * debugging is now OFF - option error set to NULL")
  }
}, envir = customCommands)

assign("dd", structure("", class = "detacherclass"), envir = customCommands)
assign("print.detacherclass", function(detacher) {
  detach(customCommands, unload = TRUE, force = TRUE)
})

attach(customCommands)

In terminal environments, shortcuts like this can be even more useful:

Tends to be more useful in the terminal

Tends to be more useful in the terminal

References

  1. Rprofile chapter of Efficient R programming
  2. Documentation on print
  3. Documentation on options to set and examine a variety of global options.

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Today, September 1st 2018 the Constitution of the Slovak Republic celebrates its 26th anniversary. Happy Birthday!

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