packageRank: compute and visualize package download counts and rank percentiles

‘packageRank’ is an R package that helps put package download counts into context. It does so via two functions, cranDownloads() and packageRank() (analogous but more limited functionality for Bioconductor packages is available via bioconductorDownloads() and bioconductorRank()), and a set of filters that removes “invalid” entries from the download logs. I cover these topics in the three parts below; a fourth covers package related issues.

Three things to note. First, ‘packageRank’ requires an active internet connection. Second, ‘packageRank’ relies on the ‘cranlogs’ package and RStudio’s download logs, which records traffic to the “0-Cloud” mirror at cloud.R-project.org (formerly RStudio’s CRAN mirror). So these are two potential points of failure for this package’s functions. Third, logs for the previous day are generally posted to RStudio’s download logs by 17:00 UTC. Results that rely on ‘cranlogs’ are typically available soon thereafter.

getting started

To install ‘packageRank’ from CRAN:

install.packages("packageRank")

To install the development version from GitHub:

# You may need to first install 'remotes' via install.packages("remotes").
remotes::install_github("lindbrook/packageRank", build_vignettes = TRUE)

I - computing package download counts

cranDownloads() uses all the same arguments as cranlogs::cran_downloads():

cranlogs::cran_downloads(packages = "HistData")
>         date count  package
> 1 2020-05-01   338 HistData

The only difference is that cranDownloads() adds four features:

i) “spell check” for package names

cranDownloads(packages = "GGplot2")
## Error in cranDownloads(packages = "GGplot2") :
##   GGplot2: misspelled or not on CRAN.


cranDownloads(packages = "ggplot2")
>         date count cumulative package
> 1 2020-05-01 56357      56357 ggplot2


This also works for inactive or “retired” packages in the Archive:

cranDownloads(packages = "vr")
## Error in cranDownloads(packages = "vr") :
##  vr: misspelled or not on CRAN/Archive.


cranDownloads(packages = "VR")
>         date count cumulative package
> 1 2020-05-01    11         11      VR


ii) two additional date formats

With cranlogs::cran_downloads(), you specify a time frame using the from and to arguments. The downside of this is that you must use the “yyyy-mm-dd” date format. For convenience’s sake, cranDownloads() also allows you to use “yyyy-mm” or “yyyy” (yyyy also works).

“yyyy-mm”

Let’s say you want the download counts for ‘HistData’ for the month of February 2020. With cranlogs::cran_downloads(), you’d have to type out the whole date and remember that 2020 was a leap year:

cranlogs::cran_downloads(packages = "HistData", from = "2020-02-01",
  to = "2020-02-29")


With cranDownloads(), you can just specify the year and month:

cranDownloads(packages = "HistData", from = "2020-02", to = "2020-02")
“yyyy” or yyyy

Let’s say you want the year-to-date download counts for ‘rstan’. With cranlogs::cran_downloads(), you’d type something like:

cranlogs::cran_downloads(packages = "rstan", from = "2021-01-01",
  to = Sys.Date() - 1)


With cranDownloads(), you can use:

cranDownloads(packages = "rstan", from = "2021")

or

cranDownloads(packages = "rstan", from = 2021)


iii) check date validity

cranDownloads(packages = "HistData", from = "2019-01-15",
  to = "2019-01-35")
## Error in resolveDate(to, type = "to") : Not a valid date.

iv) cumulative count

cranDownloads(packages = "HistData", when = "last-week")
>         date count cumulative  package
> 1 2020-05-01   338        338 HistData
> 2 2020-05-02   259        597 HistData
> 3 2020-05-03   321        918 HistData
> 4 2020-05-04   344       1262 HistData
> 5 2020-05-05   324       1586 HistData
> 6 2020-05-06   356       1942 HistData
> 7 2020-05-07   324       2266 HistData


visualizing package download counts

cranDownloads() makes visualizing package downloads easy. Just use plot():

plot(cranDownloads(packages = "HistData", from = "2019", to = "2019"))

