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GUI building in R: gWidgets vs Deducer

20th February, 2012 5 comments

I’ve been a user (and fan) of gWidgets for a couple of years now for GUI building in R. (See my introduction to it here.) However, it’s always good to check out the competition so I’ve been playing around with Deducer to see how they compare.

R can access a number of GUI building frameworks including tcltk, GTK, qt, and Java, not to mention HTML. gWidgets’ big selling point is that is provides a high-level wrapper to all the R wrappers for each framework, so you can write code in a toolkit independent way. Switching between tcltk and GTK and qt won’t often be that useful, but if you think you might want to move from a desktop based GUI to a web app, it makes the transition easier. By contrast, Deducer based upon the rJava, and provides access to the Java Swing framework. It’s a slightly lower level library (which means you have to write more lines of code to achieve the same thing), but since you get full access to Swing, it’s a little more flexible. Deducer also has some features to integrate your GUIs with JGR, so if you use that for running R, it’s perhaps the most natural choice.

To test the two frameworks, I wrote a small GUI for running the Kolmogorov-Smirnoff test (that one of the ones for checking whether or not a variable seems to have been sampled from a particular distribution). Take a look at the code below to see the comparison. (Regular reader may notice I’ve switched from my usual under_casing to camelCasing. Both the frameworks use this style, so I thought I’d follow suit for cleanliness.)

First, here are some common variables (labels and the like).

#Some sample data to test against
x1 <- rnorm(100)
x2 <- runif(100)

#Widget labels
labelX <- "Variable name for data: "
labelY <- "Distribution to compare to: "
labelAlternative <- "One or two sided test?: "
labelP <- "The p-value is: "

#Choices for comboboxes
choicesAlternative <- eval(formals(ks.test)$alternative)
distributions <- c(
    normal = pnorm, 
    exponential = pexp,
    F = pf,
    "log-normal" = plnorm,
    "Student's t" = pt,
    uniform = punif
)

This is the gWidgets GUI

createKsTestGwidgets <- function()
{
  library(gWidgetstcltk)
  options(guiToolkit = "tcltk")
  win <- gwindow("KS Test, gWidgets edition", visible = FALSE)
  
  frmX <- gframe("x", container = win)
  lblX <- glabel(labelX, container = frmX)
  txtX <- gedit(container = frmX)
  
  frmY <- gframe("y", container = win)
  lblY <- glabel(labelY, container = frmY)
  cmbY <- gcombobox(names(distributions), container = frmY)
  
  frmAlternative <- gframe("alternative", container = win)
  lblAlternative <- glabel(labelAlternative, container = frmAlternative)
  cmbAlternative <- gcombobox(choicesAlternative, container = frmAlternative)
  
  btnCalc <- gbutton("Calculate", container = win,
      handler = function(h, ...)
      {
        x <- get(svalue(txtX), mode = "numeric")
        y <- distributions[[svalue(cmbY)]]
        alternative <- svalue(cmbAlternative)
        ans <- ks.test(x, y, alternative = alternative)
        svalue(txtP) <- format(ans$p.value, digits = 3)
      }
  )
  frmResults <- gframe("results", container = win)
  lblP <- glabel(labelP, container = frmResults)
  txtP <- gedit(container = frmResults)
  visible(win) <- TRUE
  
}

createKsTestGwidgets()

…and here’s the Deducer equivalent.

createKsTestDeducer <- function()
{
  library(Deducer)
  win <- new(RDialog)
  win$setSize(300L, 500L)
  win$setTitle("KS TEST, Deducer edition")
  
  JLabel <- J("javax.swing.JLabel")
  lblX <- new(JLabel, labelX)
  addComponent(win, lblX, 1, 1000, 50, 1, rightType = "REL")
  txtX <- new(TextAreaWidget, "x")
  addComponent(win, txtX, 51, 1000, 150, 1, rightType = "REL")
  
  lblY <- new(JLabel, labelY)
  addComponent(win, lblY, 151, 1000, 200, 1, rightType = "REL")
  
  cmbY <- new(ComboBoxWidget, names(distributions))
  cmbY$setDefaultModel(names(distributions)[1])
  addComponent(win, cmbY, 201, 1000, 300, 1, rightType = "REL")
  
  lblAlternative <- new(JLabel, labelAlternative)
  addComponent(win, lblAlternative, 301, 1000, 400, 1, rightType = "REL")
  
  cmbAlternative <- new(ComboBoxWidget, choicesAlternative)
  cmbAlternative$setDefaultModel(choicesAlternative[1])
  addComponent(win, cmbAlternative, 401, 1000, 500, 1, rightType = "REL")
  
  JButton <- J("javax.swing.JButton")
  btnCalc <- new(JButton, "Calculate")
  addComponent(win, btnCalc, 501, 1000, 601, 1, rightType = "REL")
  ActionListener <- J("org.rosuda.deducer.widgets.event.RActionListener")
  listener <- new(ActionListener)
  calculationHandler <- function(cmd, ActionEvent)
  {
    x <- get(txtX$getText())
    y <- distributions[[cmbY$getModel()]]
    alternative <- cmbAlternative$getModel()
    ans <- ks.test(x, y, alternative = alternative)
    print(ans)
    txtP$setText(format(ans$p.value, digits = 3))
  }
  listener$setFunction(toJava(calculationHandler))
  btnCalc$addActionListener(listener)
  
  lblP <- new(JLabel, labelP)
  addComponent(win, lblP, 601, 1000, 650, 1, rightType = "REL")
  
  txtP <- new(TextAreaWidget, "results")
  addComponent(win, txtP, 651, 1000, 750, 1, rightType = "REL")
    
  win$run()
}

createKsTestDeducer()

Note that the Deducer example works perfectly under JGR, though I couldn’t get the button handler to fire when running it from eclipse. This is likely due to my inexperience with the toolkit rather than a fundamental problem with the framework. Many of the lines are more or less a one-to-one comparison, but Deducer requires you to explicitly specify positions of widgets, and is a little more verbose when you come to add event handling logic.

Either or these frameworks is suitable for the obvious use case of GUI building in R (rapid prototyping of front-ends for non technical users, and for teaching demos), so don’t sweat your decision too much.

Edit: Fixed variable name casing issues.

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