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Why R? The pros and cons of the R language

Paul Krill | July 1, 2015
Package ecosystem and graphics are strengths; security and memory management are weaknesses.

R's shortcomings in security and memory management

For all its benefits, R has its share of shortcomings. "Memory management, speed, and efficiency are probably the biggest challenges R faces," says Adams. "Strides have been -- and are still being -- made to make progress on those fronts. Also, people coming to R from other languages might also consider R quirky."

The basic principle of R emanates from programming languages built in the 1960s, Peng says. "In that sense, it's kind of an old technology in the way it was originally designed." The design of the language can sometimes pose problems in working with very large data sets, he says. Data has to be stored in physical memory. But as computers have gotten more memory, this has become less of an issue, Peng notes.

Capabilities such as security were not built into the R language, Peng says. Also, R cannot be embedded in a Web browser, says Peng. "You can't use it for Web-like or Internet-like apps." It was basically impossible to use R as back-end server to do calculations because of its lack of security over the Web, he says. The security issue, however, has been lessened by developments such as the use of virtual containers on the Amazon Web Services cloud platform, Peng says.

For a long time, there was not a lot of interactivity in the language, he says. Languages such as JavaScript still have to come in and fill this gap, says Peng. Although an analysis may be done in R, the presentation of results might be done in different language such as JavaScript, he says.

R isn't just for advanced programmers

Still, Adams and Peng both see R as an accessible language. "I don't come from a computer science background and never had aspirations of becoming a programmer. Knowledge of programming fundamentals certainly helps when adding R to your toolbox, but I wouldn't say it's required to get started," Adams says.

"I wouldn't even say R is for programmers. It's best suited for people that have data-oriented problems they're trying to solve, regardless of their programming aptitude," he says.


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