Setting up your own Shiny and RStudio Server on a Raspberry Pi 3B+

November 20, 2018
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I have recently participated in a topic at RStudio Community where @jladata was asking if a Raspberry Pi 3B+ could make it as a viable Shiny server, I currently use a Raspberry Pi for that purpose and It was pointed out to me that this might be an interesting topic for some people, so I´m going to share with you my experience setting up Shiny and Rstudio Server on a Raspberry Pi 3B+. 👍

I’m installing all the software directly in the OS (Raspbian), I’m aware that there are other options such as Docker containers, but this is the method I prefer.

Also, the steps that I’m going to share with you, are applicable for this specific setup:

“Raspberry Pi 3B+ running Raspbian Stretch Lite (not tested yet on the new Raspbian Buster)”

✏ Have in mind that this guide might not be directly applicable for other SBCs, Linux distributions or even other versions of Raspberry Pi SBCs.

Preparing The Raspberry Pi

First, we need to start by loading a fresh image of Raspbian Stretch Lite onto our SD card (I recommend at least 32GB class 10), you can download it from the official Raspbian site.

Although not mandatory, I recommend performing the following actions using the sudo raspi-config application:

  • Expand Filesystem (Advanced Options / Expand Filesystem).
  • Reduce GPU memory to 16MB (Advanced Options / Memory Split).
  • Disable “Predictable network interfaces” (Network Options / Network interface names).

I also recommend using a wired internet connection and disabling the onboard wifi/Bluetooth module. You can disable it persistently by editing this file: sudo nano /boot/config.txt, by adding these two lines:

Next, we need to set a static IP for our Raspberry Pi, edit this file: sudo nano /etc/dhcpcd.conf, accordingly with your own needs. This is a sample IP configuration:

Enable all the repositories by uncommenting all lines in this file: sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list and then perform the mandatory updates with this command sudo apt update && sudo apt full-upgrade.

You have to add at least 1GB of swap memory for this installation but you are going to need more, later for installing/compiling some R libraries, so with 3GB would be fine, you can do it with these commands:

Prevent the unnecessary use of swap memory for protecting your SD card:

Setting Up The Server

For convenience, we need an HTML server and Nginx is a really good option because of its reduced requirements. You can install Nginx with these commands:

Then, we need a SQL server for storing and manipulating our data, I personally prefer PostgreSQL since it’s open-source and has impressive capabilities, but it´s up to you which one to choose. You can install PostgreSQL with this command:

Configure PostgreSQL to accept local and remote connections by editing these files and modify/add/comment these lines:

Restart PostgreSQL service:

Create the pi user and database in the PostgreSQL server:

Now, we get to the R specific part of the process, we are going to install the latest version of R from source with these commands:

❗️WARNING: EVERYTHING BEYOND THIS POINT IS EXTREMELY TIME-CONSUMING
e.g. Installing RStudio from source on Raspbian can take around 27 hours 😮

Installing Shiny Server

We are going to install Shiny Server from source, but first, we have to install its dependencies.

✏ It’s necessary to install R packages as superuser, for Shiny to be able to use them.

Install cmake from source:

Now we can install Shiny Server with these commands:

After installing it, you have to configure Shiny Server with these commands:

Installing Rstudio Server

We are going to install RStudio server from source, this is extremely time-consuming (around 27 hours last time I checked), so get your self something to do while the Raspberry Pi installs dependencies and compiles everything.

# Install Rust and Cargo
sudo curl https://sh.rustup.rs -sSf | sh
source $HOME/.cargo/env
# Install sentry-cli
sudo git clone https://github.com/getsentry/sentry-cli.git
sudo chown -R pi ~/sentry-cli
cd sentry-cli
cargo build
cd
sudo rm -rf sentry-cli

# Clone RStudio repository
sudo git clone https://github.com/rstudio/rstudio.git

# Avoid installing crashpad
sudo nano /home/pi/rstudio/dependencies/common/install-common
    # Comment these lines
        # ./install-crashpad
        # sudo ./install-crashpad

# Install system dependencies
cd rstudio/dependencies/linux
sudo su
./install-dependencies-stretch --exclude-qt-sdk
apt-get install -y openjdk-8-jdk
apt autoremove

# Configure Java
java -Xms1800m

# Install latest gwt compiler
cd /home/pi/rstudio
wget http://dl.google.com/closure-compiler/compiler-latest.zip
unzip compiler-latest.zip
rm COPYING README.md compiler-latest.zip
mv closure-compiler-v20*.jar /home/pi/rstudio/src/gwt/tools/compiler/compiler.jar

# Compile and install RStudio
mkdir build
cd build
cmake .. -DRSTUDIO_TARGET=Server -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release
make install

#Configure Rstudio
cd
useradd -r rstudio-server
cp /usr/local/lib/rstudio-server/extras/init.d/debian/rstudio-server /etc/init.d/rstudio-server
chmod +x /etc/init.d/rstudio-server 
update-rc.d rstudio-server defaults
ln -f -s /usr/local/lib/rstudio-server/bin/rstudio-server /usr/sbin/rstudio-server
chmod 777 -R /usr/local/lib/R/site-library/
mkdir -p /var/run/rstudio-server
mkdir -p /var/lock/rstudio-server
mkdir -p /var/log/rstudio-server
mkdir -p /var/lib/rstudio-server
rm -rf /home/pi/rstudio
nano /etc/init.d/rstudio-server
    # Modify your PATH variable for using the compiled version of R
        # PATH=/usr/local/bin/:/sbin:/usr/sbin:/bin:/usr/bin
systemctl daemon-reload
rstudio-server start
exit

Extra Steps

Make pretty URLs for Shiny and Rstudio Server (e.g. http://your-ip/shiny/your-app instead of http://your-ip:3838/your-app) by editing Nginx config file: sudo nano /etc/nginx/sites-enabled/default and adding the following lines before the line that reads server {

Add the following lines right after the line that reads server_name _;

Now you have to restart Nginx to apply changes:

If you want to have access to your server from remote origins (over the internet) you must follow these extra steps:

  • If you don’t have a static public IP:
    • Open an account in a Dynamic DNS Services e.g. https://www.noip.com
    • Configure Dynamic DNS in your router/modem, if you don’t have that option, you can install a DDNS client on your server.
    • Optionally configure your personal domain name to point to your DDNS service
  • Configure port forwarding in your router/modem:
    • For SSH open port TCP/UDP 22~22
    • For PostgreSQL open port TCP/UDP 5432
    • For FTP open port TCP 20~21
    • For VPN open port UDP 1194
    • For HTTP open port TCP 80
  • Make sure you have “Block WAN traffic” disabled on your router/modem.

And this is it, you are ready to start developing your Shiny apps and deploying it in the /srv/shiny-server folder of your own server, enjoy!

Final Comments

The major limitation of the Raspberry Pi is RAM memory, so keep in mind that you have to keep your apps simple enough so they don’t need more than 1 GB of RAM if your app requires something greater than that, it’s going to be using swap memory and that could ruin your SD card very fast.

The performance is relatively slow, especially for plotting, keep in mind that even though the Raspberry Pi 3B+ has 4 cores they are not fast ones and most of the R packages don’t use parallel computing.

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