Progress on R-spatial evolution, Dec 2022

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This is the second report on the R-spatial evolution project. The project involves the retirement (archiving) of rgdal, rgeos and maptools during 2023. The first report set out the main goals of the project. Here we report on progress so far, steps already taken, and those remaining to be accomplished. We feel that anyone planning training or teaching for the Northen hemisphere Fall semester/term should plan to have ceased using the retiring packages before work begins after the summer; sp will use sf for functions previously using retiring packages in June 2023.

Package dependency tables

While pkgapi states that it is a work-in-progress, for our purposes it is very useful. We have run a number of checks to determine which reverse dependency packages (of type "most", which implies "Depends:", "Imports:", "LinkingTo:" or "Suggests:") use functions and methods from R packages rgdal, rgeos, or maptools. The results from runs for each package in mid-August showed that raster used 34 functions or methods in rgdal and rgeos, ursa used 28, and FIESTAutils 15. In early December, an updated report shows that raster package from 3.6-3 uses terra instead of rgdal and rgeos to access the external OSGeo FOSS libraries PROJ, GDAL and GEOS.

This also means that all packages that depend on or import from raster, and added a weak dependency on rgdal and rgeos for that reason, may now drop those dependencies, conditional on requiring raster of version >= 3.6-3. In recent tests,it seems that of the 248 packages depending on raster and at least one of the retiring packages, 102 use retiring package code in their own code as found by pkgapi, but 146 do not. The maintainers of the 248 packages are being contacted by email or github issue. Maintainers of packages originally depending on retiring packages because raster did so, are encouraged to drop the now redundant dependencies as soon as possible. Since terra is by definition available to packages using raster, it seems sensible to replace in examples the deprecated rgdal::readOGR() with terra::vect(), and similarly for other methods and functions.

We have raised Github issues with ursa and FIESTAutils, but will take no further steps as these packages are not used by other packages with other maintainers.

sp evolution status

As mentioned in our first report, sp on CRAN has been provided with conditional code that prevents sp calling most code in rgdal or rgeos. This can be enabled before loading sp by setting e.g.:


for checking packages under status

  • 0: business as usual,
  • 1: stop if rgdal or rgeos are absent, or
  • 2: use sf instead of rgdal and rgeos

or alternatively can be set as an environment variable read when sp is loaded, e.g. when running checks from the command line by


Some months before the retiring packages are archived, we will flip sp from loading assuming business-as-usual to assuming the use of sf instead of rgdal and rgeos (evolution status 2) where that is possible. For this, we target June 2023, with a dry run and bulk emails in April and May 2023.

Using spdep as a testbed

In connection with a release of spdep (maintained by Roger Bivand), maintainers of packages depending on spdep and strongly depending on one or more retiring package were contacted by email in early October to advise action. The packages were detected by running reverse dependency checks without retiring packages present in the R library path. The 27 affected packages were:

adespatial*, AGPRIS, BayesX, bfsMaps, expp, FRK, gamlss.spatial, GeNetIt,
geocmeans*, Guerry*, gwer, GWmodel, LabourMarketAreas, latticeDensity,
leastcostpath, meteoland, micromapST, OasisR, PReMiuM*, ref.ICAR, 
rflexscan, SegEnvIneq, spatialEco*, SpatialEpi, spmoran, stampr, 

These are being monitored to gauge how rapidly upgrades occur as a response to a bulk email; there were a fair number of replies to the email. The email concluded:

Of course, your use of the retiring packages that I’ve maintained for many years has been a source of great satisfaction, but now it is time to move on.

In a linked exchange (the Guerry package), maptools::pointLabel() is deprecated and is now car::pointLabel(), and adapted functions based on these were deprecated as in

As of mid-December 2022, 98 CRAN packages depended (of type "most") on spdep when running reverse dependency checks on spdep 1.2-8. None failed _SP_EVOLUTION_STATUS_=0 R CMD check when the retiring packages were on the R library path; five packages marked with stars no longer failed _SP_EVOLUTION_STATUS_=0 R CMD check without retiring packages on the R library path in mid-December 2022. Three new reverse dependencies had appeared at that point, of which SpatialRegimes and SUNGEO failed irrespective of evolution status (indirect dependencies via automap and GWmodel respectively), and geomerge passed for _SP_EVOLUTION_STATUS_=2.

gamlss.spatial, latticedensity, spmoran and tipsae could be fixed easily by conditioning on package availability in examples or vignettes.

Of these packages, only BayesX, bfsMaps, expp, FRK, leastcostpath, micromapST, OasisR, ref.ICAR, SegEnvIneq, SpatialEpi and stampr actually use functions or methods from retiring packages in code rather than examples or vignettes. Among the most used are maptools::unionSpatialPolygons(), rgeos::readWKT() and rgdal::readOGR.

Deprecations in retiring packages

Functions and methods in retiring packages that are often used in code in reverse dependencies have now been deprecated (rgdal_1.6-2, maptools_1.1-5, rgeos_0.6-1). These deprecations lead to more visual noise and hopefully irritation, drawing maintainer and user attention to the need for expeditious upgrading away from retiring packages. Occasionally the deprecations break testthat::expect_silent() invocations, again serving a useful purpose.

For guidance, the NAMESPACE files in the retiring packages have been commented extensively, naming the packages using exported functions and methods from the pkgapi runs in mid-August (rgdal, maptools, rgeos).

It may seem unusual that the retiring packages are maintained under SVN on R-Forge, but the decision not to migrate to Github was taken years ago when R-spatial development was being reviewed. New packages, and packages seen as having development potential were moved to Github, while others without development potential were left on R-Forge under SVN to discourage user contributions.

Script analysis from The Dataverse Project

In, an analysis of some 19,000 scripts in 4500 projects is reported. Packages used included rgdal: 213 projects, rgeos: 115 projects, maptools: 168 projects; for comparison, sf: 144 projects, sp: 143 projects, raster: 105 projects. Standard reproducible script mechanisms will be feasible for source installs of the retiring packages from R-Forge for the foreseeable future, and from the CRAN archives. Binary installs for MacOS and Windows may cease to work for rgdal and rgeos because they link to static builds of external libraries, but for example src/Makevars.ucrt files often need updating to add links to libraries required by GDAL as it evolves; rgeos links to GEOS, but GEOS does not link further, so is less of a problem. For rgdal, src/Makevars.ucrt on the SVN repository will be frozen at GDAL 3.6.1 for R 4.3.

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