Go packages in R packages

4 min read

go R package cgo

The logical next step of calling go from R is to have go code (and therefore go packages) in an R package. Most of the tools that we need are available, we can have C (or C++) code in the src/ directory of an R package, and we can call go from C using cgo, it’s all there. It’s just a matter of using these tools correctly, so I’ve played with the idea on the gotest repository. This was not (at least to me) trivial to get everything so I’ve asked help on twitter.

I received a lot of interest and help (both public and private), so I guess I’m on to something. Different people have different reasons to be interested in a language like go. Personally what attracts me is:

  • Clean and simple syntax
  • Concurrency features built into the language and straightforward to use
  • The amazing go standard library

We have this go code we want to use in an R package:

package twice

func Twice(x int) int {
  return 2 * x ;

Pretty simple, the go package twice makes the Twice function available, which takes an int and doubles it. Go packages live in the GOPATH which is typically ~/go, but we want the R package to host the go code, so I’m using the src/go directory of the package as the go path, therefore storing the go packages in src/go/src/. Here is what my src/ directory looks like:

romain@sherlock ~/git/gotest/src $ tree
β”œβ”€β”€ Makevars
β”œβ”€β”€ go
β”‚Β Β  └── src
β”‚Β Β      β”œβ”€β”€ main
β”‚Β Β      β”‚Β Β  β”œβ”€β”€ main.c
β”‚Β Β      β”‚Β Β  └── main.go
β”‚Β Β      └── twice
β”‚Β Β          └── twice.go
β”œβ”€β”€ gotest.h
└── gotest.so

4 directories, 6 files

We have already seen the twice.go file, which lives in the twice directory by convention. Let’s have a look at the other files.

gotest.so is the shared library we build from the go code, this is similar to one that would be built if we had C code like we usually do. In particular, we can declare that we use it with the useDynLib directive in our NAMESPACE and then we call a c function that adheres to the .Call interface, i.e. the relevant R code of the package:

#' @useDynLib gotest
#' @export
godouble <- function(x) {
  .Call("godouble", x, PACKAGE = "gotest")

So we need to build that gotest.so file. That’s typically the job of the Makevars file. Here it is:

.PHONY: go


	rm -f gotest.h
	CGO_CFLAGS=$(CGO_CFLAGS) CGO_LDFLAGS=$(CGO_LDFLAGS) GOPATH=$(GOPATH)  go build -o $(SHLIB) -x -buildmode=c-shared main

Instead of R usually automatic tools that are not aware of go, we can use go build -buildmode=c-shared. It needs some help

  • -o $(SHLIB) so that the shared library takes the place of the shared library R would typically make for the package.
  • main at the end says that we compile the main go package. We’ll see what the main package contains later. Eventually when we have proper tooling in place, I would expect that the content of the main package be automatically generated, similar to the RcppExports.* files in the Rcpp world.
  • We also need to set the CGO_CFLAGS and CGO_LDFLAGS for the compiler and linker flags and the GOPATH. We need information from R to set these variables.

This is what I spent most of my time with. I’ve done this before, but I keep forgetting about these. I found the information in the Makeconf file:

> file.path( R.home(), "etc", "Makeconf" )
[1] "/Library/Frameworks/R.framework/Resources/etc/Makeconf"

Next, let’s look at the main package and its two files main.go and main.c.

The main.go file declares a go function DoubleIt that :

  • calls the Twice function from the twice go package we’ve seen before.
  • is to declared to be exported to C with the //export DoubleIt which is used by cgo through the C pseudo package. // export feels like // [[Rcpp::export]] in the Rcpp world.
package main

import "C"

import "twice"

//export DoubleIt
func DoubleIt(x int) int {
  return twice.Twice(x) ;

func main() {}

The main function is required, but we won’t use it. The main package also contains the main.c file. This is where we define the actual C functions that R will .Call.

#include <R.h>
#include <Rinternals.h>
#include "_cgo_export.h"

SEXP godouble(SEXP x){
  return Rf_ScalarInteger( DoubleIt( INTEGER(x)[0] ) ) ;

This include the R.h and Rinternals.h headers from R, this is possible thanks to the setting of the CGO_CFLAGS variable earlier.

This also include the _cgo_exports.h file, that is automatically generated by go build prior to compiling main.c. The file is later copied into src/gotest.h. In particular the file declares the DoubleIt function.

#ifdef __cplusplus
extern "C" {

extern GoInt DoubleIt(GoInt p0);

#ifdef __cplusplus

Then we can compile, load and use it, for example with

install_github( "rstats-go/gotest")

Cool, yet another way to get 42.