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Creative Use of R: Downloading Course Lectures

During the August 2016 run of R Programming, a student asked whether all of the lectures were available in a single tar or zip file. As far as I know, the lectures aren't available for bulk download in a format that can be subsequently accessed on a local disk drive.

I thought it might be useful to show how one could use R to download the files, since it does have capabilities to download data files in a variety of formats, and the example would be a good illustration of techniques students will need in Getting and Cleaning Data and Reproducible Research.

The function downloadLectures() can be used to download files in a binary format, given a URL. We created function arguments for a list of files, and a prefix to add to each file that is downloaded.

# download lectures, requires curl package

downloadLectures<- function(fileList,courseName="rProgramming prework") {
     # configure set download method for windows vs. Mac / Linux
     dlMethod <- "curl"
     if(substr(Sys.getenv("OS"),1,7) == "Windows") dlMethod <- "wininet"
     for (i in 1:length(fileList)) {
          outFile <- paste(courseName,"_lecture_",sprintf("%03d.mp4",i),sep="")


To execute the function, simply build a list of URLs at which the videos are stored, source, and call the downloadLectures() function.

# run downloadLectures() for video to install R on a Mac
theFiles <- c(

The files will be downloaded to the R Working Directory. Once we've executed the function, we can check the files we've downloaded to ensure they work with an MP4 player.

Next, open the selected file with a video player.

Here is what the selected video looks like in Quick Time.

Ideas for enhancing this code on your own:

  1. Add code to downloadLectures() to zip / tar the files once they've all been downloaded.
  2. Add code to distinguish one week's lectures from another, enabling the function to download all the lectures for a course in a single function call.