Useful Path Handling Functions in R

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When writing Data Science and Data Analysis Scripts in R, not rarely one has to recursively search for files inside folders, test for their existence, create new folders or files, rename or move them, delete them, and perform many other miscellaneous actions around paths.

Here, I want to give you an overview of diverse path handling functions in base R, which are intuitive and pretty handy. May the listing serve you as a useful cheatsheet:

1. How to get/set the current directory in R


2. How to dissect and access Path Name Components in R

# parent directory name
# file name
# file extension ## note, these are not base R functions
## you have to install the packages
## preceding `::`
## e.g. by `install.packages("tools")
## or "rio" or "xfun"
## e.g. 'csv' for files ending with '.csv'
tools::file_ext(path) # or:
rio::file_ext(path) # or:
# split a path into its components
# "/a/b/c.txt" => c("a", "b", "c.txt")
split_path <- function(path) {
if (dirname(path) %in% c(".", path)) return(basename(path))
return(c(basename(path), split_path(dirname(path))))
# from here

3. How to join Path Components in R

file.path("/a", "b", "file.txt") ## "/a/b/file.txt"

4. How to recursively list Files in Folders in R

# folders
list.dirs(path = ".", full.names = TRUE, recursive = TRUE)
# files
list.files("/to/dir", pattern="\\.csv", full.names=TRUE, recursive=TRUE) ## pattern is regex

5. How to test for Existence of Files and Folders in R

# folders
dir.exists("/to/dir") # or file.exists("/to/dir")
# fileshere

6. How to create new Folders and Files in R

# folders
dir.create("/to/new/dir", recursive=TRUE)
# files

7. How to (recursively) delete Files and Folders in R

# folders
unlink("/to/dir", recursive=TRUE)
# files

8. How to copy Folders with contents and Files in R

# copy folder architecture recursively (not keeping original dates)
dir.create('/to/dir', recursive=TRUE)
file.copy("/from/dir/or/file.txt", "/to/dir", recursive=TRUE,

9. How to move and rename Folders and Files in R

# folder
file.copy(from = "/from/dir", to = "/to/dir",
overwrite = recursive,
recursive = FALSE,
copy.mode = TRUE)
# so this is not actually a mv in the sense of unix commands,
# but a copy and delete recursively
# files
file.rename("from", "to")
# or one could also copy first the file and then unlink() the original one.

10. How to get the size and creation time of Folders and Files in R

obj <-
# watch available variables by
# file size
# is path a directory?
# modification, creation, access time
obj$mtime, obj$ctime, obj$atime

The platform-dependent path separator in R, one can get by .Platform$file.sep which corresponds to Python’s os.sep.

However, I just saw that tidyverse has — like always — a more consistent and more complete set of functions also for this topic (see e.g. here).

Please feel free to comment if you know better solutions than the presented.




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Gwang Jin Kim

Gwang Jin Kim

Code tweaker + Human Geneticist (Ph.D.) | Join medium by:

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