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Dependency Management with ‘roxygen’-Style Comments

Manage your source code dependencies by decorating your existing R code with special, ‘roxygen’-style comments.

Build status CRAN version CRAN RStudio mirror downloads

#' @repo deps
install.packages("deps", repos = "")

#' @remote analythium/deps

Why this package?

There are many similar packages out there, some aimed at reproducibility (packrat, Require, switchr, versions, renv, capsule). Others are focused on dependency management (remotes, pak).

So why do we need another one?

Full reproducibility is an important and heavyweight aspiration that either needs locally cached package libraries, or an accurate snapshot mirroring the local system (i.e. exactly where the package was installed from). Full reproducibility is often required for reports, markdown based documents, scripts. A loosely defined project that is combined with strict versioning requirements, often erring on the side of “more dependencies are safer”.

As opposed to this, package-based development is the main use case for dependency management oriented packages. In this case, exact versions are only managed to the extent of avoiding breaking changes (given that testing can surface these). A package focused workflow combined with a “no breaking changes” philosophy to version requirements, leading to leaner installation.

What if you wanted to combine the best of both approaches? A loosely defined project with just strict-enough versioning requirements – and all this without having to write a DESCRIPTION file. Because why would you need a DESCRIPTION file when you have no package? Also, a DESCRIPTION file won’t let you to pin an exact the package version or to specify alternate CRAN-like repositories…

The answer is deps: you add comments to your code, deps does the rest.

#' @remote analythium/rconfig@CRAN-v0.1.3

#' @repo sf

#' @ver rgl 0.108.3

Once you decorated your code, you can call deps::create() to write your dependencies.json file.

Use deps::install() to install dependencies based on scanning a project folder or using and existing dependencies.json file.

What deps does

Required packages are found using the renv::dependencies() function. System dependencies can be specified as well, but are not actively sought out.

The packages list found by renv::dependencies() is refined and modified by ‘roxygen’-style comments. But the packages need to be declared/used somewhere in the source code for the comments to take effect.

If no comment is provided for a given package, its source is assumed to be a CRAN repository, and its version to be the latest given the repositories used at the time of installation.


Tags are part of the ‘roxygen’-style comments:

#' @<tag> <parameter>

where #' is followed by space, the tag starting with @, space, and some parameters.

deps implements the following tags:

Tag Description Usage
@sys System requirement(s) @sys req1,req2,...
@remote Remote source(s) @remote remote1,remote2,...
@local Local source(s) @local path1,path2,...
@ver Versioned package @ver pkg version
@dev Development package(s) @dev pkg1,pkg2,...
@repo CRAN-like source @repo pkg repo
@repos Global CRAN-like repo(s) @repos repo1,repo2,...
@rver R version @rver 4.1.3

System requirements

Known system requirements can be declared using the @sys tag, packages can be separated by commas:

#' @sys curl,git

These packages are added to the list of requirements for the non-development packages.

Remote sources

Remotely sourced packages are declared using the @remotetag following the remotes specifications:

#' @remote analythium/rconfig@CRAN-v0.1.3

This is effectively a version pinning for remotely sourced packages.

Local packages

The @local tag can be used to provide a path to local directory, or compressed file (tar, zip, tar.gz, tar.bz2, tgz2, or tbz) to install packages from:

#' @local mypackage_0.1.0.tar.gz

This is effectively the same as:

#' @remote local::mypackage_0.1.0.tar.gz

Development packages

Dev packages following the @dev decorator are excluded from installation, but are not removed if already installed:

#' @dev devtools,roxygen2

Alternative repos

Use the @repo tag to specify an alternative CRAN-like repository, e.g. from the r-universe:

#' @repo intrval

Use the @repos tag to set CRAN-like repositories for all package installation:

#' @repos,

Versioned packages

When CRAN packages require specific a version, use the @ver tag according to the remotes::install_version() function specifications:

#' @ver mefa4 >= 0.3-0

R version

R version declared using the @rver tag is recorded, but this information is not used during installation. The R version can be a major (3), a major-minor (3.6) or a major-minor-patch (3.6.3) version. When the version is partially specified, the highest minor/patch version will be used. Use dots as separators.


The create() function will crawl the project directory for package dependencies. It will amend the dependency list and package sources based on the comments. The summary is written into the dependencies.json file. Optionally, the system requirements are written into the dependencies.json file as well.

install() will look for the dependencies.json file in the root of the project directory and perform dependency installation if the file exists. If the file does not exist, it uses create() to create that file before attempting installation but removes the dependencies.json file afterwards, leaving no trace.


A CLI example is given in inst/examples/03-cli:

cp inst/examples/03-cli/deps-cli.R /usr/local/bin/deps-cli
chmod +x /usr/local/bin/deps-cli

Usage of the CLI as explained in deps-cli help:

🚀 Quickly install R package dependencies on the command line

👉 MIT (c) Analythium Solutions Inc. 2022-2023
          _                           _ _ 
       __| | ___ _ __  ___        ___| (_)
      / _` |/ _ \ '_ \/ __|_____ / __| | |
     | (_| |  __/ |_) \__ \_____| (__| | |
      \__,_|\___| .__/|___/      \___|_|_|

🔗 See

deps-cli is based on deps 0.1.2 2023-03-23 

Usage: deps-cli <command> [options]

  deps-cli help         Print usage and exit
  deps-cli version      Print version and exit
  deps-cli create       Scan DIR and write dependencies.json
  deps-cli sysreqs      Install system requirements
  deps-cli install      Install R package dependencies
  deps-cli all          create & sysreqs & install in one go

  --dir DIR             Directory to scan, defaults to .
  --upgrade             Upgrade package dependencies
  --silent              Silent, no info printed

  deps-cli help
  deps-cli version
  deps-cli create
  deps-cli create --silent
  deps-cli sysreqs
  deps-cli install --dir /root/app
  deps-cli all --dir /root/app --upgrade

Analyze dependencies, install system and R dependencies in 1 line:

deps all

# same as
deps-cli create && deps-cli sysreqs && deps-cli install

deps-cli install looks for the following files before attempting to detect dependencies: renv.lock, pkg.lock, and DESCRIPTION.

In a Dockerfile you can:

FROM eddelbuettel/r2u:22.04
RUN R -q -e "install.packages(c('rconfig', 'deps', 'remotes', 'pak', 'renv'), repos = c('', ''))"
RUN cp -p $(R RHOME)/library/deps/examples/03-cli/deps-cli.R /usr/local/bin/deps-cli
RUN chmod +x /usr/local/bin/deps-cli

COPY ... # your files

RUN deps-cli all

You can simply use the as your parent image where the deps-cli is already installed:



See the inst/examples folder for more examples.


The deps package uses a 5 minutes timeout for downloads instead of the default 1 minute (getOption("timeout")). When the timeout option or the R_DEFAULT_INTERNET_TIMEOUT environment variable is set to a >5 minutes value, it will be respected and timeout will be set to the maximum of the three possible values.

The create() function prompts the user asking confirmation before writing the dependencies.json file. Use create(ask = FALSE) to bypass the prompt.


MIT License © 2022-2023 Peter Solymos and Analythium Solutions Inc.