Working with inputs and outputs (R in SQL quickstart)

THIS TOPIC APPLIES TO: yesSQL Server (Windows only)noAzure SQL DatabasenoAzure SQL Data WarehousenoParallel Data Warehouse

When you want to run R code in SQL Server, you must wrap the R script in a system stored procedure, sp_execute_external_script. This stored procedure is used to start the R runtime in the context of SQL Server, which passes data to R, manages R user sessions securely, and returns any results to the client.

Create some simple test data

Create a small table of test data by running the following T-SQL statement:

CREATE TABLE RTestData ([col1] int not null) ON [PRIMARY]
INSERT INTO RTestData   VALUES (100) ;

When the table has been created, use the following statement to query the table:




Get the same data using R script

After the table has been created, run the following statement:

EXECUTE sp_execute_external_script
      @language = N'R'
    , @script = N' OutputDataSet <- InputDataSet;'
    , @input_data_1 = N' SELECT *  FROM RTestData;'
    WITH RESULT SETS (([NewColName] int NOT NULL));

It gets the data from the table, makes a round trip through the R runtime, and returns the values with the column name, NewColName.




  • In Management Studio, tabular results are returned in the Values pane. Messages returned by the R runtime are provided in the Messages pane.
  • The @language parameter defines the language extension to call, in this case, R.
  • In the @script parameter, you define the commands to pass to the R runtime. Your entire R script must be enclosed in this argument, as Unicode text. You could also add the text to a variable of type nvarchar and then call the variable.
  • The data returned by the query is passed to the R runtime, which returns the data to SQL Server as a data frame.
  • The WITH RESULT SETS clause defines the schema of the returned data table for SQL Server.

Change input or output variables

The preceding example used the default input and output variable names, InputDataSet and OutputDataSet. To define the input data associated with InputDatSet, you use the @input_data_1 variable.

In this example, the names of the output and input variables for the stored procedure have been changed to SQL_Out and SQL_In:

EXECUTE sp_execute_external_script
  @language = N'R'
  , @script = N' SQL_out <- SQL_in;'
  , @input_data_1 = N' SELECT 12 as Col;'
  , @input_data_1_name  = N'SQL_In'
  , @output_data_1_name =  N'SQL_Out'
  WITH RESULT SETS (([NewColName] int NOT NULL));

Did you get the error, "object SQL_in not found"? That's because R is case-sensitive! In the example, the R script uses the variables SQL_in and SQL_out, but the parameters to the stored procedure use the variables SQL_In and SQL_Out.

That's because R is case-sensitive. In the example, the R script uses the variables SQL_in and SQL_out, but the parameters to the stored procedure use the variables SQL_In and SQL_Out. Try correcting only the SQL_In variable and re-run the stored procedure.

Now you get a different error:

EXECUTE statement failed because its WITH RESULT SETS clause specified 1 result set(s), but the statement only sent 0 result set(s) at run time.

We're showing you this error because you can expect to see it often when testing new R code. It means that the R script ran successfully, but SQL Server received no data, or received wrong or unexpected data.

In this case, the output schema (the line beginning with WITH) specifies that one column of integer data should be returned, but since R put the data in a different variable, nothing came back to SQL Server; hence, the error. to fix the error, correct the second variable name.

Remember these requirements!

  • Variable names must follow the rules for valid SQL identifiers.
  • The order of the parameters is important. You must specify the required parameters @input_data_1 and @output_data_1 first, in order to use the optional parameters @input_data_1_name and @output_data_1_name.
  • Only one input dataset can be passed as a parameter, and you can return only one dataset. However, you can call other datasets from inside your R code and you can return outputs of other types in addition to the dataset. You can also add the OUTPUT keyword to any parameter to have it returned with the results. There is a simple example later in this tutorial.
  • The WITH RESULT SETS statement defines the schema for the data, for the benefit of SQL Server. You need to provide SQL compatible data types for each column you return from R. You can use the schema definition to provide new column names too; you need not use the column names from the R data.frame. In some cases, this clause is optional; try omitting it and see what happens.

Generate results using R

You can also generate values using just the R script and leave the input query string in @input_data_1 blank. Or, use a valid SQL SELECT statement as a placeholder, and not use the SQL results in the R script.

EXECUTE sp_execute_external_script
    @language = N'R'
   , @script = N' mytextvariable <- c("hello", " ", "world");
       OutputDataSet <-;'
   , @input_data_1 = N' SELECT 1 as Temp1'
   WITH RESULT SETS (([Col1] char(20) NOT NULL));


Col1 hello world

Next lesson

You'll examine some of the problems that you might encounter when passing data between R and SQL Server, such as implicit conversions and differences in tabular data between R and SQL.

R and SQL data types and data objects