How to use Git with R and RStudio

This tutorial in the context of the Reproducible Research Workshop provides you with the first steps on how to use Git with R and RStudio. (The tutorial was originally created on GitHub and hosted here.)

Objectives of this tutorial:

  • Set up and install Git
  • Set up Git in RStudio
  • Create new Git project in RStudio
  • Clone/fork an existing project from GitHub
  • Make some commits to your own project.


R in combination with the distributed version control system Git provides a convenient setup to make your research project reproducible. Git allows you to track and share your code and analysis.

Some reasons to use version control are:

  • It makes sharing of your projects easy (once it’s setup, you’ll get there)
  • It facilitates collaboration. People can contribute to your project and vice-versa. You can also report errors (bugs) or suggest new additions (features) to projects.
  • You can revert back to a previous version, if you find errors or accidently deleted something.
  • You can see what changes between different versions of your code, analysis or written text!
  • In R it makes sharing of your packages easy. And you can install development packages of others with two lines of code. install.packages("devtools"); devtools::install_github("username/packagename") (Development of R packages is more advanced in R, but is a well-structured way to keep your projects tidy; see: R Packages by Hadley Wickham)

GitHub is a user-friendly webservice that allows you to store your project repository remotely. Alternatives are gitlab and bitbucket.

RStudio integrates support for git, hence we are going to use the widely used combination R + Git + RStudio.

Part 1: Installation and setup

1. Installation: To get started you need the following software installed on your computer: Git and if you are new to R, then you also need to install R and RStudio. Additionally you will also need a GitHub account.

  1. Git (Download Git): Download and install Git, making a note of where on your computer you are install it. Optional Git clients: SourceTree or GitHub Desktop.
  2. R (Download R): Download and Install R (if not already installed).
  3. RStudio (Download RStudio Desktop): Download and Install RStudio (if not already installed)
  4. GitHub account: On GitHub create yourself a free GitHub account. If you are new to Git follow the 15 min TryGit Tutorial to get a quick introduction to Git.

2. Setup Git in RStudio: Tell RStudio where to find the Git installation.

  1. Open RStudio and go to Tools > Global Options… click on Git/SVN
  2. Check Enable version control interface for RStudio projects
  3. Set the path to the Git executable that you just installed. Open a shell, if you don’t know where Git is installed.
    Windows: type where git and hit enter. The path should be something like: C:/Program Files (x86)/Git/bin/git.exe
    Linux/OS X: type which git and hit enter. The path should be something like: /usr/bin/git
  4. Restart RStudio, if it worked out you will find the Git icon on the top toolbar, as shown below.

**Figure 1:** RStudio: Global Options for Git/SVN

3. Setup Git: Configure Git and set your user name and email (the email address you used to register on GitHub). You can directly open the Git prompt from within RStudio. User name and email needs to be set only once. Go to Tools > Shell to open the Git Shell to tell Git your username and GitHub email.

git config --global 'yourGitHubUsername'
git config --global ''

**Figure 2:** RStudio: Git Shell

Part 2: Create a new RStudio project with Git

There are three ways to create version control for a RStudio project.

a) Create a new project and create a local Git repository: Select File > New Project.., create a project from a New Directory and check the option Create a git repository. In order to push to a remote repository later on you add that remote repository by using the Git shell. If you already know which online repository you want to use for your projects, option c) is more convenient.

b) Create a new project from a folder under version control: In this case you only need to create a new RStudio project for that directory and version control is automatically enabled. Go to File > New Project, select create a new project from an Existing Directory and create the project.

c) Create a new project based on a remote Git repository: Select File > New Project.. and from the opening menu select to create a new project from Version Control, Choose Git, then provide the repository url (use the https link of the url if you want to avoid all the ssh trouble) from the the repository you want to clone and create the project.

In this tutorial we create a project based on a remote GitHub repository (option c). Hence we first create a new repository on GitHub and create our GitHub project from that repository.

