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August 28, 2019

R Backers Tout Funding Milestone, Seek Comeback

George Leopold

Reports of the demise of R as a programming language are exaggerated, according to community leaders, who note the R Foundation has so far approved the distribution of grants and sponsorships totaling $1 million.

The milestone reported this week follows days after a report in a closely watched industry index showed the Python language growing in popularity among data science programmers at the expense of R, which slipped another two places in August rankings, down 14 percent.

Not so fast, say backers of the statistical computing and graphics programming language, who announced the million-dollar milestone on Thursday (Aug. 28). As it gears up for its fall grant application cycle, the R Consortium said grant and sponsorship recipients include development of a centralized tool called R-hub used to check R packages consisting of functions, compliant code and sample data.

R-hub is “a multi-platform build-and-check service for R packages, free to use for everyone in the R community,” said Gábor Csárdi, software engineer at RStudio as well as R-hub author and maintainer.

R-hub currently supports 20 platforms running on Linux as well as macOS, Windows and Solaris. It also contains more than 3,000 different R packages, Csárdi said.

Another project funds a tool called Testing DBI designed to improve open-source database backends.

“The goal of the R Consortium is to strengthen the R community by improving infrastructure and building for long term stability,” said Hadley Wickham, chairman of the R Consortium’s Infrastructure Steering Committee. “The grants help support important projects that impact many R users through better software and stronger communities.”

A full list of funded R projects is here.

The R Consortium will begin accepting new grant proposals in September.

Efforts to revive the R programming language face an uphill battle. As we reported earlier this month, Python usage has surged over the past year, mostly at the expense of R and Perl. The TIOBE Index, which primarily tracks search engine activity, ranked Python as the third most popular programming language.

R, by contrast, fell from eighth place in January 2018 to No. 20 in the TIOBE rankings. At its peak in January 2018, R had a popularity rating of about 2.6 percent. Since then, R has dropped to 0.8 percent, according to the TIOBE index.

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