# Using MRAN Binaries

When working on macOS and Windows, users will often download and install package binaries, rather than sources, as provided by CRAN. However, CRAN only provides binaries for the latest-available version of a package, and so binaries for older versions of a package will become inaccessible as that package is updated.

MRAN is a service provided by Microsoft that mirrors CRAN every day, and allows users to use particular snapshots of CRAN as their active repositories within their R session.

Starting with renv 0.10.0, renv can also make use of MRAN binary packages when restoring packages on Windows and macOS. When invoking renv::install() or renv::restore(), renv will attempt to install the package from the latest-available MRAN snapshot that still had this package available.

As an example, the stringi package was updated from version 1.4.5 to version 1.4.6 on 2020-02-17, and binaries for that version of stringi were made available for macOS on 2020-02-20. Because of this, the last date on which stringi 1.4.5 macOS binaries were available on CRAN was 2020-02-19.

Fortunately, because MRAN snapshotted CRAN on this date, we can retrieve that binary. For example, on macOS with R 3.6:

> renv::install("stringi@1.4.5")
Retrieving 'https://mran.microsoft.com/snapshot/2020-02-19/bin/macosx/el-capitan/contrib/3.6/stringi_1.4.5.tgz' ...
OK [file is up to date]
Installing stringi [1.4.5] ...
OK [installed binary]

When binaries are available from MRAN, renv should transparently download and use them when possible. When binaries are not available, renv will fall back to the old behavior, and attempt to install packages from sources.

If you prefer not to make use of MRAN (e.g. because you are using renv in an environment without external internet access), you can disable it with:

options(renv.config.mran.enabled = FALSE)

See also the ?renv::equip function, which can assist you in preparing your environment for compilation of packages.

## Caveats

While being able to install binary packages from arbitrary MRAN snapshots can be useful, one must be aware of potential incompatibility issues. In particular, we need to consider:

• ABI compatibility between different versions of binaries;
• Inadvertent build-time dependencies taken by a package.

### ABI Compatibility

ABI compatibility issues can arise if different packages were built against different versions of a shared dependency. For example, one package may have been built against Rcpp 1.0.6, and another package might have been built against Rcpp 1.0.7. However, because only one version of the Rcpp package can be loaded at a time within an R session, mixing of these two packages might cause issues either on load or at runtime depending on the version of Rcpp available.

It’s worth emphasizing that this is not Rcpp’s fault; a package built against Rcpp 1.0.7 would reasonably expect newer APIs made available by that version of the package would be available at runtime, and that contract would be violated if an older version of Rcpp were installed in the project library. The challenge for renv is that this build-time dependency is not clearly communicated to renv; in general, it is not possible to know what packages (and their versions) a particular package was built against.

### Build-time Dependencies

R packages might occasionally (and unintentionally) take a build-time dependency on another R package – for example, a package with the code:

%>% <- magrittr::%>%

would take the version of %>% that was available from the version of magrittr that was available at build time, not the one available at run time. This could be problematic if, for example, an update to the magrittr package changed in a way that made old definitions of %>% incompatible with newer internal functions.

In general, it is a mistake for packages to take a build-time dependency on exported objects from another package; rather, such objects should be imported at runtime (using e.g. importFrom() in the package NAMESPACE file).