Distinguish yourself in CRAN person() with ORCID

[This article was first published on rOpenSci - open tools for open science, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers]. (You can report issue about the content on this page here)
Want to share your content on R-bloggers? click here if you have a blog, or here if you don't.

Proper identification of individuals is crucial for acknowledging and
studying their scientific work, be it journal articles or pieces of
software. In this tech note, one year after CRAN started supporting
ORCIDs, we shall explain why and how to use unique author identifiers in

Why use ORCIDs on CRAN?

When analyzing the authorship of CRAN packages, one can look at authors’
names and email addresses. Names can be written with and without quotes,
email addresses change, which makes it all tricky as noted by David
Smith when he looked for the most prolific CRAN

(notice our very own Scott Chamberlain and Jeroen Ooms in that
scoreboard by the way?). Besides, several people can have the same name!

So all in all, using an unique ID per author makes sense. That’s
something offered for the academic world and beyond by
ORCID, ORCID meaning “Open
Researcher and Contributor ID”. Anyone can set up an ORCID account for
free and link it up to the rest of their online persona, as well as to
their employment and works. When the authors of a scientific paper give
their ORCID ID to the publisher, these can be included in the html and
PDF versions of a
Note that there’s no, say, Keybase verification for
, and often the
input of an ORCID ID for a paper is declarative as well. Read more about
ORCID here.

About one year ago, CRAN added support for
DESCRIPTION files by a minimally invasive
. One
can add the ORCID ID of an author as a comment field in person(),
see e.g. Carl Boettiger’s ID in codemetar
and one gets a nice little green bubble near their name on CRAN, see
e.g. codemetar CRAN

” />

The advantages of using ORCID IDs in DESCRIPTION are:

  • Unique identifiers for free! Sure, there’s no verification so
    someone could use your identity, but at least, it should help
    assigning your own work to you.

  • Clickable name on CRAN pages, METACRAN pages and pkgdown
    E.g. when clicking on Carl’s green bubble on codemetar
    CRAN page, one gets to his ORCID
    including a link to
    his personal website. See also codemetar METACRAN
    and codemetar pkgdown

” />

Even for non academics, making one’s online persona more accessible from
a CRAN DESCRIPTION can’t hurt.

How to manipulate ORCIDs in DESCRIPTION?

So, how does one add add and interact with ORCID in DESCRIPTION? Well,
thankfully, the current dev version of the RStudio desc
by Gábor
has some direct support of
ORCIDs! Gábor too is well ranked in the scoreboard mentioned


Search authors by ORCID

desc offers many functions for manipulating authors: adding or
deleting them or their roles. Now you can perform these operations using
ORCID to identify authors to be modified. E.g. if you want to add a role
to an existing author, say Carl who worked hard enough to earn the “aut”
role, you’d run

desc::desc_add_role(role = "aut",
                    orcid = "0000-0002-1642-628X")

Obviously this very example above has probably little real-life
applicability, but you could imagine manipulating DESCRIPTION files en
using a table of ORCIDs and new roles.

Add ORCID to authors of a package

The new add_orcid() method and desc_add_orcid() functions make it
possible to add ORCID IDs to authors directly instead of via the
comment argument. So you could write some script

                     given = "Maëlle",
                     family = "Salmon")

and run it inside all your local package folders to add your ORCID. It
will add this ORCID ID to the author whose given name is “Maëlle” and
whose family name is “Salmon”. If you only write

                     given = "Maëlle")

and there are two Maëlle’s, the function will error and you’ll need to
run it with more specific arguments.

Add all of your identity at once!

The coolest feature of desc ORCID support might be that
desc::desc_add_me() will now use the ORCID of the environment variable
ORCID_ID if you created it. Hence, once per machine it’d now be
recommended to

  • install the whoami package necessary for desc::desc_add_me() to
    work. install.packages("whoami").

  • create an environment variable ORCID_ID, editing .Renviron by
    calling e.g. usethis::edit_r_environ(). Here’s how the
    corresponding .Renviron line looks for me:


desc::desc_add_me() looks for your name and email addresses in your
existing configuration (git configuration, GitHub profile), see the
whoami package docs
. So say you’ve
just been told to add yourself as contributor of a package you’ve
improved: inside the package directory, you’d just need to run
desc::desc_add_me() and voilà ! No risk to wrongly copy-paste your

As a conclusion of this section, not only are ORCIDs useful, but they’re
getting citizen status in the world of as-automatic-as-possible package
development. Now, we shall see how one could use ORCIDs inside R to
gather information about package authors.

How to study CRAN authors via their ORCID

As mentioned earlier, rOpenSci’s Scott Chamberlain is the most prolific
CRAN package
so perhaps unsurprisingly, he maintains a package interacting with
ORCID’s API, rorcid!

