Using sqlhelper in packages

sqlhelper was written to streamline SQL integration in packages designed to meet organizations’ particular analytical needs, in stable data contexts. The pattern of integrating SQL with R code in analysis packages is intended to:

This note describes how to use sqlhelper safely inside a package.


If more than one connection is needed for a project, the easiest approach will be to define them in a yaml file as described in vignette("connections"). The yaml file is placed under inst in the root of the package and accessed with devtools::system.file() (see r-pkgs on using installed files).

    system.file( "sqlhelper_connection_conf.yml" ),

Connections that cannot be defined this way may be defined within the package. How this is handled will depend on considerations such as how long each connection will be needed for, how widely it will need to be shared between other package components, and whether it will need to be exposed to users.

If a connection is needed once and may be used and closed during the execution of a single function it may be sufficient to define it within the namespace of that function and close it on or before the function exits, for example:

get_some_data <- function(){
  conn <- DBI::dbConnect(a_driver, "a connection string")
  d <- sqlhelper::run_files( 
          default.conn = conn

A connection that needs to be shared across functions or function calls, but not exposed to users, may be stored in an environment in the package’s top-level namespace, for example:

       new.env(parent = emptyenv()),
connect <- function(){
    DBI::dbConnect(a_driver, "a connection string"), 
    envir = connection_store

get_some_data <- function(){
          default.conn = connection_store$c1

# This is a bit belt-and-braces, but thorough.
disconnect <- function(){
  connection_store$c1 <- NULL
  rm(list=c("c1), envir=connection_store)

(this approach is in fact more or less the one take by sqlhelper itself)

SQL files

If multiple connections are required but cannot be defined in yaml it will somewhat diminish the ability to control execution on a query-by-query basis and may produce a need to split queries into more files than would otherwise be necessary. mf a package contains many SQL files, it may be useful to store them in a SQL directory under inst/. They may be accessed in the same way, with system.file(), either system.file("SQL", "file_name.SQL") or system.file("SQL/file_name.SQL") (the latter may be somewhat less portable).

It is often convenient to define SQL parameters in a different scope to the calling scope of run_files(). In this case it is important to ensure that the package does not interfere with the user’s global environment. The easiest way to do this is to store them in an environment (e.g. in the same way as illustrated for connections, above) and pass them to the values parameter of run_files(), run_queries() or prepare_sql(). See run_queries() or vignette("execution") for examples.


It may be desirable to close sqlhelper’s connections when a calling package has completed it’s operations. This can be achieved easily with sqlhelper::disconnect().