vetr v0.1.0


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by Brodie Gaslam

Trust, but Verify

Declarative template-based framework for verifying that objects meet structural requirements, and auto-composing error messages when they do not.


vetr - Trust, but Verify

Project Status: WIP - Initial development is in progress, but there has not yet been a stable, usable release suitable for the public.

Trust, but Verify


When you write functions that operate on S3 or unclassed objects you can either trust that your inputs will be structured as expected, or tediously check that they are.

vetr takes the tedium out of structure verification, so that you can trust, but verify. It lets you express structural requirements declaratively with templates, and it auto-generates human-friendly error messages as needed.


vetr is written in C to minimize overhead from parameter checks in your functions. It has no dependencies.

Declarative Checks with Templates


Declare a template that an object should conform to, and let vetr take care of the rest:

tpl <- numeric(1L)
vet(tpl, 1:3)
## [1] "`1:3` should be length 1 (is 3)"
vet(tpl, "hello")
## [1] "`\"hello\"` should be type \"numeric\" (is \"character\")"
vet(tpl, 42)
## [1] TRUE

Zero length templates match any length:

tpl <- integer()
vet(tpl, 1L:3L)
## [1] TRUE
vet(tpl, 1L)
## [1] TRUE

And for convenience short (<= 100 length) integer-like numerics are considered integer:

tpl <- integer(1L)
vet(tpl, 1)       # this is a numeric, not an integer
## [1] TRUE
vet(tpl, 1.0001)
## [1] "`1.0001` should be type \"integer-like\" (is \"double\")"

vetr can compare recursive objects such as lists, or data.frames:

tpl.iris <- iris[0, ]      # 0 row DF matches any number of rows in object
iris.fake <- iris
levels(iris.fake$Species)[3] <- "sibirica"   # tweak levels

vet(tpl.iris, iris)
## [1] TRUE
vet(tpl.iris, iris.fake)
## [1] "`levels(iris.fake$Species)[3]` should be \"virginica\" (is \"sibirica\")"

From our declared template iris[0, ], vetr infers all the required checks. In this case, vet(iris[0, ], iris.fake, stop=TRUE) is equivalent to:

stopifnot_iris <- function(x) {
    is.list(x), inherits(x, "data.frame"),
    length(x) == 5, is.integer(attr(x, 'row.names')),
      c("Sepal.Length", "Sepal.Width", "Petal.Length", "Petal.Width", "Species")
    all(vapply(x[1:4], is.numeric, logical(1L))),
    typeof(x$Species) == "integer", is.factor(x$Species),
    identical(levels(x$Species), c("setosa", "versicolor", "virginica"))
## Error: identical(levels(x$Species), c("setosa", "versicolor", "virginica")) is not TRUE

vetr saved us typing, and the time and thought needed to come up with the things that need to be compared.

You could just as easily have created templates for nested lists, or data frames in lists. Templates are compared to objects with the alike. For a thorough description of templates and how they work see the alike vignette. For template examples see example(alike).

Auto-Generated Error Messages

Let's revisit the error message:

vet(tpl.iris, iris.fake)
## [1] "`levels(iris.fake$Species)[3]` should be \"virginica\" (is \"sibirica\")"

It tells us:

  • The reason for the failure
  • What structure would be acceptable instead
  • The location of failure levels(iris.fake$Species)[3]

vetr does what it can to reduce the time from error to resolution. The location of failure is generated such that you can easily copy it in part or full to the R prompt for further examination.

Vetting Expressions

You can combine templates with && / ||:

vet(numeric(1L) || NULL, NULL)
## [1] TRUE
vet(numeric(1L) || NULL, 42)
## [1] TRUE
vet(numeric(1L) || NULL, "foo")
## [1] "`\"foo\"` should be \"NULL\", or type \"numeric\" (is \"character\")"

Templates only check structure. When you need to check values use . to refer to the object:

vet(numeric(1L) && . > 0, -42)  # strictly positive scalar numeric
## [1] "`-42 > 0` is not TRUE (FALSE)"
vet(numeric(1L) && . > 0, 42)
## [1] TRUE

You can compose vetting expressions as language objects and combine them:

scalar.num.pos <- quote(numeric(1L) && . > 0) <- quote(character(1L) && . %in% c('foo', 'bar'))
vet.exp <- quote(scalar.num.pos ||

vet(vet.exp, 42)
## [1] TRUE
vet(vet.exp, "foo")
## [1] TRUE
vet(vet.exp, "baz")
## [1] "At least one of these should pass:"                         
## [2] "  - `\"baz\"` should be type \"numeric\" (is \"character\")"
## [3] "  - `\"baz\" %in% c(\"foo\", \"bar\")` is not TRUE (FALSE)"

There are a number of predefined vetting tokens you can use in your vetting expressions:

vet(NUM.POS, -runif(5))    # positive numeric
## [1] "`-runif(5)` should contain only positive values, but has negatives"
vet(LGL.1, NA)             # TRUE or FALSE
## [1] "`NA` should not contain NAs, but does"

See ?vet_token for a full listing, and for instructions on how to define your own tokens with custom error messages.