If you pass a vector of package names for a single day, plot() will return a dotchart:

plot(cranDownloads(packages = c("ggplot2", "data.table", "Rcpp"),
  from = "2020-03-01", to = "2020-03-01"))

If you pass a vector of package names for multiple days, plot() uses ggplot2 facets:

plot(cranDownloads(packages = c("ggplot2", "data.table", "Rcpp"),
  from = "2020", to = "2020-03-20"))


If you want to plot those data in a single frame, set multi.plot = TRUE:

plot(cranDownloads(packages = c("ggplot2", "data.table", "Rcpp"),
  from = "2020", to = "2020-03-20"), multi.plot = TRUE)


If you want plot those data in separate plots on the same scale, use graphics = "base" and you’ll be prompted for each plot:

plot(cranDownloads(packages = c("ggplot2", "data.table", "Rcpp"),
  from = "2020", to = "2020-03-20"), graphics = "base")

If you want do the above on separate independent scales, set same.xy = FALSE:

plot(cranDownloads(packages = c("ggplot2", "data.table", "Rcpp"),
  from = "2020", to = "2020-03-20"), graphics = "base", same.xy = FALSE)

unit of observation

If you want to visualize the data from a different unit of observations, you can pass “day” (the default), “month”, or “year” to the unit.observation argument.

For example, below is the plot for the daily downloads of ‘HistData’ from January 01 through August 15 2021.

plot(cranDownloads(packages = "HistData", from = "2021"))

Here is the plot for the same data aggregated by month:

plot(cranDownloads(packages = "HistData", from = "2021"), unit.observation = "month")

There are three things to keep in mind with these aggregated data plots. First, each point, with the likely exception of the latest observation (far right), represents the total count on the last day of the month. For example, in the plot above the solid point on the far left records the total download count for the month of January (plotted on January 31). Second, it’s likely that the latest observation is still in-progress. In that case, two points are plotted (far right): a “grayed-out” point for the in-progress total and a highlighted point for the estimated total. Currently, I compute the estimate by extrapolating from the proportion of the unit of observation completed. For example, in the plot above, there were 2,010 recorded downloads from August 1 through August 15. This leads to an estimated 4,154 downloads for the month (31 / 15 * 2010). Third, if you include a smoother, via smooth = TRUE, the curve will only pass through complete, not in-progress, data.

packages = NULL

cranlogs::cran_download(packages = NULL) computes the total number of package downloads from CRAN. You can plot these data by using:

plot(cranDownloads(from = 2019, to = 2019))

packages = "R"

cranlogs::cran_download(packages = "R") computes the total number of downloads of the R application (note that you can only use “R” or a vector of packages names, not both!). You can plot these data by using:

plot(cranDownloads(packages = "R", from = 2019, to = 2019))

smoothers and confidence intervals

To add a lowess smoother to your plot, use smooth = TRUE:

plot(cranDownloads(packages = "rstan", from = "2019", to = "2019"),
  smooth = TRUE)

With graphs that use ‘ggplot2’, se = TRUE will add confidence intervals:

plot(cranDownloads(packages = c("HistData", "rnaturalearth", "Zelig"),
  from = "2020", to = "2020-03-20"), smooth = TRUE, se = TRUE)

package and R release dates

To annotate a graph with a package’s release dates:

plot(cranDownloads(packages = "rstan", from = "2019", to = "2019"),
  package.version = TRUE)

To annotate a graph with R release dates:

plot(cranDownloads(packages = "rstan", from = "2019", to = "2019"),
  r.version = TRUE)

plot growth curves (cumulative download counts)

To plot growth curves, set statistic = "cumulative":

plot(cranDownloads(packages = c("ggplot2", "data.table", "Rcpp"),
  from = "2020", to = "2020-03-20"), statistic = "cumulative",
  multi.plot = TRUE, points = FALSE)

population plot

To visualize a package’s downloads relative to “all” other packages over time:

plot(cranDownloads(packages = "HistData", from = "2020", to = "2020-03-20"),
  population.plot = TRUE)

This longitudinal view of package downloads plots the date (x-axis) against the logarithm of a package’s downloads (y-axis). In the background, the same variable are plotted (in gray) using a stratified random sample of packages: within each 5% interval of rank percentiles (e.g., 0 to 5, 5 to 10, 95 to 100, etc.), a random sample of 5% of packages is selected and tracked. This graphically approximates the “typical” pattern of downloads on CRAN for the selected time period.