The API requires authentication so the first step after installing the
package is to run:


and to save the resulting token as an ORCID_TOKEN environment variable
in .Renviron (again, usethis::edit_r_environ() can help with that).
Authentication warrants your having an ORCID account, so if you haven’t
one yet, register via this link.

Then, we’ll query all comment’s of [email protected] of CRAN packages. Some
CRAN packages use the Author field instead, which is not recommended
and doesn’t allow using comment.

Side-note, in general, how would one analyze stuff over the whole CRAN

Thanks to Gábor, who maintains METACRAN, for patiently answering my
questions about meta-CRAN things. If we were after the comments section
of just a few packages, we could query METACRAN database like so:

url <- "https://crandb.r-pkg.org/-/latest?keys=[%22desc%22,%22codemetar%22]"
obj  <- jsonlite::fromJSON(url, simplifyVector = FALSE)
lapply(obj, function(x) eval(parse(text = x$`[email protected]`))$comment)

but in our case, when wanting to get all the current CRAN authors, it’s
easier to use tools::CRAN_package_db(). As a side-note, if you find a
better solution than the functions defined below parse_authors() and
parse_author() (some purrr magic?) to coerce all authors information
to a data.frame, feel free to comment under the post!

all_info <- tools::CRAN_package_db()
all_info <- all_info[!is.na(all_info$`[email protected]`),]
all_info <- all_info[, c("Package", "[email protected]")]
names(all_info)[2] <- "authors_at_r"

null_to_na <- function(x){

parse_author <- function(author){
  author <- as.person(author)
  tibble::tibble(given = null_to_na(author$given),
                 family = null_to_na(author$family),
                 email = null_to_na(author$email),
                 comment = as.character(null_to_na(author$comment)),
                 orcid = as.character(null_to_na(author$comment["ORCID"])))

parse_authors <- function(authors_at_r){
  authors <- try(eval(parse(text = authors_at_r)),
                silent = TRUE)
  if(inherits(authors, "try-error")){
    list(purrr::map_dfr(authors, parse_author))

cran_authors <- all_info %>%
  as.data.frame() %>%
  dplyr::select(Package, authors_at_r) %>% 
  dplyr::rowwise() %>%
  dplyr::mutate(authors = parse_authors(authors_at_r)) %>%

This is how the resulting table looks like. Out of 13147 packages on
CRAN we are looking at 5421, i.e. packages using the [email protected] field.
There is one line per author in a package.


## Classes 'tbl_df', 'tbl' and 'data.frame':    16272 obs. of  7 variables:
##  $ Package     : chr  "abbyyR" "abc" "abc" "abc" ...
##  $ authors_at_r: chr  "person(\"Gaurav\", \"Sood\", email = \"[email protected]\", role = c(\"aut\", \"cre\"))" "c( \n    person(\"Csillery\", \"Katalin\", role = \"aut\", email=\"[email protected]\"),\n    person(\"Le"| __truncated__ "c( \n    person(\"Csillery\", \"Katalin\", role = \"aut\", email=\"[email protected]\"),\n    person(\"Le"| __truncated__ "c( \n    person(\"Csillery\", \"Katalin\", role = \"aut\", email=\"[email protected]\"),\n    person(\"Le"| __truncated__ ...
##  $ given       : chr  "Gaurav" "Csillery" "Lemaire" "Francois" ...
##  $ family      : chr  "Sood" "Katalin" "Louisiane" "Olivier" ...
##  $ email       : chr  "[email protected]" "[email protected]" NA NA ...
##  $ comment     : chr  NA NA NA NA ...
##  $ orcid       : chr  NA NA NA NA ...

We can count the number of occurrences of ORCIDs.

(cran_authors %>%
  dplyr::filter(!is.na(orcid)) %>%
  dplyr::pull(Package) %>%
  unique() %>%
  length() -> orcid_pkg_no)

## [1] 613

Only 613 packages have at least an ORCID ID out of 13147 CRAN packages
(you can’t have an ORCID ID without using the [email protected] field).

There are 512 unique ORCID IDs. Let’s look at the most prolific authors
with an ORCID ID.

cran_authors %>%
  dplyr::filter(!is.na(orcid)) %>%
  dplyr::count(orcid, sort = TRUE) %>%
  head(n = 10) -> most_prolific

orcid n
0000-0003-1444-9135 29
0000-0002-4035-0289 21
0000-0003-0918-3766 21
0000-0003-4198-9911 19
0000-0003-4097-6326 16
0000-0001-8301-0471 13
0000-0003-0645-5666 12
0000-0001-5243-233X 11
0000-0001-5670-2640 11
0000-0002-8584-459X 10

Then we can use rorcid to get a glimpse of their profile.


