Quickstart: Using R functions

APPLIES TO: yesSQL Server (Windows only) noAzure SQL Database noAzure SQL Data Warehouse noParallel Data Warehouse

If you completed the previous quickstarts, you're familiar with basic operations and ready for something more complex, such as statistical functions. Advanced statistical functions that are complicated to implement in T-SQL can be done in R with only a single line of code.

In this quickstart, you'll embed R mathematical and utility functions in a SQL Server stored procedure.


A previous quickstart, Verify R exists in SQL Server, provides information and links for setting up the R environment required for this quickstart.

Create a stored procedure to generate random numbers

For simplicity, let's use the R stats package, which is installed and loaded by default when you install R feature support in SQL Server. The package contains hundreds of functions for common statistical tasks, among them the rnorm function, which generates a specified number of random numbers using the normal distribution, given a standard deviation and mean.

For example, this R code returns 100 numbers on a mean of 50, given a standard deviation of 3.

as.data.frame(rnorm(100, mean = 50, sd = 3));

To call this line of R from T-SQL, run sp_execute_external_script and add the R function in the R script parameter, like this:

EXEC sp_execute_external_script
      @language = N'R'
    , @script = N'
         OutputDataSet <- as.data.frame(rnorm(100, mean = 50, sd =3));'
    , @input_data_1 = N'   ;'
      WITH RESULT SETS (([Density] float NOT NULL));

What if you'd like to make it easier to generate a different set of random numbers?

That's easy when combined with SQL Server: define a stored procedure that gets the arguments from the user. Then, pass those arguments into the R script as variables.

CREATE PROCEDURE MyRNorm (@param1 int, @param2 int, @param3 int)
    EXEC sp_execute_external_script
      @language = N'R'
    , @script = N'
	     OutputDataSet <- as.data.frame(rnorm(mynumbers, mymean, mysd));'
    , @input_data_1 = N'   ;'
	, @params = N' @mynumbers int, @mymean int, @mysd int'
	, @mynumbers = @param1
	, @mymean = @param2
	, @mysd = @param3
    WITH RESULT SETS (([Density] float NOT NULL));
  • The first line defines each of the SQL input parameters that are required when the stored procedure is executed.

  • The line beginning with @params defines all variables used by the R code, and the corresponding SQL data types.

  • The lines that immediately follow map the SQL parameter names to the corresponding R variable names.

Now that you've wrapped the R function in a stored procedure, you can easily call the function and pass in different values, like this:

EXEC MyRNorm @param1 = 100,@param2 = 50, @param3 = 3

Use R utility functions for troubleshooting

By default, an installation of R includes the utils package, which provides a variety of utility functions for investigating the current R environment. This can be useful if you are finding discrepancies in the way your R code performs in SQL Server and in outside environments.

For example, you might use the R memory.limit() function to get memory for the current R environment. Because the utils package is installed but not loaded by default, you must use the library() function to load it first.

EXECUTE sp_execute_external_script
      @language = N'R'
    , @script = N'
        mymemory <- memory.limit();
        OutputDataSet <- as.data.frame(mymemory);'
    , @input_data_1 = N' ;'
WITH RESULT SETS (([Col1] int not null));

Many users like to use the system timing functions in R, such as system.time and proc.time, to capture the time used by R processes and analyze performance issues.

For an example, see this tutorial: Create Data Features. In this walkthrough, R timing functions are embedded in the solution to compare the performance of two methods for creating features from data: R functions vs. T-SQL functions.

Next steps

Next, you'll build a predictive model using R in SQL Server.