That's my root partition you're hogging!

Moving R site-library on Unix machines

I recently noticed that my / (root) partition was not so slowly running out of space. This was somewhat alarming as I’d given it a generous 23Gb of SSD space which is surely overkill for a Debian install…

Well it turns out that the culprit was R, more specifically the default site-library located in /usr/local/lib/R/site-library:

$ sudo du -h /usr/local/lib/R/site-library
6.0G	/usr/local/lib/R/site-library/

That’s 6Gb of R packages dominating my root directory, thanks Bioconductor! Actually I’m most likely to blame through my running of R and RStudio via sudo, a bad habit I got into because RStudio was a little ‘quirky’ running as a normal user on Debain (though I haven’t checked this in a while).

After piecing together information from various searches I thought I’d document how I dealt with moving and reassigning this site-library containing the majority of my R packages.

Just a quick note before proceeding, it goes without saying that the use of sudo can be disastrous - you have been warned!

First thing to do is define where you’d like your new ‘main’ or site-library to live. I chose /home as this means that if I ever have to install the OS I’ll still have all of my many R packages (no large downloads is always good).

$ sudo mkdir /home/R/site-library

Next thing is to locate and modify the files that run on R startup, these are commonly referred to as environment files. On my system these reside at /etc/R/Renviron and /etc/R/ respectively.

$ locate Renviron

For more information on these files, and for an in-depth overview of the R startup routine type help(startup) in R, there is a wealth of information.

First file to modify is Renviron (I’ve done this using nano, obviously you have many options to edit text files):

$ sudo nano /etc/R/Renviron

The line we’re most interested in is the one containing R_LIBS_SITE. You’ll notice a series of library paths separated by a :. I replaced the /usr/local/lib/R/site-library path with the newly created ‘/home/R/site-library’. Save and exit.

Next we apply a similar edit to the file:

$ sudo nano /etc/R/

Specifically you want to uncomment (remove the # from the start) the line containing R_LIBS and replace the default path with ‘/home/R/site-library’. Save and exit.

Now that these changes have been made it’s time to copy across all the packages from the default site-library (mine was /usr/local/lib/R/site-library) to the new non-root library:

$ sudo cp -rv /usr/local/lib/R/site-library /home/R/

Note: the cp command above will move the site-library directory and all its contents, hence me leaving site-library off /home/R/

The -rv arguments tell the cp command to copy recursively (all directories and their files) and output verbosely.

With that done it’s time to fire up R and check to see if a) .libPaths() outputs the correct library paths, and b) all the packages are visible and working. I was initially a little worried, even though my .libPaths() looked correct I couldn’t find my packages… Turns out there was a little typo, once corrected everything was working as expected. Nice!

So the last thing to do is to free up all that space on the root partition. I didn’t do this earlier as it’s nice to have a back up plan should something go horribly wrong! If the worst were to happen and I couldn’t get my new library operating I knew all I had to do was return the paths to default in Renviron and However, now we are up and running time to toast that great waste of root space:

$ sudo rm -R /usr/local/lib/R/site-library*

There we have it, much more space on the root partition that eases my drive cleanliness OCD.