II - computing package download rank percentiles

After looking at nominal download counts for a while, the “compared to what?” question comes to mind. For instance, consider the data for the first week of March 2020:

plot(cranDownloads(packages = "cholera", from = "2020-03-01",
  to = "2020-03-07"))

Do Wednesday and Saturday reflect surges of interest in the package or surges of traffic to CRAN? To put it differently, how can we know if a given download count is typical or unusual? One way to answer these questions is to locate your package in the overall frequency distribution of download counts.

Below are the distributions of logarithm of download counts for Wednesday and Saturday. The location of a vertical segment along the x-axis represents a download count and the height of a segment represents that download count’s frequency. The location of ‘cholera’ in the distribution is highlighted in red.

plot(packageDistribution(package = "cholera", date = "2020-03-04"))

plot(packageDistribution(package = "cholera", date = "2020-03-07"))

While these plots give us a better picture of where ‘cholera’ is located, comparisons between Wednesday and Saturday are impressionistic at best: all we can confidently say is that the download counts for both days were greater than the mode.

To facilitate interpretation and comparison, I use the rank percentile of a download count in place of the nominal download count. This nonparametric statistic tells you the percentage of packages with fewer downloads. In other words, it gives you the location of your package relative to the locations of all other packages. More importantly, by rescaling download counts to lie on the bounded interval between 0 and 100, rank percentiles make it easier to compare packages within and across distributions.

For example, we can compare Wednesday (“2020-03-04”) to Saturday (“2020-03-07”):

packageRank(package = "cholera", date = "2020-03-04")
>         date packages downloads            rank percentile
> 1 2020-03-04  cholera        38 5,556 of 18,038       67.9

On Wednesday, we can see that ‘cholera’ had 38 downloads, came in 5,556th place out of 18,038 observed packages, and earned a spot in the 68th percentile.

packageRank(package = "cholera", date = "2020-03-07")
>         date packages downloads            rank percentile
> 1 2020-03-07  cholera        29 3,061 of 15,950         80

On Saturday, we can see that ‘cholera’ had 29 downloads, came in 3,061st place out of 15,950 observed packages, and earned a spot in the 80th percentile.

So contrary to what the nominal counts tell us, one could say that the interest in ‘cholera’ was actually greater on Saturday than on Wednesday.

computing rank percentile

To compute rank percentiles, I do the following. For each package, I tabulate the number of downloads and then compute the percentage of packages with fewer downloads. Here are the details using ‘cholera’ from Wednesday as an example:

pkg.rank <- packageRank(packages = "cholera", date = "2020-03-04")

downloads <- pkg.rank$freqtab

round(100 * mean(downloads < downloads["cholera"]), 1)
> [1] 67.9

To put it differently:

(pkgs.with.fewer.downloads <- sum(downloads < downloads["cholera"]))
> [1] 12250
(tot.pkgs <- length(downloads))
> [1] 18038
round(100 * pkgs.with.fewer.downloads / tot.pkgs, 1)
> [1] 67.9

nominal ranks

In the example above, 38 downloads puts ‘cholera’ in 5,556th place among 18,038 observed packages. This rank is “nominal” because it’s possible that multiple packages can have the same number of downloads. As a result, a package’s nominal rank (but not its rank percentile) can be affected by its name. This is because packages with the same number of downloads are sorted in alphabetical order. Thus, ‘cholera’ benefits from the fact that it is 31st in the list of 263 packages with 38 downloads:

pkg.rank <- packageRank(packages = "cholera", date = "2020-03-04")
downloads <- pkg.rank$freqtab

which(names(downloads[downloads == 38]) == "cholera")
> [1] 31
length(downloads[downloads == 38])
> [1] 263

visualizing package download rank percentiles

To visualize packageRank(), use plot().

