Difficulty: intermediate
Estimated Time: 15 minutesd

This class gives you a quick introduction to using the R statistical language as an embedded langauge in PostgreSQL. The database has already been started and R has been installed into the learning environment as well.

While it is not required, it would probably be helpful to do the class on functions in PostgreSQL before doing this class.

Here are the details on the database we are connecting to:

  1. Username: groot
  2. Password: password (same password for the postgres user as well)
  3. A database named: workshop

We will not be going in depth on R or R in PostgreSQL. We are just going to cover enough to whet your appetite.

Final Notes

The only way to truly learn this technology is to play/experiment/use it for a while. You have all the tools you need - do it!

And with that, we are finished.

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Quick Introduction to Pl/R in PostgreSQL

Step 1 of 2

PL/R, Intro to R in PostgreSQL

Using R Inside Postgresql

R is a FOSS statistical language that is well know in the data analysis and statistical fields. It is a specialized programming language that is focused on statistical work and visualization. It does have a syntax that is different than most other programming languages and it really good at doing matrix and vector calculations. Analysis that would take the inclusion of numerous specialized libraries and many lines of code are simple and concise in R.

For example, here is how you tell R to calculate correlation between cost of a car and years the car lasts

corr(car_data$car_cost, car_data$car_lasts)

and then solve a regression where years of life for the car is directly affected by cost of the car:

lm(car_lasts ~ car_cost, data = car_data)

Here lm stands for linear model (another name for linear regression). The output would show you the intercept and slope and it is quite easy to get summary statistics on the model as well.

Having this language embedded within your database is extremely powerful. We have can have our analysis routines living right next to the data. No need to move it across the wire and then run the analysis. Now we also can use R in functions (stored procedures and by extension, trigger). This means we as the data scientist can write the linear regression as a function that is triggered to update the results every time there is a new data entry. Then we can expose that to application developers as a simple function that they can call in their sql like:

SELECT my_r_regression()

and get back the slope, intercept, and any other summary stats you want to give them. Data scientists and statisticians can feel comfortable that the correct analysis is being done without anyone changing their methods. Application developers are excited because they get just the answers they want without having to figure out how to code it themselves or use yet another programming language.

Use R a little

We installed R on your machines, so let's start by showing you the simplest flow possible.

  1. Write 2x2 in R function
  2. Take the function and make it a function in Postgresql
  3. Call it and see the amazing results

After this we will quickly do the linear regression we talked about earlier.

To start R just type:


at the terminal.

Now to do 2x2 you just do:


and hit enter. Wow, amazing right ;)

To quite R just type:


and say N when it asks if you want to save your workspace. A workspace is just as it sounds - in your profile it will store your command history and data you may have output.

Stored Procedures and Functions in R

Stored procedures and functions allow you to write code, embed it into the database, and then be called the same as other normal database functions. A stored procedure is the same as a stored function except the procedure does not return anything.

There are many languages you can use to write a stored function in Postgresql, but today we will be working with R. If you go look at that list you will notice many of those languages can interact with the Operating System. That is why, in general, most languages are treated as untrusted. Since stored functions execute with the OS privileges of the Postgres user - you don't want just anyone writing stored functions unless they are using a trusted language.

What this means for development.

Our proposed workflow for development, which will we do below, is to allow the language to be trusted only in the development environment. In this way developers can make their own functions, iterate them, and get them working correctly. Then , when it's time to go to production, someone with DB superuser privileges can transfer the function to the production database . This will involve tracking changes to function and having a migration procedure but the extra work is well worth it given the alternative.

Again - make the language trusted in your development environment NOT your production environment.

Here is the overview documentation on stored functions and here is the reference doc on how to create a stored function or a stored procedure.

Putting R in PostgreSQL

We already installed the R language (PL/R) into PostgreSQL for you, so let's get started.

First we need to make PL/R a trusted language - this has to be done as the postgres user:

psql -U postgres -h localhost workshop

The password will be "password" just like the user groot.

Now update the language status:

UPDATE pg_language SET lanpltrusted = true WHERE lanname LIKE 'plr';

Now logout:


Changing the language status only has to happen once in the lifetime of the database.

Now log back in as normal user groot.

psql -U groot -h localhost workshop

and then enter the following command:

    result <- 2*2
$$ LANGUAGE 'plr';
  1. We name our function two_times_two
  2. We are not accepting any input, hence the ()
  3. We are going to return an integer
  4. Everything between the set of $$s is the actual function
  5. We declare that the function uses the language extension PL/R.

and now let's call our highly technical new function:

select two_times_two();

Wrap up

Ok now that we have R working as a language in PostgreSQL let's do more interesting things!