Question {utils}R Documentation

Documentation Shortcuts


These functions provide access to documentation. Documentation on a topic with name name (typically, an R object or a data set) can be displayed by either help("name") or ?name.






Usually, a name or character string specifying the topic for which help is sought.

Alternatively, a function call to ask for documentation on a corresponding S4 method: see the section on S4 method documentation. The calls pkg::topic and pkg:::topic are treated specially, and look for help on topic in package pkg.


the special type of documentation to use for this topic; for example, type package will look for the overview help page of a package named topic, and if the type is class, documentation is provided for the S4 class with name topic. See the Section ‘S4 Method Documentation’ for the uses of type to get help on formal methods, including methods?function and method?call.


This is a shortcut to help and uses its default type of help.

Some topics need to be quoted (by backticks) or given as a character string. There include those which cannot syntactically appear on their own such as unary and binary operators, function and control-flow reserved words (including if, else for, in, repeat, while, break and next). The other reserved words can be used as if they were names, for example TRUE, NA and Inf.

S4 Method Documentation

Authors of formal (‘S4’) methods can provide documentation on specific methods, as well as overall documentation on the methods of a particular function. The "?" operator allows access to this documentation in three ways.

The expression methods?f will look for the overall documentation methods for the function f. Currently, this means the documentation file containing the alias f-methods.

There are two different ways to look for documentation on a particular method. The first is to supply the topic argument in the form of a function call, omitting the type argument. The effect is to look for documentation on the method that would be used if this function call were actually evaluated. See the examples below. If the function is not a generic (no S4 methods are defined for it), the help reverts to documentation on the function name.

The "?" operator can also be called with type supplied as method; in this case also, the topic argument is a function call, but the arguments are now interpreted as specifying the class of the argument, not the actual expression that will appear in a real call to the function. See the examples below.

The first approach will be tedious if the actual call involves complicated expressions, and may be slow if the arguments take a long time to evaluate. The second approach avoids these issues, but you do have to know what the classes of the actual arguments will be when they are evaluated.

Both approaches make use of any inherited methods; the signature of the method to be looked up is found by using selectMethod (see the documentation for getMethod). A limitation is that methods in packages (as opposed to regular functions) will only be found if the package exporting them is on the search list, even if it is specified explicitly using the ?package::generic() notation.


Becker, R. A., Chambers, J. M. and Wilks, A. R. (1988) The New S Language. Wadsworth & Brooks/Cole.

See Also


?? for finding help pages on a vague topic.



?"for"                  # but quotes/backticks are needed

?women                  # information about data set "women"

package?parallel        # overview help page of package 'parallel'

## Not run: 
## define a S4 generic function and some methods
combo <- function(x, y) c(x, y)
setMethod("combo", c("numeric", "numeric"), function(x, y) x+y)

## assume we have written some documentation
## for combo, and its methods ....

?combo  # produces the function documentation

methods?combo  # looks for the overall methods documentation

method?combo("numeric", "numeric")  # documentation for the method above

?combo(1:10, rnorm(10))  # ... the same method, selected according to
                         # the arguments (one integer, the other numeric)

?combo(1:10, letters)    # documentation for the default method

## End(Not run)

[Package utils version 4.4.1 Index]