R’s Growth Continues to Accelerate

Each year I update the growth in R’s capability on The Popularity of Data Analysis Software. And each year, I think R’s incredible rate of growth will finally slow down. Below is a graph of the latest data, and as you can see, R’s growth continues to accelerate.

Since I’ve added coverage for many more software packages, I have restructured the main article to reflect the value of each type of data. They now appear in this order:

  • Job Advertisements
  • Scholarly Articles
  • IT Research Firm Reports
  • Surveys of Use
  • Books
  • Blogs
  • Discussion Forum Activity
  • Programming Popularity Measures
  • Sales & Downloads
  • Competition Use
  • Growth in Capability

Growth in Capability remains last because I only have complete data for R. To save you from having to dig through all 40+ pages of the article, the updated section is below. I’ll be updating several other sections in the coming weeks. If you’re interested, you can follow this blog, or follow me on Twitter as @BobMuenchen.

If you haven’t yet learned R, I recommend my books R for SAS and SPSS Users and R for Stata Users. I do R training as well, but that’s booked up through the end of August, so please plan ahead.

Growth in Capability

The capability of analytics software has grown significantly over the years. It would be helpful to be able to plot the growth of each software package’s capabilities, but such data are hard to obtain. John Fox (2009) acquired them for R’s main distribution site http://cran.r-project.org/ for each version of R. To simplify ongoing data collection, I kept only the values for the last version of R released each year (usually in November or December), and collected data through the most recent complete year.

These data are displayed in Figure 10. The right-most point is for version 3.2.3, released 12/10/2015. The growth curve follows a rapid parabolic arc (quadratic fit with R-squared=.995).


Figure 10. Number of R packages available on its main distribution site for the last version released in each year.

To put this astonishing growth in perspective, let us compare it to the most dominant commercial package, SAS. In version, 9.3, SAS contained around 1,200 commands that are roughly equivalent to R functions (procs, functions, etc. in Base, Stat, ETS, HP Forecasting, Graph, IML, Macro, OR, and QC). In 2015, R added 1,357 packages, counting only CRAN, or approximately 27,642 functions. During 2015 alone, R added more functions/procs than SAS Institute has written in its entire history.

Of course while SAS and R commands solve many of the same problems, they are certainly not perfectly equivalent. Some SAS procedures have many more options to control their output than R functions do, so one SAS procedure may be equivalent to many R functions. On the other hand, R functions can nest inside one another, creating nearly infinite combinations. SAS is now out with version 9.4 and I have not repeated the arduous task of recounting its commands. If SAS Institute would provide the figure, I would include it here. While the comparison is far from perfect, it does provide an interesting perspective on the size and growth rate of R.

As rapid as R’s growth has been, these data represent only the main CRAN repository. R has eight other software repositories, such as Bioconductor, that are not included in Fig. 10. A program run on 4/19/2016 counted 11,531 R packages at all major repositories, 8,239 of which were at CRAN. (I excluded the GitHub repository since it contains duplicates to CRAN that I could not easily remove.) So the growth curve for the software at all repositories would be approximately 40% higher on the y-axis than the one shown in Figure 10.

As with any analysis software, individuals also maintain their own separate collections available on their web sites. However, those are not easily counted.

What’s the total number of R functions? The Rdocumentation site shows the latest counts of both packages and functions on CRAN, Bioconductor and GitHub. They indicate that there is an average of 19.78 functions per package. Given the package count of 11,531, as of 4/19/2016 there were approximately 228,103 total functions in R. In total, R has approximately 190 times as many commands as its main commercial competitor, SAS.

This entry was posted in Analytics, Data Science, R, SAS, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to R’s Growth Continues to Accelerate

  1. Bob, Why are you fitting the growth curve with what appears to be a quadratic function (note the tiny uptick at 2002 even though the data are clearly monotonic.)

    I ask because I love to reproduce your figures when I talk about R.

    • muenchen.bob@gmail.com says:

      Hi William,

      I’ll have to admit to being a bit lazy this year. Previous years I tried several growth curve models & quadratic fit it best. This year I did quadratic first & when I saw it explained 99.5% of the variance in growth, I figured that was enough.


Leave a Reply