Chapter 3 Installing R under Windows

The bin/windows directory of a CRAN site contains binaries for a base distribution and a large number of add-on packages from CRAN to run on 32- or 64-bit Windows (Windows 7 and later are tested; XP is known to fail some tests) on ‘ix86’ and ‘x86_64’ CPUs.

Your file system must allow long file names (as is likely except perhaps for some network-mounted systems). If it doesn’t also support conversion to short name equivalents (a.k.a. DOS 8.3 names), then R must be installed in a path that does not contain spaces.

Installation is via the installer R-3.4.2-win.exe. Just double-click on the icon and follow the instructions. When installing on a 64-bit version of Windows the options will include 32- or 64-bit versions of R (and the default is to install both). You can uninstall R from the Control Panel.

Note that you will be asked to choose a language for installation, and that choice applies to both installation and un-installation but not to running R itself.

See the R Windows FAQ for more details on the binary installer.

3.1 Building from source

R can be built as either a 32-bit or 64-bit application on Windows: to build the 64-bit application you need a 64-bit edition of Windows: such an OS can also be used to build 32-bit R.

The standard installer combines 32-bit and 64-bit builds into a single executable which can then be installed into the same location and share all the files except the .exe and .dll files and some configuration files in the etc directory.

Building is only tested in a 8-bit locale: using a multi-byte locale (as used for CJK languages) is unsupported and may not work (the scripts do try to select a ‘C’ locale; Windows may not honour this).

NB: The build process is currently being changed to require external binary distributions of third-party software. Their location is set using macro EXT_LIBS with default setting $(LOCAL_SOFT); the $(LOCAL_SOFT) macro defaults to $(R_HOME)/extsoft. This directory can be populated using make rsync-extsoft. The location can be overridden by setting EXT_LIBS to a different path in src/gnuwin32/MkRules.local. A suitable collection of files can also be obtained from or

3.1.1 Getting the tools

If you want to build R from the sources, you will first need to collect, install and test an extensive set of tools. See The Windows toolset (and perhaps updates in for details.

The Rtools*.exe executable installer described in The Windows toolset also includes some source files in addition to the R source as noted below. You should run it first, to obtain a working tar and other necessities. Choose a “Full installation”, and install the extra files into your intended R source directory, e.g. C:/R. The directory name should not contain spaces. We will call this directory R_HOME below.

3.1.2 Getting the source files

You need to collect the following sets of files:

  • Get the R source code tarball R-3.4.2.tar.gz from CRAN. Open a command window (or another shell) at directory R_HOME, and run

    tar -xf R-3.4.2.tar.gz

    to create the source tree in R_HOME. Beware: do use tar to extract the sources rather than tools such as WinZip. If you are using an account with administrative privileges you may get a lot of messages which can be suppressed by

    tar --no-same-owner -xf R-3.4.2.tar.gz

    or perhaps better, set the environment variable TAR_OPTIONS to the value ‘–no-same-owner –no-same-permissions’.

    It is also possible to obtain the source code using Subversion; see Obtaining R for details.

  • If you are not using a tarball you need to obtain copies of the recommended packages from CRAN. Put the .tar.gz files in R_HOME/src/library/Recommended and run make link-recommended. If you have an Internet connection, you can do this automatically by running in R_HOME/src/gnuwin32
    make rsync-recommended
  • The binary distributions of external software. Download

    (or a more recent version if appropriate), create an empty directory, say c:/R/extsoft, and unpack it in that directory by e.g.

    unzip -d c:/R/extsoft
  • Make a local copy of the configuration rules by

    cd R_HOME/src/gnuwin32
    cp MkRules.dist MkRules.local

    and edit MkRules.local, uncommenting EXT_LIBS and setting it to the appropriate path (in our example c:/R/extsoft).

    Look through the file MkRules.local and make any other changes needed: in particular, this is where a 64-bit build is selected and the locations are set of external software for ICU collation and the cairo-based devices.

The following additional item is normally installed by Rtools*.exe. If instead you choose to do a completely manual build you will also need

  • The Tcl/Tk support files are contained in Rtools*.exe. Please make sure you install the right version: there is a 32-bit version and a 64-bit version. They should be installed to R_HOME, creating directory Tcl there.

3.1.3 Building the core files

Set the environment variable TMPDIR to the absolute path to a writable directory, with a path specified with forward slashes and no spaces. (The default is /tmp, which may not be useful on Windows.)

You may need to compile under a case-honouring file system: we found that a samba-mounted file system (which maps all file names to lower case) did not work.

