command-line options - How can I read command line parameters from an R script?

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I've got a R script for which I'd like to be able to supply several command-line parameters (rather than hardcode parameter values in the code itself). The script runs on Windows.

I can't find info on how to read parameters supplied on the command-line into my R script. I'd be surprised if it can't be done, so maybe I'm just not using the best keywords in my Google search...

Any pointers or recommendations?


Add this to the top of your script:


Then you can refer to the arguments passed as args[1], args[2] etc.

Then run

Rscript myscript.R arg1 arg2 arg3

If your args are strings with spaces in them, enclose within double quotes.

A few points:

  1. Command-line parameters are accessible via commandArgs(), so see help(commandArgs) for an overview.

  2. You can use Rscript.exe on all platforms, including Windows. It will support commandArgs(). littler could be ported to Windows but lives right now only on OS X and Linux.

  3. There are two add-on packages on CRAN -- getopt and optparse -- which were both written for command-line parsing.

Edit in Nov 2015: New alternatives have appeared and I wholeheartedly recommend docopt.

you need littler (pronounced 'little r')

Dirk will be by in about 15 minutes to elaborate ;)

If you need to specify options with flags, (like -h, --help, --number=42, etc) you can use the R package optparse (inspired from Python):

At least this how I understand your question, because I found this post when looking for an equivalent of the bash getopt, or perl Getopt, or python argparse and optparse.

In bash, you can construct a command line like the following:

$ z=10
$ echo $z
$ Rscript -e "args<-commandArgs(TRUE);x=args[1]:args[2];x;mean(x);sd(x)" 1 $z
 [1]  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10
[1] 5.5
[1] 3.027650

You can see that the variable $z is substituted by bash shell with "10" and this value is picked up by commandArgs and fed into args[2], and the range command x=1:10 executed by R successfully, etc etc.

Since optparse has been mentioned a couple of times in the answers, and it provides a comprehensive kit for command line processing, here's a short simplified example of how you can use it, assuming the input file exists:



option_list <- list(
  make_option(c("-n", "--count_lines"), action="store_true", default=FALSE,
    help="Count the line numbers [default]"),
  make_option(c("-f", "--factor"), type="integer", default=3,
    help="Multiply output by this number [default %default]")

parser <- OptionParser(usage="%prog [options] file", option_list=option_list)

args <- parse_args(parser, positional_arguments = 1)
opt <- args$options
file <- args$args

if(opt$count_lines) {
  print(paste(length(readLines(file)) * opt$factor))

Given an arbitrary file blah.txt with 23 lines.

On the command line:

Rscript script.R -h outputs

Usage: script.R [options] file

        -n, --count_lines
                Count the line numbers [default]

        -f FACTOR, --factor=FACTOR
                Multiply output by this number [default 3]

        -h, --help
                Show this help message and exit

Rscript script.R -n blah.txt outputs [1] "69"

Rscript script.R -n -f 5 blah.txt outputs [1] "115"

I just put together a nice data structure and chain of processing to generate this switching behaviour, no libraries needed. I'm sure it will have been implemented numerous times over, and came across this thread looking for examples - thought I'd chip in.

I didn't even particularly need flags (the only flag here is a debug mode, creating a variable which I check for as a condition of starting a downstream function if (!exists(debug.mode)) {...} else {print(variables)}). The flag checking lapply statements below produce the same as:

if ("--debug" %in% args) debug.mode <- T
if ("-h" %in% args || "--help" %in% args) 

where args is the variable read in from command line arguments (a character vector, equivalent to c('--debug','--help') when you supply these on for instance)

