R Tools for Visual Studio Nears Completion

A release candidate that allows developers to use Visual Studio to develop R apps is the last step prior to its general availability. Plus: An update on Python Tools for VS.

There's a bit of mystery around the R programming language, a language that's aimed at data scientists and those tasked with squeezing meaning from data through statistical and graphical analysis. But new tooling to open up R to the developer masses through the Visual Studio IDE is in the final stages of development with general availability right around the corner: R Tools for Visual Studio.

R is an open source programming language aimed at data scientists and data mining experts who use it to create statistical and graphical computing apps. Microsoft owns a version of R, called Microsoft R, which was a result of an acquisition of Revolution R in early 2015. Microsoft R comes in several flavors, including Client and Server versions, as well as an R Open version (which is, essentially, an open source version).

R Tools for Visual Studio RC1, which is effectively a preview, provides developers with the ability to create R language apps without leaving the comfy confines of the Visual Studio IDE. The team developing it notes in a blog that RTVS will be available for VS 2015 Update 3 Community and higher editions (sorry, VS Express users!), and will work with CRAN, Microsoft R Client and Server, as well as R Open. There are plans to develop a version that can sit on top of Visual Studio Code.

The RC version sports three new features: remote execution, SQL Server integration, and enhanced R graphics support.

The remote execution supports allows for R code to be typed into an RTVS instance, with a remote R server taking over the computations. SQL Server integration support allows for the creation of stored procedures using embedded R code, as well as the capability to make database connections SQL queries directly through RTVS. The enhance graphics support allow for multiple instances of plot windows to be floated or docked, with each windows showing plot history.

To read more, go here. To download and get more information on RTVS, go to the GitHub repository here.

(Editor's Note: Developers interested in data science and the R programming language should check out James McCaffrey's column, The Data Science Lab, at https://visualstudiomagazine.com/Articles/List/The-R-Lab.aspx.)

On another note, the Python engineering team at Microsoft notes in a blog that Python Tools for VS was removed from the most recent VS 2017 RC. Steve Dower, a Microsoft program manager who is responsible for Python tools, notes in a blog that targets for feature completeness was lagging behind the VS 2017 release schedule, currently slated for March 7.

"Specifically, we needed to translate our user interfaces and messages into the set of languages supported by Visual Studio in time for the main release," said Dower. "As anyone who has attempted to provide software with multiple languages will know, this is a unique challenge that requires changes throughout the entire project."

Dower offers more explanation in his blog: "In the past, we released standalone installers to add Python support into Visual Studio. The extensibility changes in VS 2017 made simply going back to a standalone installer expensive, and this work would be thrown away when Python support is integrated directly into Visual Studio."

For now, his team will release a separate preview along with the feature-complete VS 2017 on March 7, with a stable full release a few months later. To read more, see Dower's blog post on the Microsoft Python Engineering page.

About the Author

Michael Domingo is a long-time software publishing veteran, having started up and managed several developer publications for the Clipper compiler, Microsoft Access, and Visual Basic. He's also managed IT pubs for 1105 Media, including Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine and Virtualization Review before landing his current gig as Visual Studio Magazine Editor in Chief. Besides his publishing life, he's a professional photographer, whose work can be found by Googling domingophoto.

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