Re: [Rd] Suggestion: help(<package name>)

From: Duncan Murdoch <>
Date: Tue 07 Jun 2005 - 15:22:05 GMT

On 6/7/2005 11:12 AM, Robert Gentleman wrote:

> Robin Hankin wrote:

>> My 0.02:
>> I use Misc.Rd for the purpose that Duncan suggests. I put things like
>> details and rationale for package
>> organization, pointers to the most important function(s) in the
>> package, and perhaps function descriptors
>> for ubiquitous functions that don't warrant their own helppage, but need
>> documentation [in
>> the case of gsl, this would be strictify() and process.args(), which
>> every user needs to know].
>> It would be *great* to be required to put in "package.gsl.R" (or should
>> that be "gsl.package.Rd"?)
>> for this purpose. Then maybe R CMD check could check for its presence
>> and throw a wobbly
>> if it isn't there.
> Hi,
>   Well, I pretty strenuously object. That is just what vignettes are for 
> and the last thing I need is more wobbly's from R CMD check.
> Function documentation should document functions. If you want to 
> document something more substantial then please use the tools already 
> provided to do that - and if you don't want to, and you want to make use 
> of the tools for function documentation in some other way please don't 
> try to impose your version of what should happen on others.

The current .Rd files don't just document functions, they also document data objects and classes.

But the main point here is that it's not good to have multiple disconnected sets of documentation for a package. Users should be able to say the equivalent of "give me help on foo", and get help on foo, whether it's a function, a data object, a package, a method, a class, or whatever. It's a bad design to force them to ask for the same sort of thing in different ways depending on the type of thing they're asking for.

If we had a way to link vignettes into the help system, then I'd think it would be perfectly acceptable for ?package to pop up a vignette for the package. However, right now we have too many different types of ways to display help, and not all of them are capable of displaying vignettes.

Duncan Murdoch

> Best wishes
>    Robert

>> Some packages have so much material that it's difficult to know where
>> the "meat" of the functionality lies,
>> and Duncan's suggestion would help greatly in these circumstances.
>> best wishes
>> rksh
>> On Jun 7, 2005, at 01:11 pm, Duncan Murdoch wrote:
>>> Kurt Hornik wrote:
>>>>>>>>> Henrik Bengtsson writes:
>>>>> Hi,
>>>>> I would like to suggest a standard where all packages provide an Rd 
>>>>> page with the same name (or aliased) as the name of package so that 
>>>>> help(<package name>) or ?<package name> is always here. This 
>>>>> especially of interest to large packages with a large package index. 
>>>>> This page could explain the package in general and gives some hints 
>>>>> on how to start - not like extensive vignettes, but just to get 
>>>>> started, e.g. list the "most important" functions.  This page could 
>>>>> typically contain information that is in the DESCRIPTION file (which 
>>>>> contains valuable information hardly every accessed by a general 
>>>>> user), such as who is the maintainer, how to report bugs and so on.
>>> I think this is a good idea.  One minor problem is that for some 
>>> packages that topic name is already in use for a function (e.g. boot). 
>>> For that reason, I'd suggest that there *also* be an alias called 
>>> "package.<package name>", and the <package name> topic should link to it.
>>>> How would this be different from the results of
>>>>     help(package = <package name>)
>>>> ?
>>> 1.  It would work with ?, like other help topics.
>>> 2.  It would give an overview.  It's possible to do that in 
>>> DESCRIPTION or INDEX, but you don't get the same style as for other 
>>> help files (e.g. no links to other topics, at least in Windows).
>>> We should work out what the topic headings should be and extend 
>>> package.skeleton() and prompt() to write a bare-bones file that 
>>> suggests the questions that need to be answered in the file.  The 
>>> headings I'd suggest are:
>>> \name
>>> \title
>>> \alias
>>> \description (longer than the typical entry in the DESCRIPTION file)
>>> \details (Should give a short guide to the main functions, should 
>>> point out the existence of external documentation like vignettes, etc.)
>>> \author (could also describe maintainer, if different)
>>> \references
>>> \seealso (Should give references to related packages)
>>> \examples
>>> \keywords
>>> There is some duplication of material from DESCRIPTION, but usually 
>>> this should be longer and more reader-friendly than that file.
>>> I'd be happy to write the description of this in R Extensions, and 
>>> write the changes to prompt(), if we have agreement that this file 
>>> should be mandatory in 2.2.x or 2.3.x, and you'll write the checks for 
>>> it.  (I think the check should just be for existence of aliases 
>>> <package name> and package.<package name>, and could perhaps just give 
>>> a warning in 2.2.x.)
>>> Duncan Murdoch
>>> ______________________________________________
>>> mailing list

>> --
>> Robin Hankin
>> Uncertainty Analyst
>> National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
>> European Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH, UK
>> tel 023-8059-7743
>> ______________________________________________
>> mailing list
>> mailing list Received on Wed Jun 08 01:37:05 2005

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