cloudfs package overview



Project assets

In terms of digital assets a data analysis project can usually be divided into three parts:

It’s common to segregate the storage of code sources, input data, and outputs. Code sources are typically housed on platforms like GitHub, optimized for version control and collaboration.

Storing large input data on such platforms can be inefficient. Systems like git can become overwhelmed when tracking changes to sizable data files. Hence, cloud storage solutions like Amazon S3 are commonly chosen for their ability to handle vast datasets.

Outputs, being the results destined for sharing and review, are usually stored separately from the code. Platforms like Google Drive are preferred for this purpose. Their user-friendly interfaces and easy sharing options ensure stakeholders can readily access and review the results.

Cloud roots

In this context, we won’t differentiate between assets being inputs or outputs. We’ll simply refer to both as artifacts, setting them apart from code.

The package includes functions for working with both S3 and Google Drive. In our operations, we use the term cloud root to denote the primary folder on either platform, which holds the project’s artifacts. Typically, the root folder contains subfolders like “plots”, “data”, and “results”, though the exact structure isn’t crucial. A project can have a root on S3, on Google Drive, or on both platforms simultaneously.


Consider a typical task: uploading a file to Amazon S3 using the aws.s3 package as an illustrative example. Imagine you’re attempting to upload an R model saved as an RDS file located at models/glm.rds. This file is destined for the project-1 directory within the project-data bucket on S3, representing the dedicated S3 root for this project:

  bucket = "project-data",
  object = "project-1/models/glm.rds",
  file = "models/glm.rds"

Note the following:

  1. Location Redundancy: Given that our project’s primary interactions are with the “project-1” folder in the “project-data” bucket, we’re consistently faced with specifying this static location.

  2. Path Duplication: Both our local system and S3 use matching paths: models/glm.rds. This uniformity is typically more practical than making exceptions.

Given the repetitive nature of this code, there’s room for a more streamlined approach. This is where the cloudfs package comes in. Once set up, uploading becomes much easier and cleaner:


Package walk-through

Setting up a root

To begin working with the cloudfs package in your R project, first set up a cloud root. For S3 use cloud_s3_attach(), for Google Drive, use the cloud_drive_attach() function. Let’s set up a Google Drive root:


Upon execution, you’ll be prompted to input the URL of the intended Google Drive folder to serve as the project’s root. This location is then registered in the project’s DESCRIPTION file. To conveniently access this directory in the future, execute cloud_drive_browse().

Types of interactions

Now let’s talk about actual interactions with the cloud storage. Data transfer actions can be categorized by two parameters:

  1. direction – whether you’re uploading data to the cloud or retrieving data from it.

  2. file or R object – using cloudfs, you can not only upload and download files from cloud storages but also directly read from and write objects to the cloud.

cloudfs functions for moving files use “upload” or “download” in their names. Functions for direct reading or writing use “read” or “write”. S3-specific functions contain “s3”, while Google Drive ones use “drive”.

to cloud from cloud
file cloud_s3_upload
R object cloud_s3_write

Practical Examples

Here, we’ll demonstrate the hands-on application of cloudfs functions for data transfer.

Upon successfully completing the cloud_drive_attach() process, your project will be associated with a designated Google Drive root. As an initial step, we will create and save a ggplot scatterplot as a local PNG file for the purpose of demonstration.

p <- ggplot(mtcars, aes(mpg, disp)) + geom_point()
if (!dir.exists("plots")) dir.create("plots")
ggsave(plot = p, filename = "plots/scatterplot.png")

To upload this file to Google Drive, execute:


By invoking the cloud_drive_ls() function, you can view the automatically created “plots” folder in the console. To inspect the contents of this folder, which currently contains a single PNG file, use cloud_drive_ls("plots") or cloud_drive_ls(recursive = TRUE). To access the folder on Google Drive, execute cloud_drive_browse("plots"). To directly view the scatterplot, use cloud_drive_browse("plots/scatterplot.png").

