How the R interpreter is embedded

How the R interpreter is embedded

We embed an instance of the R interpreter using R’s C API, documented in the Writing R extensions document. R only allows at most one instance of the interpreter in any given process. Furthermore, R’s C API has the following important constraints:

  • it is not reentrant, so only one thread should be accessing the R interpreter at any one time,
  • the R interpreter must be running on the program’s main thread. Otherwise you’ll experience weird behaviour. See the FAQ.

The threading model

In inline-r, single-threaded access is all but statically guaranteed, thanks to the R monad. For flexibility, entering the R monad is kept separate from initialization of the R instance via withEmbeddedR, but runRegion should be called only once, near the beginning of main. Arbitrary IO actions can be lifted into the R monad, but not forkIO actions. forkIO forks IO actions, but there is no way to interact with an R interpreter from the IO monad if you call runRegion only once from the main thread. At any rate, not if you keep to the API provided by the Language.R.* modules.

There is a backdoor if you really need it, called unsafeRToIO. But as its name implies, calling it is at your own risks!

R insists that the interpreter should be run from the main thread. Therefore, do not call withEmbeddedR from any other thread than the main thread of the program. On some platforms, including OS X, violating this assumption breaks all graphical event processing. On all platforms, violating this assumption leads to strange call stack and signaling issues.

The above constraint is a problem for H: GHCi insists on running the read-eval-print loop on the main thread, while R insists on running its own event processing loop in the main thread as well. Since there is no way to mesh GHCi’s loop with R’s event loop, we have no other option but to force the user to trigger event processing iterations explicitly. This is done by calling the Language.R.Event.refresh action. Other interactive interfaces may or may not have this limitation.