# Chapter 36 Automating data-analysis pipelines

The goal of this activity is to create a pipeline that will…

• Obtain a large file of English words.
• Calculate a histogram of word lengths.
• Determine the most common word length.
• Generate a figure of this histogram.
• Render a R Markdown report in HTML and PDF.

You will automate this pipeline using make!

## 36.2 Set up a new RStudio project (and Git repo)

In RStudio: File > New Project > New Directory > Empty Project. If you’re a Git user, we strongly encourage you to click on “Create a git repository.”

This project will be useful as a reference in the future, so give it an informative name and location. If you’re a GitHub user, you may want to push it there as well.

Git(Hub) users: from here on out, we assume you will be committing at regular intervals. At key points, we explicitly prompt you to commit.

Git folks: commit now.

## 36.3 Sample project and Git repository

We walked through this activity ourselves and this Git repo reflects how our project evolved.

The project is set up for use with make at this commit.

## 36.4 Create the Makefile

In RStudio: File > New File > Text File. Save it with the name Makefile. Keep adding the rules we write below to this file, saving regularly.

Once you’ve saved the file with the name Makefile, RStudio should indent with tabs instead of spaces. I recommend you display whitespace in order to visually confirm this: RStudio > Preferences > Code > Display > Display whitespace characters. A more extreme measure is to set project or global preferences to NOT replace tabs with spaces, but this will wreak havoc elsewhere.

You also want RStudio to recognize the presence of the Makefile. Pick one:

• Set Project Build Tools to Makefile
• Quit and relaunch

You should see a “Build” tab now in the same pane as “Environment”, “History”, and, if applicable, “Git”.

Git folks: commit now.

## 36.5 Get the dictionary of words

Depending on your OS and mood, you can get the file of English words by copying a local file or downloading from the internet.

Our first Makefile rule will download the dictionary words.txt. The command of this rule is a one-line R script, so instead of putting the R script in a separate file, we’ll include the command directly in the Makefile, since it’s so short. Sure, we could download a file without using R at all but humor us: this is a tutorial about make and R!

words.txt:
Rscript -e 'download.file("https://svnweb.freebsd.org/base/head/share/dict/web2?view=co", destfile = "words.txt", quiet = TRUE)'

Suggested workflow:

• Git folks: commit anything new/modified. Start with a clean working tree.
• Submit the above download.file() command in the R Console to make sure it works.
• Inspect the downloaded words file any way you know how; make sure it’s not garbage. Size should be about 2.4MB.
• Delete words.txt.
• Put the above rule into your Makefile. From the shell, enter make words.txt to verify rule works. Reinspect the words file.
• Git folks: commit Makefile and words.txt.

See the sample project at this point in this commit.

### 36.5.2 Copy the dictionary

On Mac or Linux systems, rather than download the dictionary, we can simply copy the file /usr/share/dict/words that comes with the operating system. In this alternative rule, we use the shell command cp to copy the file.

words.txt: /usr/share/dict/words
cp /usr/share/dict/words words.txt

This rule copies the input file /usr/share/dict/words to create the output file words.txt. We then repeat these file names in the command rule, which is redundant and leaves us vulnerable to typos. make offers many automatic variables, so the revised rule below uses $< and $@ to represent the input file and output file, respectively.

words.txt: /usr/share/dict/words
cp $<$@

Suggested workflow:

• Git folks: commit anything new/modified. Start with a clean working tree.
• Remove words.txt if you succeeded with the download approach.
• Submit the above cp command in the shell to make sure it works.
• Inspect the copied words file any way you know how; make sure it’s not garbage. Size should be about 2.4MB.
• Delete words.txt.
• Put the above rule into your Makefile. From the shell, enter make words.txt to verify rule works. Reinspect the words file.
• Git folks: look at the diff. You should see how your words.txt rule has changed and you might also see some differences between the local and remote words files. Interesting! Commit Makefile and words.txt.

See the sample project at this point in this commit.

## 36.6 Create rules for all and clean

It would be nice to execute our make rules from RStudio. So it’s urgent that we create phony targets all and clean, which are the only targets accessible from RStudio. These targets are phony in the sense that they do not specify an actual file to be made, rather they just make it easy to trigger a certain action. all and clean are phony targets that appear in most Makefiles, which is why RStudio makes it easy to access them from the IDE.

