Navigating RStudio

R can be operated using the command line interface alone, but this course will make use of RStudio for dealing with R code. RStudio is an integrated development environment (IDE), which is used to help operate R, organize R code, and handle visualisation within the same window. The IDE makes the job of interacting with R a lot easier.

To begin, open RStudio. You should see a window that looks like this:

RStudio interface

There are four main areas that you should be concerned with at this stage:

An additional pane, the Source pane, is typically hidden when first starting RStudio, and will be discussed later.

Most activity takes place in the Console pane. Depending on what actions you are undertaking in the Console pane, different things may occur in the Output and Environment panes. To see how this works, try typing the following command into the command line (indicated by an >) in the Console pane, and then press enter:


This piece of code uses the hist function to generate a histogram (frequency plot) of some data referenced inside the next set of brackets. Those data are a set of 50 random numbers drawn from a normal distribution, generated using the rnorm command, with a mean of 0 and a standard deviation of 1.

The Navigation pane should now jump to the Plots tab, and the result should look something like this:

A histogram of 50 random, normally distributed numbers

It’s OK if the plot you see looks a little different from the image above: your instance of R will generate different sets of random numbers, but you should see a histogram that is centered near a value of 0.

It’s also more than OK if you don’t understand how the code works at this stage, the point here is just to demonstrate how the command line works and how different components of RStudio operate in order to visualise ‘data’. In addition to Plots, other tabs in the Navigation Pane include

Try it yourself!

Have a look through the drop-down menus and try and find the following helpful options:

  • Interrupt R This will stop the current operation happening in R. This is critical for instances where R is doing something you don’t expect and you want it to stop.

  • Comment/Uncomment Lines This will convert highlighted code to comments, or text that is not run by R. This is really useful for debugging your code when you want to try running a code with and without certain parts.

  • Install Packages This opens a window that will allow you to search for packages available through the R package repository (CRAN). Good for when you can’t quite remember the name of a package!