plot(packageRank(packages = "cholera", date = "2020-03-04"))


plot(packageRank(packages = "cholera", date = "2020-03-07"))

These graphs, customized to be on the same scale, plot the rank order of packages’ download counts (x-axis) against the logarithm of those counts (y-axis). It then highlights a package’s position in the distribution along with its rank percentile and download count (in red). In the background, the 75th, 50th and 25th percentiles are plotted as dotted vertical lines. The package with the most downloads, ‘magrittr’ in both cases, is at top left (in blue). The total number of downloads is at the top right (in blue).

III - filtering package download counts

Package downloads are computed by counting log entries. While straightforward, this approach can run into problems. Putting aside the question of whether package dependencies should even be counted, here I’m focusing on what I believe are two sets of “invalid” log entries. The first, a software artifact, stems from entries that are smaller, often orders of magnitude smaller, than the size of a package’s actual binary or source file. The second, a behavioral artifact, emerges from efforts to download all of CRAN (i.e., all packages, including all past versions). In both cases, the problem is that reliance on nominal counts will give you an inflated sense of interest in your package. An early but detailed analysis and discussion of both inflations is included as part of this R-hub blog post.

software artifacts

When looking at package download logs, the first thing you’ll notice are wrongly sized log entries. They come in two sizes: “small” and “medium”. While the “small” entries are approximately 500 bytes in size, the size of “medium” entries are variable: they fall anywhere between a “small” and a full download (i.e., “small” <= “medium” <= full download). “Small” entries manifest themselves as standalone entries, as paired with a full download, or as part of a triplet with a “medium” and a full download. “Medium” entries manifest themselves as either standalone entries or as part of a triplet.

The example below illustrates a triplet:

packageLog(date = "2020-07-01")[4:6, -(4:6)]
>               date     time    size package version country ip_id
> 3998633 2020-07-01 07:56:15   99622 cholera   0.7.0      US  4760
> 3999066 2020-07-01 07:56:15 4161948 cholera   0.7.0      US  4760
> 3999178 2020-07-01 07:56:15     536 cholera   0.7.0      US  4760

The “medium” entry is the first observation (99,622 bytes). The observed full download is the second entry (4,161,948 bytes). The “small” entry is the last observation (536 bytes). At a minimum, what makes a triplet a triplet (or a pair a pair) is that all members share system configuration (e.g. IP address, etc.) and have identical or adjacent time stamps.

To deal with the inflationary effect of “small” entries, I filter out observations smaller than 1,000 bytes (the smallest package appears to be ‘source.gist’, which weighs in at 1,200 bytes). “Medium” entries are harder to handle. I remove them using either a triplet-specific filter or a filter that looks up a package’s actual size.

behavioral artifacts

While wrongly sized entries are fairly easy to spot, seeing the effect of efforts to download CRAN require a change of perspective.

While details and further evidence can be found in the R-hub blog post mentioned above, I’ll try to illustrate the problem with the following example:

packageLog(packages = "cholera", date = "2020-07-31")[8:14, -(4:6)]
>              date     time    size package version country ip_id
> 132509 2020-07-31 21:03:06 3797776 cholera   0.2.1      US    14
> 132106 2020-07-31 21:03:07 4285678 cholera   0.4.0      US    14
> 132347 2020-07-31 21:03:07 4109051 cholera   0.3.0      US    14
> 133198 2020-07-31 21:03:08 3766514 cholera   0.5.0      US    14
> 132630 2020-07-31 21:03:09 3764848 cholera   0.5.1      US    14
> 133078 2020-07-31 21:03:11 4275831 cholera   0.6.0      US    14
> 132644 2020-07-31 21:03:12 4284609 cholera   0.6.5      US    14

