Using the RStudio image

Carl Boettiger edited this page Jan 4, 2017 · 9 revisions

Getting started

Here we outline how to use the rstudio image, which enables you to use RStudio in your browser via docker. These instructions also apply to using RStudio via the hadleyverse and ropensci images, just replace rocker/rstudio with rocker/hadleyverse or rocker/ropensci in the examples below.

Install the most current version of docker software as indicated for your platform. Mac or Windows users will need to download and install The Docker Toolbox, which creates a small virtual machine called. These users will have to launch a terminal first (eg. from a desktop shortcut) and then enter docker commands in shown in the resulting window. Linux users (on either local or remote/cloud platforms) can simply enter these commands into a terminal once docker is installed.

Note: RStudio requires docker version >= 1.2 Some Linux repositories may have only older versions available, to ensure you get the latest version run curl -sSL | sudo sh. Fresh installs of the Docker Toolkit on Mac/Windows following the instructions above should be fine.

Before we begin, Mac/Windows users should first take note of the ip address assigned by docker-machine, the VM manager in the Docker Toolkit. To find this address, open a regular terminal window and run the command:

docker-machine ls

which will show the VMs currently running on your machine, perhaps looking something like:

NAME      ACTIVE   DRIVER       STATE     URL                         SWARM   ERRORS
default   -        virtualbox   Running   tcp:// 

then do

docker-machine ip default

which should return an ip address. Keep this window open or make a note of the ip address because we'll need it later. Linux users can just use http://localhost or the IP address of their remote server.

Running RStudio Server

  1. From the docker window, run:
sudo docker run -d -p 8787:8787 rocker/rstudio

That will take a while to download the image the first time you run it. Linux users might want to add their user to the docker group to avoid having to use sudo. To do so, just run sudo usermod -a -G docker <username>. You may need to login again to refresh your group membership. (Mac and Windows users do not need to use sudo.)

  1. Once the download is finished RStudio-Server will launch invisibly. To connect to it, open a browser and enter in the ip address noted above followed by :8787, e.g., and you should be greeted by the RStudio welcome screen. Log in using:
  • username: rstudio
  • password: rstudio

and you should be able to work with RStudio in your browser in much the same way as you would on your desktop.

Folder sharing

To share files and folders between your docker image and your host OS you can use the -v option. This acts much like running RStudio in the working directory. More detailed instructions on running docker with folder sharing can be found on this wiki page.

Custom use

  • To customize the username and password: (important for publicly hosted/cloud instances)
docker run -d -p 8787:8787 -e USER=<username> -e PASSWORD=<password> rocker/rstudio
  • Launch an R terminal session instead of using RStudio. While not strictly necessary, we recommend always running interactive sessions with --user rstudio to avoid working as root. This is primarily a concern if you are linking local volumes (see below).
docker run --rm -it --user rstudio rocker/rstudio /usr/bin/R
  • You can also launch a plain bash session
docker run --rm -it --user rstudio rocker/rstudio /bin/bash

Enable root

By default, the RStudio user does not have access to root, such that users cannot install binary libraries with apt-get without first entering the container (see docker exec as described below). To enable root from within RStudio, launch the container with the flag -e ROOT=TRUE, e.g.

docker run -d -p 8787:8787 -e ROOT=TRUE rocker/rstudio

You can now open a shell from RStudio (see the "Tools" menu), or directly from the R console using system(), e.g.

system("sudo apt-get install -y libgsl0-dev")

(Note that the system() commands are non-interactive, hence the -y flag to accept the install.)

Multiple users

Once your RStudio-server instance is up and running on a publicly accessible web server, you may want to allow other users (such as collaborators or students) to access the same instance as well. The default configuration declares only a single user. Assuming that your container is already up and running with Docker version >= 1.3, you can use the following command to log into the running container:

docker exec -it <container-id> bash

where <container-id> is the container name or id assigned to your running RStudio instance (see docker ps). We can now do the usual linux root administration steps to add new users and passwords, e.g. run:

adduser <username>

to interactively create each new user and password (adding user contact details in the prompt is optional). You can then exit the prompt (type exit); your RStudio container is still running and now has the new users added.

Note: you should not link any shared volumes to the host on a container in which you are configuring multiple users.

Dependencies external to the R system

Many R packages have dependencies external to R, for example GSL, GDAL, JAGS and so on. To install these on a running rocker container you need to go to the docker command line and type the following:

docker ps # find the ID of the running container you want to add a package to
docker exec -it <container-id> bash # a docker command to start a bash shell in your container
apt-get install libgsl0-dev # install the package, in this case GSL

The apt-get install line is a Debian command, and if you want to install library foo, the thing to install usually takes the form libfoo-dev.

Note: If you get an error such as "E: The value 'testing' is invalid for APT::Default-Release as such a release is not available in the sources", you should run apt-get update. In general with docker images you are expected to run apt-get update before installing.


Known Issues

The rstudio-based images will not on Centos-based systems that have installed docker from the default Centos repository. To work around this, add the option -v /run to your docker run command, or install Docker using the official version from See Issue #202 for more information.


Using docker via boot2docker can be a slightly less smooth experience than using docker on Linux. General strategies for making it work include:

  • Deleting the .boot2docker, .VirtualBox and VirtualBox VMs folders (take care to preserve your other VM images unrelated to boot2docker, if any). They will be replaced with new copies when you next run boot2docker.
  • Downgrading your version of Oracle VirtualBox to an earlier version. We've had success with VirtualBox 4.3.12 with boot2docker 1.3.0 on Windows 7.
  • If boot2docker is running ok but you get a connection error when trying to access RStudio in your browser, try quitting boot2docker, opening a regular terminal window and running boot2docker ssh -L 8787:localhost:8787 to force a port open, then run sudo docker run -d -p 8787:8787 rocker/rstudio and then point your browser to http://localhost:8787
  • If none of that helps, ask a question to the maintainers of this repository or on StackOverflow
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