It's reusable for any other flag and you avoid all the repetition, and no libraries so no dependencies:

args <- commandArgs(TRUE)

flag.details <- list(
"debug" = list(
  def = "Print variables rather than executing function XYZ...",
  flag = "--debug",
  output = "debug.mode <- T"),
"help" = list(
  def = "Display flag definitions",
  flag = c("-h","--help"),
  output = "cat(help.prompt)") )

flag.conditions <- lapply(flag.details, function(x) {
  paste0(paste0('"',x$flag,'"'), sep = " %in% args", collapse = " || ")
flag.truth.table <- unlist(lapply(flag.conditions, function(x) {
  if (eval(parse(text = x))) {
  } else return(F)

help.prompts <- lapply(names(flag.truth.table), function(x){
# joins 2-space-separatated flags with a tab-space to the flag description
  paste0(c(paste0(flag.details[x][[1]][['flag']], collapse="  "),
  flag.details[x][[1]][['def']]), collapse="\t")
} )

help.prompt <- paste(c(unlist(help.prompts),''),collapse="\n\n")

# The following lines handle the flags, running the corresponding 'output' entry in flag.details for any supplied
flag.output <- unlist(lapply(names(flag.truth.table), function(x){
  if (flag.truth.table[x]) return(flag.details[x][[1]][['output']])
eval(parse(text = flag.output))

Note that in flag.details here the commands are stored as strings, then evaluated with eval(parse(text = '...')). Optparse is obviously desirable for any serious script, but minimal-functionality code is good too sometimes.

Sample output:

$ Rscript check_mail.Rscript --help
--debug Print  variables rather than executing function XYZ...

-h  --help  Display flag definitions

Try library(getopt) ... if you want things to be nicer. For example:

spec <- matrix(c(
        'in'     , 'i', 1, "character", "file from fastq-stats -x (required)",
        'gc'     , 'g', 1, "character", "input gc content file (optional)",
        'out'    , 'o', 1, "character", "output filename (optional)",
        'help'   , 'h', 0, "logical",   "this help"

opt = getopt(spec);

if (!is.null(opt$help) || is.null(opt$in)) {
    cat(paste(getopt(spec, usage=T),"\n"));

I'm about 4 years late to this question, but want to give back. I used the earlier answers as a starting point to tidy up my old adhoc param parsing. I then refactored out the following template code. It handles both long and short params, using = or space separated arguments, as well as multiple short params grouped together. Finally it re-inserts any non-param arguments back into the $1,$2.. variables. I hope it's useful.

#!/usr/bin/env bash

# NOTICE: Uncomment if your script depends on bashisms.
#if [ -z "$BASH_VERSION" ]; then bash $0 [email protected] ; exit $? ; fi

echo "Before"
for i ; do echo - $i ; done

# Code template for parsing command line parameters using only portable shell
# code, while handling both long and short params, handling '-f file' and
# '-f=file' style param data and also capturing non-parameters to be inserted
# back into the shell positional parameters.

while [ -n "$1" ]; do
        # Copy so we can modify it (can't modify $1)
        # Detect argument termination
        if [ x"$OPT" = x"--" ]; then
                for OPT ; do
                        REMAINS="$REMAINS \"$OPT\""
        # Parse current opt
        while [ x"$OPT" != x"-" ] ; do
                case "$OPT" in
                        # Handle --flag=value opts like this
                        -c=* | --config=* )
                        # and --flag value opts like this
                        -c* | --config )
                        -f* | --force )
                        -r* | --retry )
                        # Anything unknown is recorded for later
                        * )
                                REMAINS="$REMAINS \"$OPT\""
                # Check for multiple short options
                # NOTICE: be sure to update this pattern to match valid options
                NEXTOPT="${OPT#-[cfr]}" # try removing single short opt
                if [ x"$OPT" != x"$NEXTOPT" ] ; then
                        OPT="-$NEXTOPT"  # multiple short opts, keep going
                        break  # long form, exit inner loop
        # Done with that param. move to next
# Set the non-parameters back into the positional parameters ($1 $2 ..)
eval set -- $REMAINS

echo -e "After: \n configfile='$CONFIGFILE' \n force='$FORCE' \n retry='$RETRY' \n remains='$REMAINS'"
for i ; do echo - $i ; done

command-line r parameters