Here, we see that seven different versions of the package were downloaded in a sequential bloc. A little digging show that these seven versions represent all versions of ‘cholera’ available on that date:

packageHistory(package = "cholera")
>   Package Version       Date Repository
> 1 cholera   0.2.1 2017-08-10    Archive
> 2 cholera   0.3.0 2018-01-26    Archive
> 3 cholera   0.4.0 2018-04-01    Archive
> 4 cholera   0.5.0 2018-07-16    Archive
> 5 cholera   0.5.1 2018-08-15    Archive
> 6 cholera   0.6.0 2019-03-08    Archive
> 7 cholera   0.6.5 2019-06-11    Archive
> 8 cholera   0.7.0 2019-08-28       CRAN

While there are legitimate reasons for downloading past versions (e.g., research, container-based software distribution, etc.), examples like the above are “fingerprints” of efforts to download CRAN. The problem here is that when your package is downloaded as part of such efforts, that download is more a reflection of an interest in CRAN as collection of packages than of an interest in your package per se. And since one of the uses of counting package downloads is to estimate interest in your package, it may be useful to exclude such entries.

To do so, I try to filter out these entries in two ways. The first identifies IP addresses that download “too many” packages and then filters out “campaigns”, large blocs of downloads that occur in (nearly) alphabetical order. The second looks for campaigns not associated with “greedy” IP addresses and filters out sequences of past versions downloaded in a narrowly defined time window.

example usage

To get an idea of how inflated your package’s download count may be, use filteredDownloads(). Below are the results for ‘cholera’ for 31 July 2020.

filteredDownloads(package = "cholera", date = "2020-07-31")
>         date package downloads filtered.downloads inflation
> 1 2020-07-31 cholera        14                 12     16.67

While there were 14 nominal downloads, applying all the filters reduced the number of downloads to 5, an inflation of 180%.

Note that the filters are computationally demanding. Excluding the time it takes to download the log file, the filters in the above example take approximate 75 seconds to run using parallelized code (currently only available on macOS and Unix) on a 3.1 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 processor.

Currently, there are 5 different functions. They are controlled by the following function arguments (listed in order of application):

These filters are off by default (e.g., ip.filter = FALSE). To apply them, set the argument for the filter you want to TRUE:

packageRank(package = "cholera", small.filter = TRUE)

Alternatively, you can simply set all.filters = TRUE.

packageRank(package = "cholera", all.filters = TRUE)

Note that the all.filters argument is contextual. This is because there are two sets of filters: CRAN specific functions, accessible via the ip.filter and size.filter arguments, work independently of packages, at the level of the entire log; package specific functions, accessible via the triplet.filter, sequence.filter, and size.filter arguments, rely on specific information about packages (e.g., size of source or binary file).

Ideally, we’d like to use both sets. However, the package specific set can be computationally expensive, especially when making relative comparisons like computing rank percentiles. This is because we need to apply the package specific filters to all the observed packages in a log, which can involve tens of thousands of packages. While not unfeasible, currently this takes a long time.

For this reason, when setting all.filters = TRUE, certain functions default to use only CRAN specific filters: packageRank(), ipPackage(), countryPackage(), countryDistribution() and packageDistribution(). Other functions default to using both CRAN and package specific functions: packageLog(), packageCountry(), and filteredDownloads().

IV - notes

country codes (top level domains)

While IP addresses are anonymized, packageCountry() and countryPackage() make use of the fact that the logs provide corresponding ISO country codes or top level domains (e.g., AT, JP, US). Note that coverage extends to about 85% of observations (i.e., approximately 15% country codes are NA). Also, for what it’s worth, there seems to be a a couple of typos for country codes: “A1” (A + number one) and “A2” (A + number 2). According to RStudio’s documentation, this coding was done using MaxMind’s free database, which no longer seems to be available and may be a bit out of date.

memoization

To avoid the bottleneck of downloading multiple log files, packageRank() is currently limited to individual calendar dates. To reduce the bottleneck of re-downloading logs, which can be upwards of 50 MB, ‘packageRank’ makes use of memoization via the ‘memoise’ package.

