Access the curses library from R.

Little known to even many programmers, the curses library in Unix-family systems (Linux, Mac, etc.) forms the basis for a number of popular text-based applications, such as the vim and emacs text editors.

For instance, in vim, hitting the 'j' key causes the screen cursor to move down one line. The proper call to the curses library makes this happen.

The ncurses implementation of the curses API is written in C, but interfaces from other languages have been developed, Python being a prominent example. We have now developed our package, rcurses, to do the same for R. (Not all of the curses library is implemented yet; let us know if you have requests.)


At least R v3.2.0 (R --version).

At least ncurses v6.0.


Within R shell:



These examples are available in the examples directory of the package.


An extremely simple game, just for the purpose of learning rcurses. The player keeps hitting keys, which are echoed, while the cursor moves downward. Upon hitting the bottom row, cursor moves to top of next column. Upon hitting bottom of last column, cursor moves to top of first column. Hit 'q' to quit.

The comments make the code self-explanatory.


echo <- function() {
    # setup rcurses stuff
    win <- rcurses.initscr()  # initialize curses window
    rcurses.cbreak()  # typed characters submitted right away, no wait for Enter
    rcurses.noecho()  # typed characters are not shown on the screen

    rcurses.clear(win)  # arrange setting the screen to all blanks
    rcurses.refresh(win)  # render the changes (i.e. update the screen)

    # initialize cursor position to row 0 (top), column 0 (leftmost col)
    y <- 0
    x <- 0

    # loop forever waiting for input
    while ((ch <- rcurses.getch(win)) != 'q') {
        paintCharacter(win,ch)  # draw the character
        y <- y + 1  # down one column
        if (y == rcurses.LINES) {  # if past bottom, go to top and right
            y <- 0
            x <- x + 1
            if (x == rcurses.COLS) {  # if past right edge, go to left
                x <- 0
        rcurses.move(win,y,x)  # move cursor to specified row, col

    # now restore normal screen status

# draw the specified character ch
paintCharacter <- function(window,ch) {
    rcurses.delch(window)  # delete the character currently there
    rcurses.insch(window,ch)  # insert the new character
    rcurses.refresh(window)  # update the changes on the screen

# test usage of echo
testEcho <- function() {


Next, something still extremely simple but actually useful. If one does one's debugging using the basic built-in R functions, e.g. debug() and browser(), it may be difficult to remember which functions one currently has in debug status. So it would be nice to have a tool to keep track of them. In addition, it would be useful to temporarily remove a function from debug status and then easily reinstate it. The functions below are aimed in that direction. We will refer to the group of functions as nobug, with the main function nobug() being a wrapper for debug.

Consider for instance the partools package, which consists of over 60 user-accessible functions. Say we are debugging a partools app (or partools itself). We would first initialize nobug:

> nbinit()

Now do the equivalent of calling debug() on several functions:

> nobug(c('funcA','funcB','funcC'))

The screen then looks like this:

      f status
1 funcA      a
2 funcB      a
3 funcC      a
ops are 'a', 'i' or 'rm', e.g. 'g rm' to remove ftn g
enter either ftn number and op, or q: 

We have temporarily left the R console, and the current window shows a list of the functions being debugged. The status of all three functions is 'a' (actively debugging) because when calling nobug, each function passed in has debug() called on it. We hit 'q' to return to the R console.

Later, say we want to temporarily put the function funcA() on inactive status. We could call nobug() with no arguments, and give a command to set the function to inactive. The screen would now look like this:

      f status
1 funcA      i
2 funcB      a
3 funcC      a
ops are 'a', 'i' or 'rm', e.g. 'g rm' to remove ftn g
enter either ftn number and op, or q: 

Further examples

See the examples directory within the installed package. The README file there list the various examples, with a description of each. Note that many of them are just "bare bones," and users are encouraged to make enhancements.


  1. fork & clone it!
  2. git checkout my_feature
  3. make your changes
  4. git commit -am 'my feature'
  5. git push
  6. submit pull request!

matloff/rcurses documentation built on May 29, 2019, 4:40 a.m.