Open a command window at R_HOME/src/gnuwin32, then run

make all recommended vignettes

and sit back and wait while the basic compile takes place.


  • We have had reports that earlier versions of anti-virus software locking up the machine, but not for several years. However, aggressive anti-virus checking such as the on-access scanning of Sophos can slow the build down several-fold.
  • You can run a parallel make by e.g.

    make -j4 all
    make -j4 recommended
    make vignettes

    but this is only likely to be worthwhile on a multi-core machine with ample memory, and is not 100% reliable.

  • It is possible (mainly for those working on R itself) to set the (make or environment) variable R_NO_BASE_COMPILE to a non-empty value, which inhibits the byte-compilation of the base and recommended packages.

3.1.4 Building the cairo devices

The devices based on cairographics (svg, cairo_pdf, cairo_ps and the type = “cairo” versions of png, jpeg, tiff and bmp) are implemented in a separate DLL winCairo.dll which is loaded when one of these devices is first used. It is not built by default, and needs to be built (after make all) by make cairodevices.

To enable the building of these devices you need to install the static cairographics libraries built by Simon Urbanek at Set the macro ‘CAIRO_HOME’ in MkRules.local. (Note that this tarball unpacks with a top-level directory src/: ‘CAIRO_HOME’ needs to include that directory in its path.)

3.1.5 Using ICU for collation

It is recommended to build R to support ICU (International Components for Unicode, for collation, as is commonly done on Unix-alikes.

Two settings are needed in MkRules.local,

# set to use ICU
# path to parent of ICU headers
ICU_PATH = /path/to/ICU

The first should be uncommented and the second set to the top-level directory of a suitably packaged binary build of ICU, for example that at Depending on the build, it may be necessary to edit the macro ICU_LIBS.

Unlike on a Unix-alike, it is normally necessary to call icuSetCollate to set a locale before ICU is actually used for collation, or set the environment variable R_ICU_LOCALE.

3.1.6 Support for libcurl

libcurl version 7.28.0 or later is used to support curlGetHeaders and the “libcurl” methods of download.file and url.

A suitable distribution can be found via and its unpacked location should be specified in file MkRules.local.

For secure use of e.g. ‘https://’ URLs Windows users may need to specify the path to up-to-date CA root certificates: see ?download.file.

3.1.7 Checking the build

You can test a build by running

make check

The recommended packages can be checked by

make check-recommended

Other levels of checking are

make check-devel

for a more thorough check of the R functionality, and

make check-all

for both check-devel and check-recommended.

If a test fails, there will almost always be a file in the directory being checked (often tests/Examples or tests): examine the file to help pinpoint the problem.

Parallel checking of package sources (part of make check-devel and make check-recommended) is possible: see the environment variable TEST_MC_CORES to the maximum number of processes to be run in parallel.

3.1.8 Building the manuals

The PDF manuals require texinfo 5.1 or later, and can be made by

make manuals

If you want to make the info versions (not including the Reference Manual), use

cd ../../doc/manual
make -f info

(all assuming you have pdftex/pdflatex installed and in your path).

See the Making the manuals section in the Unix-alike section for setting options such as the paper size and the fonts used.

By default it is assumed that texinfo is not installed, and the manuals will not be built. The comments in file MkRules.dist describe settings to build them. (Copy that file to MkRules.local and edit it.) The texinfo 5.x package for use on Windows is available at you will also need to install Perl16

3.1.9 Building the Inno Setup installer

You need to have the files for a complete R build, including bitmap and Tcl/Tk support and the manuals (which requires texinfo installed), as well as the recommended packages and Inno Setup (see The Inno Setup installer).

Once everything is set up

make distribution
make check-all

will make all the pieces and the installer and put them in the gnuwin32/cran subdirectory, then check the build. This works by building all the parts in the sequence:

rbuild (the executables, the FAQ docs etc.)
rpackages (the base packages)
htmldocs (the HTML documentation)
cairodevices (the cairo-based graphics devices)
recommended (the recommended packages)
vignettes (the vignettes in base packages:
       only needed if building from an svn checkout)
manuals (the PDF manuals)
rinstaller (the install program)
crandir (the CRAN distribution directory, only for 64-bit builds)

The parts can be made individually if a full build is not needed, but earlier parts must be built before later ones. (The Makefile doesn’t enforce this dependency—some build targets force a lot of computation even if all files are up to date.) The first four targets are the default build if just make (or make all) is run.

Parallel make is not supported and likely to fail.