1. Create a new GitHub repository: Login to your GitHub account and create a new GitHub repository. Give your new repository a short and memorable name e.g. rstudio-git-test, check the option to initialize this repository with a README and create the repository.

**Figure 3:** GitHub: Create a new repository

2. Copy the repository HTTPS url: To create a new Git based project in RStudio, we need the repository url. You find the repository HTTPS url on the just created GitHub project page. There press the button Clone or download and copy the HTTPS link of the project by clicking the little icon to the right of the URL. The link will be something like

**Figure 4:** GitHub: Copy repository HTTPS link

3. Create a new RStudio project with Git version control: Now everything is ready to create a new project with Git version control in RStudio. In RStudio Select File > New Project.., select Version Control, Choose Git, then provide the repository HTTPS link, select the R workspace folder and create the project. RStudio now copies (clone in Git terms) the content of the repository to your project folder. The content of the GitHub repository should now appear in the Files pane of RStudio and you should see there the created

**Figure 5:** RStudio: Create a new Git project

Part 3: Make local changes, commit and push to GitHub

1. Make local changes: Open the file and edit and save the file.

# RR project in RStudio
RR workshop RStudio + Git repository

My first commit to GitHub with R

2. Commit the changes: Now we commit the local changes to the local Git repository.
In RStudio press the Git icon and select Commit.. from Git menu (Ctrl+Alt+M) to open the commit window to review the changes in the repository. In the Staged column we select by checking the checkbox the files we want to commit. The lower pane shows the edits in green and red of the file. Enter a commit message to indicate what has changed in this commit e.g.Readme update and press the Commit button.

**Figure 6:** RStudio: Commit window

3. Push to the remote repository: To push the changes to the remote GitHub repository press the Push button on the upper right corner of the commit window. You will be prompted to enter the username and password of your GitHub account. Enter them and check on the GitHub page if the changes got pushed to your online repository on GitHub.

Now that you successfully pushed your first edits to a remote repository, repeat the above steps with a further file or R script that you create and edit, such as for instance the one below.

# Simple R file
# R example data.frame "cars"
str(cars)     # show the structure
summary(cars) # summary of the variables
plot(cars)    # plot speed against distance

Part 4: Fork a repository

Forking a project allows you to clone a repository on server-side and make it the starting point of your own project. A fork creates a personal copy of another repository. (See also the Github Forking guide)

1. Fork a repository on GitHub: Open and press the fork icon (in the upper right side of the project page) to fork this project to your own github account. On your GitHub page the forked project should appear then in the list of your repositories.
**Figure 7:** GitHub: Fork a repository

2. Copy the HTTPS repository url: from your forked repository (see Part 2 Step 2) 3. Create a new RStudio project with Git like you have already done in part 2 step 3 of this tutorial

You may already have a local repository, like in this tutorial the rstudio-git-test repository, or want to fork your own project (which GitHub interestingly doesn’t provide the options to do so). In this case you need to link your local repository with a (new) remote repository (and remove the old remote repository).

1. Create a new GitHub repository and copy the HTTPS url of the new repository e.g.

2. Set the new remote repository in the Git shell: Open the Git shell from RStudio Tools > Shell.. and type the following commands to set the new remote repository.
Type git remote -v show to show current remote repository to verify the location of the current repository.

git remote set-url origin
git remote add upstream
git push origin master
git push --all

Note: In case push/pull is greyed out in R stackoverflow use git push -f origin master and then git push -u origin master.

Note 2: Use git remote rm origin and git remote rm upstream if you want to remove the remote location from the current git folder. (origin is rather a convention than a command)

Further reading

[1] C. Brunsdon, L. Comber, An Introduction to R for Spatial Analysis & Mapping. London: Sage Publications Ltd, 2015.
[2] J. Paulson, “Version Control with Git and SVN,” 2016. [Online]. Available:
[3] H. Wickham, “Git and GitHub,” R packages, 2015. [Online]. Available:
[4], “tryGit Tutorial.” [Online]. Available: [5] K. Broman, “git/github guid.” [Online]. Available:

TODO check links for usefulness: Terminology Practice tipps