My good friend (and former classmate) Rahul Sangole has a great blog post about setting up Docker & R and why he did it. It really boils down to a couple different things: reproducibility and having a consistent development environment. As a data scientist, I cannot stress the importance of reproducibility. If you can’t reproduce your results/analyses (nor can anyone else), then suffice to say, that’s a bad thing!

Anyways, I ran into some issues running Rahul’s Dockerfile. Specifically, I couldn’t get blogdown to work with my blog. I’m not sure if that was by design, but I wanted to “amend” his blog post with a few of my own points:

  • using binaries instead of source files for R packages
  • using RStudio’s Package Manager instead of MRAN
  • installing Hugo (with blogdown) during the Docker image creation

For reference, here’s a link to my Dockerfile.

Source vs. Binary

This is a key concept that I think most users going down the Docker and R path should be aware of. Simply put, a “binary” is already compiled for a given system and a “source” is not. Think of the “source” file like a set-up file that will need to be installed. On the other hand, a “binary” is the whole package that does not require installation (think copy & paste of the package). Hence, when compiling a Docker image, using “binary” files as much as possible will help speed up the creation time.

Since binary files are already compiled for a particular system, it’s critical that you know which system you are using. For example, binary R packages constructed for Ubuntu Xenial will NOT work for RedHat.

MRAN vs. RStudio Package Manager

As Rahul points out in his blog, he uses MRAN - Microsoft’s solution to ‘archiving’ the activity they see on CRAN. I’m not 100% certain, but I don’t think MRAN has binaries available for the different R packages. On the other hand, RStudio’s Package Manager has both. Furthermore, RStudio Package Manager also has ‘snapshots’ similar to MRAN for particular days. While MRAN is more comprehensive and uses actual dates in their URL, RStudio does offer a compelling alternative.

Installing Hugo

This one took me a while to figure out, but the end solution was much simpler than the rabbit holes I went down. Basically, I just need to have blogdown install it for me after it (blogdown) was installed.

WORKDIR /home/rstudio/bin/
RUN R -e "options(blogdown.hugo.dir = '/home/rstudio/bin'); blogdown::install_hugo(version = '0.70.0')"

The WORKDIR argument is key as it creates that folder location and sets the working directory to it. This is the location where the function blogdown::install_hugo() will install to.


This Dockerfile creates an image that works on my machine quite well. I also was able to get it to work on my work machine. I am a bit troubled at the overall size of the Docker image - which for me was a bit over 5 GB.