Using Rstudio Server with docker

It’s taking a long time to run my genetic algorithm optimisation models recently. So much so that I’ve been looking at offloading processes to other computers lying idle on the network. The armr project aims to do this with parallel processing and Rstudio server docker images running on the raspberry pi but this is a work in progress currently, chiefly due to having to build Rstudio server from source.

In the meantime I have managed to run Rstudio server in a Docker container on my personal laptop, logging into it on my work laptop. Here’s how I did it, using the image provided by the Rocker project.

On the host machine

Assuming you already have docker installed, run the below code in a terminal on the host machine.

docker pull rocker/rstudio
docker run --rm -p 8787:8787 -e PASSWORD="password" rocker/rstudio

The default user name is “rstudio”. If you want to set the user name, add -e USER="user" to the command above.

As easy as that. To make the image usable we would have to create a new dockerfile based on this image and add run commands that install packages within R. For example,

from rocker/rstudio
RUN R -e "install.packages('tidyverse')"

The base armr dockerfile shows how to do this with an install script that reads a requirements.txt file - much quicker than installing each package individually. For saving work, you’ll also need to add a volume tag to the docker run command, e.g.,

docker run --rm -v $(pwd):home/user/ -p 8787:8787 -e USER="user" -e PASSWORD="password" rocker/rstudio

On the external machine

To access from another computer on the network, open a browser and navigate to hostname:877, where hostname is the hostname of the computer running the container. This can be found by running hostname on it from the terminal (Linux only). If you want to access Rstudio server on the go, away from home, then you will need to do the following.

  • Issue a static IP address to the host computer, most easily done using your router
  • Set up port forwarding to forward port 8787 from the static IP to the outside world
  • Read up on security settings in Rstudio server and implement them! These are likely to include IP whitelisting, certificate only authentication, banning IP addresses after several failed attempts (see fail2ban) and more
Richard Davey
Richard Davey
Group Leader, Data & Decision Science

My interests include earth science, numerical modelling and problem solving through optimisation.