rJava: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Written by: Paul Rubin

Primary Source: OR in an OB World

I’ve written not once but twice before (in 2011 and 2015) about the hassles of getting the rJava package to work with R. Every time I think I have a fix for it, someone changes something somewhere and the previous fix no longer works. I had to reinstall rJava today (from the Canonical repositories) after a system upgrade on PC. So, naturally it declined to work.

The symptoms, in both R terminal sessions and when running RStudio, were the same as in 2015. Executing library(rJava) in an R session earned me an error message containing the same nugget

libjvm.so: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory

as before. Executing Sys.getenv(c(“JAVA_HOME”, “LD_LIBRARY_PATH”)) showed me that the proximate cause was the same as in 2015: the library path was missing the “/jre” piece near its middle. So, same problem implies same cure, right? Wrong! The paths in /usr/lib/R/etc/ldpaths were correct; they just were not working as expected.

The key lines in  /usr/lib/R/etc/ldpaths were as follows.

: ${JAVA_HOME=/usr/lib/jvm/java-8-oracle/jre}
: ${R_JAVA_LD_LIBRARY_PATH=${JAVA_HOME}/lib/amd64/server}

They look correct, but apparently they are only executed if the corresponding environment variables (JAVA_HOME and R_JAVA_LD_LIBRARY_PATH) are not already defined. I suspect this is due to the colon at the start of each line, but I’m no expert on BASH syntax. You can test this in a terminal by running something like the following: execute

JAVA_HOME="silly" R

at the terminal prompt (which temporarily resets the JAVA_HOME environment variable to something, well, silly), and in the R session execute


which prints a path whose Java portion starts with “silly”.

The source of the predefined value of JAVA_HOME, at least on my system, is /etc/profile.d/jdk.sh, which contains the following lines.

export J2SDKDIR=/usr/lib/jvm/java-8-oracle
export J2REDIR=/usr/lib/jvm/java-8-oracle/jre
export PATH=$PATH:/usr/lib/jvm/java-8-oracle/bin:/usr/lib/jvm/java-8-oracle/db/bin:/usr/lib/jvm/java-8-oracle/jre/bin
export JAVA_HOME=/usr/lib/jvm/java-8-oracle
export DERBY_HOME=/usr/lib/jvm/java-8-oracle/db

One solution would be to append “/jre” to JAVA_HOME in that file (making it identical to J2REDIR), but that has two problems. The first is that whatever installer created /etc/profile.d/jdk.sh is likely to overwrite the change the next time the installer is run. The second, potentially more serious, problem is that JAVA_HOME is presumably being set to its current value for a reason. Changing it might have unforeseen consequences with another program.

So my “solution” (hack) is to modify one line in /usr/lib/R/etc/ldpaths as seen below.

## : ${R_JAVA_LD_LIBRARY_PATH=${JAVA_HOME}/lib/amd64/server}
: ${R_JAVA_LD_LIBRARY_PATH=${JAVA_HOME}/jre/lib/amd64/server}

That’s still subject to being overwritten by an installer in the future, but at least it only affects R (and it works).

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I'm an apostate mathematician, retired from a business school after 33 years of teaching mostly (but not exclusively) quantitative methods courses. My academic interests lie in operations research. I also study Tae Kwon Do a bit on the side.

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