With cloudfs, you can directly write content to cloud storage, bypassing the manual creation of local files. The file generation process remains transparent to the user.

First, let’s compute a summary of the mtcars dataframe:

library(dplyr, quietly = TRUE)
summary_df <- 
  mtcars %>% 
  group_by(cyl) %>% 
  summarise(across(disp, mean))

To export this summary to a spreadsheet, simply specify the desired file path with the appropriate extension. The method for writing is then inferred from this extension:

cloud_drive_write(summary_df, "results/mtcars_summary.xlsx")

To view the resulting spreadsheet in Google Drive, execute cloud_drive_browse("results/mtcars_summary.xlsx").

Just as we wrote the summary to an xlsx file, we can also read from it using cloud_drive_read("results/mtcars_summary.xlsx").

It’s noteworthy that the writing and reading methods are determined automatically based on the file extension. For instance, “.xlsx” utilizes writexl::write_xlsx() for reading, whereas “.csv” employs readr::write_csv. A comprehensive list of default methods is available in the documentation of cloud_drive_write() and cloud_drive_read() functions.

Additionally, cloudfs offers flexibility by allowing custom writing and reading methods. For instance, our earlier scatterplot could have been written directly to Google Drive, bypassing local file generation:

  p, "plots/scatterplot.png",
  fun = \(x, file) 
    ggsave(plot = x, filename = file)

Operations on multiple files at once

Suppose multiple CSV files have been uploaded to the “data” folder and we intend to download them locally. Instead of invoking cloud_s3_download() for each file, a more efficient approach is available.

But first, let’s generate a few sample files for demonstration purposes.

cloud_drive_write(datasets::airquality, "data/airquality.csv")
cloud_drive_write(datasets::trees, "data/trees.csv")
cloud_drive_write(datasets::beaver1, "data/beaver1.csv")

Listing the contents of the “data” folder gives us the following:

#> # A tibble: 3 × 5
#>   name           type  last_modified       size_b id      
#>   <chr>          <chr> <dttm>               <dbl> <drv_id>
#> 1 airquality.csv csv   2023-09-12 08:04:46   2890 1CXTi1A…
#> 2 beaver1.csv    csv   2023-09-12 08:04:50   1901 1Fg4s1O…
#> 3 trees.csv      csv   2023-09-12 08:04:48    400 1vDYBVt…

cloudfs offers bulk functions that simplify the management of multiple files simultaneously. For instance, to download all files listed above use cloud_drive_download_bulk():

cloud_drive_ls("data") %>% 

This action automatically downloads the datasets to a local “data” directory, replicating the same structure as on Google Drive.

To read several CSV files from the “data” folder on Google Drive into a consolidated list, execute:

all_data <- 
  cloud_drive_ls("data") %>% 

To upload a collection of objects, such as ggplot visualizations, to Google Drive, first group them in a named list. Then, utilize the cloud_object_ls() function to generate a dataframe akin to the output of cloud_drive_ls(). Finally, execute cloud_drive_write_bulk() to complete the upload.

p1 <- ggplot(mtcars, aes(mpg, disp)) + geom_point()
p2 <- ggplot(mtcars, aes(cyl)) + geom_bar()

plots_list <- 
  list("plot_1" = p1, "plot_2" = p2) %>% 
  cloud_object_ls(path = "plots", extension = "png", suffix = "_newsletter")

plots_list %>% 
  cloud_drive_write_bulk(fun = \(x, file) ggsave(plot = x, filename = file))

For bulk uploads of local files to Google Drive, utilize the cloud_local_ls() function. For instance, to upload all PNG files from the local “plots” directory to Google Drive:

cloud_local_ls("plots") %>% 
  filter(type == "png") %>% 

S3 functions

For Amazon S3 interactions, we offer a parallel set of functions similar to those designed for Google Drive. These dedicated S3 functions are easily identifiable, beginning with the prefix cloud_s3_.