Over 16 years of R Project history

March 4, 2016

(This article was first published on Revolutions, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

The first official release of R, R version 1.0.0 was released on February 29, 2000. The anniversary was marked on Twitter by Thomas Lumley, a member of R Core Group: 20 leading statisicians and computer scientists (and 4 alums) from around the world without whom the R Project would not exist. That makes it 16 years — sixteen! — that the R language has faithfully served statisticians, bioinformaticians, quantiative analysts, data scientists and others solving problems with data.  

But in fact, the R project is even more venerable than that. The project itself began in 1993, 7 years before the first "official" R release was made available to the public, as research project initiated by Ross Ihaka and Robert Gentleman. Here's a brief timeline of the history of R:

  • 1993: Research project in Auckland, NZ  
  • 1995: R Released as open-source software
  • 1997: R core group formed
  • 2000: R 1.0.0 released (February 29) 
  • 2003: R Foundation founded
  • 2004: First international user conference in Vienna
  • 2015: R Consortium founded

The project is still as strong and as active as ever. (A new update for R, version 3.2.4, is scheduled for March 10.) Likewise, the community around R continues to grow rapidly, as evidenced by user-created contributions to R hosted on the Comprehensive R Archive Network, CRAN. CRAN is a repository where anyone can contribute an extension to R (called a "package"), as long as it meets the quality and licensing requirements set by the CRAN maintainers. On February 29, R's official 16th anniversary, there were exactly 8,000 packages — eight thousand — hosted on CRAN. (You can explore those packages at MRAN, Microsoft's historical archive of CRAN.)

That number doesn't even count packages that have been accepted to CRAN but have since been retired (either through obsolescence or lack of updates by the author when they fail to pass checks with new versions of R). Gergely Daróczi analyzed the CRAN logs to show that submission have increased exponentially over time, and more than 9,000 distinct packages have been accepted to CRAN:


By the way, hosting and maintaining CRAN is a huge effort, run by volunteers from the R Core Group. Every package submitted to CRAN is automatically tested on a wide variety of platforms by the CRAN build system, and volunteers spend a significant amount of time personally interacting with package authors to resolve problems that arise. On top of that, the CRAN system runs checks of R packages with each nightly build of R, a process that takes 90 days of computing time (37 of which is on the Solaris system, which R still supports.) Again, problems that arise in this process often result in manual notifications to package authors by the CRAN volunteers. R packages are an incredibly important part of the value of R, and it's thanks to the CRAN system (and its volunteers) that all R users have access to such an amazingly rich source of capabilities for R.

So this week of R's 16th official anniversary marks a great time to thank the R Core Group and the CRAN volunteers for providing their time and expertise to create the most useful ecosystem for data science the world has ever known. Thank you all!

To leave a comment for the author, please follow the link and comment on their blog: Revolutions.

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