Edit your Makefile to look like this (where your words.txt rule can be the copy or download version):

all: words.txt

clean:
rm -f words.txt

words.txt: /usr/share/dict/words
cp /usr/share/dict/words words.txt

Since our only output so far is words.txt, that’s what we associate with the all target. Likewise, the only product we can re-make so far is words.txt, so it’s the only thing we delete via clean.

Suggested workflow:

• Use make clean from the shell and/or RStudio > Build > More > Clean All to delete words.txt.
• Does it go away?
• Git folks: does the deletion of this file show up in your Git tab?
• Use make all from the shell and/or RStudio > Build > Build All to get words.txt back.
• Does it come back?
• Git folks: does the restoration of words.txt cause it to drop off your radar as a changed/deleted file? See how this stuff all works together?
• Git folks: Commit.

See the sample project at this point in this commit.

## 36.7 Create a table of word lengths

This rule will read the list of words and generate a table of word length frequency, stored in a tab-separated-values (TSV) file. This R script is a little longer, so we’ll put it in its own file, named histogram.r. If either the script histogram.r or the data file words.txt were to change, we’d need to rerun this command to get up-to-date results, so both files are dependencies of this rule. The input-file variable $< refers to the first dependency, histogram.r. histogram.tsv: histogram.r words.txt Rscript$<

FYI: Rscript allows you to execute R scripts from the shell. It is a more modern replacement for R CMD BATCH (don’t worry if you’ve never heard of that).

Create the R script histogram.r that reads the list of words from words.txt and writes the table of word length frequency to histogram.tsv. It should be a tab-delimited TSV file with a header and two columns, named Length and Freq. Hint: you can accomplish this task using four functions: readLines, nchar, table and write.table. Here’s one solution, but try not to peek until you’ve attempted this task yourself.

Suggested workflow:

• Develop your histogram.r script interactively. Make sure it works when you step through it line-by-line. Debugging only gets harder once you’re running entire scripts at arm’s length via make!
• Remove histogram.tsv. Clean out the workspace and restart R. Run histogram.r via source() or using RStudio’s Source button. Make sure it works!
• Add the histogram.tsv rule to your Makefile.
• Remove histogram.tsv and regenerate it via make histogram.tsv from the shell.
• Git folks: Commit.

See the sample project at this point in this commit.

## 36.8 Update rules for all and clean

The new output histogram.tsv can replace words.txt as our most definitive output. So it will go in the all rule. Likewise, we should add histogram.tsv to the clean rule. Edit your all and clean rules to look like this:

all: histogram.tsv

clean:
rm -f words.txt histogram.tsv

Suggested workflow:

• Use make clean from the shell and/or RStudio > Build > More > Clean All.
• Do words.txt and histogram.tsv go away?
• Git folks: does the deletion of these files show up in your Git tab?
• Use make all from the shell and/or RStudio > Build > Build All to get words.txt back.
• Does it come back?
• Git folks: does the restoration of the files cause them to drop off your radar as changed/deleted files?
• Git folks: Commit.

See the sample project at this point in this commit.