Here’s relevant code:

fetchLog <- function(url) data.table::fread(url)

mfetchLog <- memoise::memoise(fetchLog)

if (RCurl::url.exists(url)) {
  cran_log <- mfetchLog(url)
}

# Note that data.table::fread() relies on R.utils::decompressFile().

This means that logs are intelligently cached; those that have already been downloaded in your current R session will not be downloaded again.

time zones

The calendar date (e.g. “2021-01-01”) is the unit of observation for ‘packageRank’ functions. However, because the typical use case involves the latest log file, time zone differences can come into play.

Let’s say that it’s 09:01 on 01 January 2021 and you want to compute the rank percentile for ‘ergm’ for the last day of 2020. You might be tempted to use the following:

packageRank(packages = "ergm")

However, depending on where you make this request, you may not get the data you expect. In Honolulu, USA, you will but in Sydney, Australia you won’t. The reason is that you’ve somehow forgotten a key piece of trivia: RStudio typically posts yesterday’s log around 17:00 UTC the following day.

The expression works in Honolulu because 09:01 HST on 01 January 2021 is 19:01 UTC 01 January 2021. So the log you want has been available for 2 hours. The expression fails in Sydney because 09:01 AEDT on 01 January 2021 is 31 December 2020 22:00 UTC. The log you want won’t actually be available for another 19 hours.

To make life a little easier, ‘packageRank’ does two things. First, when the log for the date you want is not available (due to time zone rather than server issues), you’ll just get the last available log. If you specified a date in the future, you’ll either get an error message or a warning that provides an estimate of when that log should be available.

Using the Sydney example and the expression above, you’d get the results for 30 December 2020:

packageRank(packages = "ergm")
>         date packages downloads          rank percentile
> 1 2020-12-30     ergm       292 873 of 20,077       95.6

If you had specified the date, you’d get an additional warning:

packageRank(packages = "ergm", date = "2021-01-01")
>         date packages downloads          rank percentile
> 1 2020-12-30     ergm       292 873 of 20,077       95.6

Warning message:
2020-12-31 log arrives in appox. 19 hours at 02 Jan 04:00 AEDT. Using last available!

Second, to help you check/remember when logs are posted in your location, there’s logDate() and logPostInfo(). The former silently returns the date of the current available log. The latter adds the approximate local and UTC times when logs of the desired date are posted to RStudio’s server.

Here’s what you’d see using the Honolulu example:

logDate()
> [1] "2021-01-01

and

logPostInfo()
> $log.date
> [1] "2021-01-01"
>
> $GMT
> [1] "2021-01-01 17:00:00 GMT"
>
> $local
> [1] "2021-01-01 07:00:00 HST"

For both functions, the default is to use your time zone. To see the results in a different time zone, pass the desired zone name from OlsonNames() to the tz argument. Here are the results for Sydney when the functions are called from Honolulu (19:01 UTC):

logDate(tz = "Australia/Sydney")
> [1] "2021-01-01"

and

logPostInfo(tz = "Australia/Sydney")
> $log.date
> [1] "2021-01-01"
>
> $GMT
> [1] "2021-01-01 17:00:00 GMT"
>
> $local
> [1] "2021-01-01 04:00:00 AEDT"

This functionality depends on R’s ability to to compute your local time and time zone (e.g., Sys.time()). My understanding is that there may be operating system or platform specific issues that could undermine this.

timeout

With R 4.0.3, the timeout value for internet connections became more explicit. Here are the relevant details from that release’s “New features”:

The default value for options("timeout") can be set from environment variable
R_DEFAULT_INTERNET_TIMEOUT, still defaulting to 60 (seconds) if that is not set
or invalid.

This change can affect functions that download logs. This is especially true over slower internet connections or when you’re dealing with large log files. To fix this, fetchCranLog() will, if needed, temporarily set the timeout to 600 seconds.