If you want to customize the installation by adding extra packages, replace make rinstaller by something like

make rinstaller EXTRA_PKGS='pkg1 pkg2 pkg3'

An alternative way to customize the installer starting with a binary distribution is to first make an installation of R from the standard installer, then add packages and make other customizations to that installation. Then (after having customized file MkRules, possibly via MkRules.local, and having made R in the source tree) in src/gnuwin32/installer run

make myR IMAGEDIR=rootdir

where rootdir is the path to the root of the customized installation (in double quotes if it contains spaces or backslashes).

Both methods create an executable with a standard name such as R-3.4.2-win.exe, so please rename it to indicate that it is customized. If you intend to distribute a customized installer please do check that license requirements are met – note that the installer will state that the contents are distributed under GPL and this has a requirement for you to supply the complete sources (including the R sources even if you started with a binary distribution of R, and also the sources of any extra packages (including their external software) which are included).

The defaults for the startup parameters may also be customized. For example

make myR IMAGEDIR=rootdir MDISDI=1

will create an installer that defaults to installing R to run in SDI mode. See src/gnuwin32/installer/Makefile for the names and values that can be set.

The standard CRAN distribution of a 32/64-bit installer is made by first building 32-bit R (just

make 32-bit

is needed), and then (in a separate directory) building 64-bit R with the macro HOME32 set in file MkRules.local to the top-level directory of the 32-bit build. Then the make rinstaller step copies the files that differ between architectures from the 32-bit build as it builds the installer image.

3.1.10 Building the MSI installer

It is also possible to build an installer for use with Microsoft Installer. This is intended for use by sysadmins doing automated installs, and is not recommended for casual use.

It makes use of the Windows Installer XML (WiX) toolkit version 3.5 (or perhaps later, untested) available from Once WiX is installed, set the path to its home directory in MkRules.local.

You need to have the files for a complete R build, including bitmap and Tcl/Tk support and the manuals, as well as the recommended packages. There is no option in the installer to customize startup options, so edit etc/Rconsole and etc/ to set these as required. Then

cd installer
make msi

which will result in a file with a name like R-3.4.2-win32.msi. This can be double-clicked to be installed, but those who need it will know what to do with it (usually by running msiexec /i with additional options). Properties that users might want to set from the msiexec command line include ‘ALLUSERS’, ‘INSTALLDIR’ (something like c:Files-3.4.2) and ‘RMENU’ (the path to the ‘R’ folder on the start menu) and ‘STARTDIR’ (the starting directory for R shortcuts, defaulting to something like c:).

The MSI installer can be built both from a 32-bit build of R (R-3.4.2-win32.msi) and from a 64-bit build of R (R-3.4.2-win64.msi, optionally including 32-bit files by setting the macro HOME32, when the name is R-3.4.2-win.msi). Unlike the main installer, a 64-bit MSI installer can only be run on 64-bit Windows.

Thanks to David del Campo (Dept of Statistics, University of Oxford) for suggesting WiX and building a prototype installer.

3.1.11 64-bit Windows builds

To build a 64-bit version of R you need a 64-bit toolchain: the only one discussed here is based on the work of the MinGW-w64 project (, but commercial compilers such as those from Intel and PGI could be used (and have been by R redistributors).

Support for MinGW-w64 was developed in the R sources over the period 2008–10 and was first released as part of R 2.11.0. The assistance of Yu Gong at a crucial step in porting R to MinGW-w64 is gratefully acknowledged, as well as help from Kai Tietz, the lead developer of the MinGW-w64 project.

Windows 64-bit is now completely integrated into the R and package build systems: a 64-bit build is selected in file MkRules.local.

3.2 Testing an Installation

The Windows installer contains a set of test files used when building R.

The Rtools are not needed to run these tests. but more comprehensive analysis of errors will be given if diff is in the path (and errorsAreFatal = FALSE is then not needed below).

Launch either Rgui or Rterm, preferably with –vanilla. Then run

Sys.setenv(LC_COLLATE = "C", LANGUAGE = "en")
testInstalledPackages(scope = "base", errorsAreFatal = FALSE)
testInstalledPackages(scope = "recommended", errorsAreFatal = FALSE)

runs the basic tests and then all the tests on the standard and recommended packages. These tests can be run from anywhere: they write some of their results in the tests folder of the R home directory (as given by R.home()), and hence may need to be run under the account used to install R.

The results of example(md5sums) when testing tools will differ from the reference output as some files are installed with Windows’ CRLF line endings.