## [[1]]
## <ORCID> 0000-0003-1444-9135
##   Name: Chamberlain, Scott
##   URL (first): http://ropensci.org/
##   Country: US
##   Keywords: ecology, open access, bioinformatics, evolution, R
## [[2]]
## <ORCID> 0000-0002-4035-0289
##   Name: Ooms, Jeroen
##   URL (first): https://github.com/jeroen
##   Country: NL
##   Country: US
##   Keywords: 
## [[3]]
## <ORCID> 0000-0003-0918-3766
##   Name: Zeileis, Achim
##   URL (first): https://eeecon.uibk.ac.at/~zeileis/
##   Country: AT
##   Keywords: 
## [[4]]
## <ORCID> 0000-0003-4198-9911
##   Name: Hornik, Kurt
##   URL (first): 
##   Country: 
##   Keywords: 
## [[5]]
## <ORCID> 0000-0003-4097-6326
##   Name: Leeper, Thomas
##   URL (first): http://www.lse.ac.uk/government/whosWho/Academic%20profiles/ThomasLeeper.aspx
##   Country: GB
##   Keywords: Public Opinion, Survey Experiments, Political Behaviour, R, Research Design
## [[6]]
## <ORCID> 0000-0001-8301-0471
##   Name: Hothorn, Torsten
##   URL (first): 
##   Country: 
##   Keywords: 
## [[7]]
## <ORCID> 0000-0003-0645-5666
##   Name: Xie, Yihui
##   URL (first): https://yihui.name
##   Country: 
##   Keywords: 
## [[8]]
## <ORCID> 0000-0001-5243-233X
##   Name: Tang, Yuan
##   URL (first): https://terrytangyuan.github.io/about/
##   Country: US
##   Keywords: Machine Learning, Data Visualization, Open Source, Software Engineering
## [[9]]
## <ORCID> 0000-0001-5670-2640
##   Name: Rudis, Bob
##   URL (first): http://rud.is/b
##   Country: US
##   Keywords: cybersecurity, r, data visualization, web crawling/scraping
## [[10]]
## <ORCID> 0000-0002-8584-459X
##   Name: You, Kisung
##   URL (first): https://kisungyou.github.io/
##   Country: KR
##   Keywords:

Interestingly we recognize some names from the most prolific CRAN
maintainers (Scott and Jeroen, again!) but not only. Note that another
difference with David Smith’s

is that the list above includes authors no matter their role.

Over all authors with an ORCID, using rorcid one could extract their
location and much more, but this is beyond the scope of this tech note.

Inversely, if one wanted to find CRAN packages by ORCID ID, instead of
ORCID IDs by CRAN package, one could make the most of METACRAN. There is
no search by ORCID, but since everything in DESCRIPTION is indexed by
METACRAN, one can use the ORCID ID as search term. Say you want to find
all packages by Scott Chamberlain:


In this tech note we made the case for using ORCID IDs as identifiers
for the authors of CRAN packages, for academics and non-academics as
well. We described the current desc
support for ORCID. We also gave a small insight into the wealth of
information one can get via

For academics, another aspect of making their software contributions
valuable is getting the software they write as work inside their ORCID
profile. One can do that by hand, but one can also

  • get a legit DOI for each package release by activating
    Zenodo for the repository,

  • write a software paper, e.g. via JOSS,
    that’d have its own DOI.

But this is probably a topic for another time, such as would be the
topic of CRAN potentially adopting other IDs like GitHub username,
ideally via Keybase. By the way if you’d like to see a Keybase
integration of ORCID happen, please “+1” this issue by Steph
. In the meantime,
let’s hope ORCID IDs will be more adopted by academics and non-academics
alike for:

  • Making CRAN package authors easier to identify and their online
    persona easier to find.

  • Making academic CRAN package authors’ scientific contributions
    easier to access when studying packages.

Have you started desc::add_orcid()-ing? Don’t hesitate to comment

Many thanks to
0000-0002-1642-628X and
0000-0003-1419-2405 for their
feedback on this note.

To leave a comment for the author, please follow the link and comment on their blog: rOpenSci - open tools for open science.

R-bloggers.com offers daily e-mail updates about R news and tutorials about learning R and many other topics. Click here if you're looking to post or find an R/data-science job.
Want to share your content on R-bloggers? click here if you have a blog, or here if you don't.

Never miss an update!
Subscribe to R-bloggers to receive
e-mails with the latest R posts.
(You will not see this message again.)

Click here to close (This popup will not appear again)