Vetting expressions are designed to be intuitive to use, but their implementation is complex. We recommend you look at example(vet) for usage ideas, or at the "Non Standard Evaluation" section of the vignette for the gory details.

vetr in Functions

If you are vetting function inputs, you can use the vetr function, which works just like vet except that it is streamlined for use within functions:

fun <- function(x, y) {
  vetr(numeric(1L), logical(1L))
  TRUE   # do work...
fun(1:2, "foo")
## Error in fun(x = 1:2, y = "foo"): For argument `x`, `1:2` should be length 1 (is 2)
fun(1, "foo")
## Error in fun(x = 1, y = "foo"): For argument `y`, `"foo"` should be type "logical" (is "character")

vetr automatically matches the vetting expressions to the corresponding arguments and fetches the argument values from the function environment.

See vignette for additional details on how the vetr function works.

Additional Documentation

Development Status

vetr is still in development, although most of the features are considered mature. The most likely area of change is the treatment of function and language templates (e.g. alike(sum, max)), and more flexible treatment of list templates (e.g. in future lists may be allowed to be different lengths so long as every named element in the template exists in the object).



Or for the development version:

# install.packages('devtools')
  • valaddin by Eugene Ha (see vignette for a more detailed comparison) has very similar objectives to vetr
  • ensurer by Stefan M Bache allows you to specify contracts for data validation and has an experimental implementation of type-safe functions.
  • validate by Mark van der Loo and Edwin de Jonge provides tools for checking data
  • types by Jim Hester provides a mechanism for defining what types arguments should be, though it does not directly enforce them
  • argufy by Gábor Csárdi adds parameter checks via Roxygen (not published to CRAN)


Thank you to:

  • R Core for developing and maintaining such a wonderful language.
  • CRAN maintainers, for patiently shepherding packages onto CRAN and maintaining the repository, and Uwe Ligges in particular for maintaining Winbuilder.
  • Jim Hester because covr rocks.
  • Dirk Eddelbuettel and Carl Boettiger for the rocker project, and Gábor Csárdi and the R-consortium for Rhub, without which testing bugs on R-devel and other platforms would be a nightmare.
  • Yihui Xie for knitr and J.J. Allaire etal for rmarkdown, and by extension John MacFarlane for pandoc.
  • Stefan M. Bache for the idea of having a function for testing objects directly (originally vetr only worked with function arguments), which I took from ensurer.
  • Hadley Wickham for devtools, and for pointing me to Stefan M. Bache's ensurer package.
  • Olaf Mersmann for microbenchmark, because microsecond matter.
  • All open source developers out there that make their work freely available for others to use.
  • Github, Travis-CI, Codecov, Vagrant, Docker, Ubuntu, Brew for providing infrastructure that greatly simplifies open source development.
  • Free Software Foundation for developing the GPL license and promotion of the free software movement.

About the Author

Brodie Gaslam is a hobbyist programmer based on the US East Coast.

Functions in vetr

Name Description
vet_token Vetting Tokens With Custom Error Messages
vetr-package Trust, but Verify
nullify Set Element to NULL Without Removing It
type_alike Compare Types of Objects
alike Compare Object Structure
bench_mark Lightweight Benchmarking Function
type_of A Fuzzier Version typeof
vet Verify Objects Meet Structural Requirements
abstract Turn S3 Objects Into Templates
abstract.ggplot Experimental Abstraction Method for GGPlot
vetr Verify Function Arguments Meet Structural Requirements
vetr_settings Generate Control Settings For vetr and alike
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Vignettes of vetr

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License GPL (>= 2)
LazyData true
VignetteBuilder knitr
RoxygenNote 6.0.1
NeedsCompilation yes
Packaged 2017-07-07 00:40:57 UTC; brodie
Repository CRAN
Date/Publication 2017-07-07 04:52:14 UTC

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