This rule will read the table of word lengths and plot a histogram using ggplot2::qplot(). The R snippet is three lines long, but we’ll still include the script in the Makefile directly, and use semicolons ; to separate the R commands. The variable $@ refers to the output file, histogram.png. histogram.png: histogram.tsv Rscript -e 'library(ggplot2); qplot(Length, Freq, data=read.delim("$<")); ggsave("$@")' Suggested workflow: • Test the histogram-drawing code in the R Console to make sure it works. • Inspect the resulting PNG to make sure it’s good. • Clean up after yourself. • Add the above rule to your Makefile. • Test that new rule works. • If you get an unexpected empty plot Rplots.pdf, don’t worry about it yet. • Update the all and clean targets in light of this addition to the pipeline. • Test the new definitions of all and clean. • Git folks: commit. NOTE: Why are we writing this PNG to file when, by the end of the activity, we are writing an R Markdown report? We could include this figure-making code in an R chunk there. We’re doing it this way to demonstrate more about R and make workflows. Plus sometimes we do work this way in real life, if a figure has a life outside one specific R Markdown report. See the sample project at this point in this commit. ## 36.10 Use make to deal with an annoyance The code used above to create histogram.png usually leaves an empty Rplots.pdf file behind. You can read this thread on stackoverflow if you’d like to know more. We’ll just use this as a teachable moment to demonstrate how handy an automated pipeline is for dealing with such annoyances and to show a multi-line make rule. Update the histogram.png rule like so: histogram.png: histogram.tsv Rscript -e 'library(ggplot2); qplot(Length, Freq, data=read.delim("$<")); ggsave("$@")' rm Rplots.pdf Suggested workflow: • Remove Rplots.pdf manually • Add the rm Rplots.pdf command to the histogram.png rule. • Test that new rule works. • Test that behavior of all and clean still good. • Git folks: commit. See the sample project at this point in this commit. ## 36.11 Render an HTML report Finally, we’ll use rmarkdown::render() to generate an HTML report. If we think narrowly, we might say that the HTML report depends only on its Markdown predecessor, which would lead to a rule like this: report.html: report.md Rscript -e 'rmarkdown::render("$<")'

But we really shouldn’t hard-wire statements about word length in Markdown; we should use inline R code to compute that from the word length table. Similarly, if the plotted histogram were to change, we’d need to remake the HTML report. Here is a better rule that captures all of these dependencies:

report.html: report.rmd histogram.tsv histogram.png
Rscript -e 'rmarkdown::render("$<")' Create the R Markdown file report.rmd that reads the table of word lengths histogram.tsv, reports the most common word length, and displays the pre-made histogram histogram.png. Here’s one solution, but try not to peek until you’ve attempted this task yourself. Suggested workflow: • Develop report.rmd, running the R chunks often, from a clean workspace and fresh R session. Debugging only gets harder once you’re rendering entire reports at arm’s length via make! • Render the report using rmarkdown::render() in the Console or RStudio’s Preview HTML button. • Clean up after yourself. • Add the above rule for report.html to your Makefile. • Test that new rule works. • Update the all and clean targets in light of this addition to the pipeline. • Test the new definitions of all and clean. • Git folks: commit. See the sample project at this point in this commit. ## 36.12 The final Makefile At this point, your Makefile should look something like this: all: report.html clean: rm -f words.txt histogram.tsv histogram.png report.md report.html words.txt: /usr/share/dict/words cp /usr/share/dict/words words.txt histogram.tsv: histogram.r words.txt Rscript$<

histogram.png: histogram.tsv
Rscript -e 'library(ggplot2); qplot(Length, Freq, data=read.delim("$<")); ggsave("$@")'
rm Rplots.pdf

report.html: report.rmd histogram.tsv histogram.png
Rscript -e 'rmarkdown::render("\$<")'

Remember, you can review the entire activity via the commit history of the sample project: https://github.com/STAT545-UBC/make-activity.

And that’s how a data analytical pipeline gets built using make, the shell, R, RStudio, and optionally Git.

## 36.13 Extending the Makefile

Here are some additions you might like to include in your Makefile:

.PHONY: all clean
.DELETE_ON_ERROR:
.SECONDARY:

The .PHONY line is where you declare which targets are phony, i.e. are not actual files to be made in the literal sense. It’s a good idea to explicitly tell make which targets are phony, instead of letting it try to deduce this. make can get confused if you create a file that has the same name as a phony target. If for example you create a directory named clean to hold your clean data and run make clean, then make will report 'clean' is up to date, because a directory with that name already exists.

.DELETE_ON_ERROR causes make to “delete the target of a rule if it has changed and its recipe exits with a nonzero exit status”. In English, this means that – if a rule starts to run but then exits due to error – any outputs written in the course of that fiasco will be deleted. This can protect you from having half-baked, erroneous files lying around that will just confuse you later.

.SECONDARY tells make not to delete intermediate files of a chain of pattern rules. Consider creating a Makefile with two pattern rules, %.md: %.rmd and %.html: %.md, and then running make report.html. After make has created report.md and report.html, it will delete the intermediate file report.md. Adding .SECONDARY to your Makefile prevents the intermediate file from being deleted.