Using Visual Studio to develop R for SQL Server 2016

As Microsoft released SQL Server 2016 on June 1, a lot of people are starting to investigate how to write R which will run in SQL Server rather than using their local machine. People who have a background in R will automatically migrate to R Studio, the open source UI that has been around for years, but there may be a reason to switch. Visual Studio 2015 Community is also an open source application which can be used to write R code, which is definitely worth investigating.

Which R tool should I use: R Studio or Visual Studio?

For those people who haven’t made the decision as far as which tool to use, let me offer two compelling reasons to pick Visual Studio [VS] instead of R Studio: Intellisense and Improved Debugging Tools. R studio does not have intellisense and it is not possible to debug your code by stepping through it in the manner that many developers of VS are already quite familiar. You will need to configure VS to use R tools, which are detailed below.

Configuring Visual Studio to Run R

Only Visual Studio 2015 can be configured to use R and you must be using a 64 bit operating system to load R tools. If you have a different version of VS, download it here. The next step is to download VS R Tools and lastly download Microsoft R Open. There are two versions of Microsoft R open, one for R Server 2016, which is the one you want if you plan to integrate R with SQL Server 2016, and the standard version of Microsoft R Open, which does not include any of the R Server features. If you like, you can use either version Microsoft R Open in R Studio as well. The standard version is only available for 64 bit platforms, but does include versions for Windows and various flavors of Linux, including Red Hat, SUSE, and Ubuntu. The R open for Microsoft R Server 2016 can be found here.***Update***On June 6, 2016, Microsoft released a new tool called R client. Installing the version of R found in the client 8.0.3 is required to match the version of R released with SQL Server 2016. It is required to log into Visual Studio to be able to access this R client link.

After the tools have been installed, they appear in VS under R Tools, as shown on my screen below. The VS environment looks no different, with the exception of the new menu item for R Tools. This really isn’t an IDE set up for writing R, yet. Time to fix that.

Visual Studio R Tools

Click on RTools->Data Science Settings and the screen goes from the standard VS screen shown above to anR configured VS environment tailored to writing  R code as it has the specific panes used when writing R, such as R interactive and R Plot.  If you want to move these screens around, or close the start page,  feel free to organize the windows in VS in the same manner as one does  when using VS for other development tasks and languages.

If you have multiple R versions loaded, or you just want to see how it works, go to RTools->Options and look at the R engine entry. This code be pointing to C:\Program Files\R\R-3.3.0 for the open source version of R, C:\Program Files\Microsoft\MRO\r-3.2.4 for the Microsoft Open R. For R with SQL Server 2016, after installing the R Client, the R engine needs to point to C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\130\R_SERVER, assuming you have the developer edition of SQL Server 2016 loaded on your PC. If you change this entry, you will need to restart VS.


After you click ok, it might be a good idea to check the intellisense settings for R. that can be done by going to Go to R Tools-> Editor Options-> Advanced.

Running R in SQL Server 2016

Now that I am using Microsoft’s Version of R, I can use the libraries which allow me to run on the server, which this R code allows me to do. My server name is called MyServer\SQLServer 2016. Notice that I need to put two slashes in my code to be able to connect to the server to be able to get to the SQLServer2016 instance.  To connect can use either a SQL login, or integrated Windows authentication. For this example I am using a SQL Server ID to access the data, and yes I do need to put the password in readable text within my code if I use that option. For Windows authentication, and ODBC account would be needed to connect. The user also needs SQL Server rights granted in order to run R code from within SQL Server. The command rxSetComputeContext(runonServer) changes the location the code will be run from my local machine to SQL Server 2016


# Define the SQL connection string
connStr <- "Driver=SQL Server;Server=MYSERVER\\SQLSERVER2016;Database=Review;Uid=ReadData;Pwd=P@$$word"

# Set ComputeContext.
sqlShareDir <- paste("C:\\AllShare\\", Sys.getenv("USERNAME"), sep = "")
sqlWait <- TRUE
sqlConsoleOutput <- FALSE
runonServer <-  RxInSqlServer(connectionString = connStr, shareDir = sqlShareDir,
                    wait = sqlWait, consoleOutput = sqlConsoleOutput)

As this post hardly scratches the surface of running R code on SQL Server, I intend to cover more in greater detail in a later post. Please subscribe to my blog to be notified when my later post with more information on the specific coding techniques unique to running R in SQL Server 2016.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur

One comment on “Using Visual Studio to develop R for SQL Server 2016

  1. Pingback: R For The Microsoft Developer – Curated SQL

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