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

From: Robin Hankin <>
Date: Wed 08 Jun 2005 - 08:05:23 GMT

The reason I like .Rd files is that I can run the examples easily and, as Martin points out,
one does not need to learn a new syntax.

How about adding the following to R-exts:

"We encourage the package developer to include a file named foo.package.Rd in the "man"
directory, to provide a terse overview of the foo package. This Rd file is intended to be
the first port of call for a new user of the package, and should provide (or point to)
working examples of the package's functionality. It may also provide details or rationale
for the package's structure, if non-standard; and perhaps document other features of
the package that might escape a new user's notice.

See package foo for an example"

and package.skeleton() could be modified to write a skeleton version of foo.package.Rd
and put it in the man directory.

best wishes everyone


Duncan writes:
> My proposal (modified following the suggestions I've heard so far) is
> as follows:
> - to check that a couple of help topic aliases exist (<pkg>.package
> and <pkg>)
> - to recommend that <pkg>.package contain general information about
> the package, and that <pkg> be an alias for it, if it isn't used for
> some other purpose.
> - to write promptPackage() to help create an initial version of
> <pkg>.package.Rd. It can get some information from the DESCRIPTION
> file; perhaps it could go looking for a vignette, or the INDEX, or
> - to modify the other help system tools to make use of this (e.g. the
> package:<pkg> heading on a page would become a link to the
> <pkg>.package alias, etc.)


> And as much as I do like (and read) the vignettes that are
> available, I also do agree that writing one other *.Rd file is
> easier for many new package authors than to write a
> vignette -- the package author already had to learn *.Rd syntax
> anyway -- and it's nice to be able to produce something where
> hyperlinks to the other existing reference material (ie. help
> pages) just works out of the box.

Duncan again:

> Currently R has 3 types of help: the .Rd files in the man directory
> (which are converted into plain text, HTML, compiled HTML, LaTex, DVI,
> PDF, etc), the vignettes, and unstructured files in inst/doc. We
> currently require .Rd files for every function and data object.
> Adding a requirement to also document the package that way is not all
> that much of a burden, and will automatically give all those output
> formats I listed above. It will help to solve the often-complained
> about problem of packages that contain no overview at all.
> (Requiring a vignette and giving a way to display it would also do
> that, but I think requiring a .Rd file is less of a burden, and for
> anyone who has gone to the trouble of creating a vignette, gives a
> natural place for a link to it. Vignettes aren't used as much as they
> should be, because they are hidden away where users don't see them.)


Robin Hankin
Uncertainty Analyst
National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
European Way, Southampton SO14 3ZH, UK
  tel  023-8059-7743

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Received on Wed Jun 08 18:10:48 2005

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