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box::use imports one or more modules and/or packages, and makes them available in the calling environment.


box::use(prefix/mod, ...)

box::use(pkg, ...)

box::use(alias = prefix/mod, ...)

box::use(alias = pkg, ...)

box::use(prefix/mod[attach_list], ...)

box::use(pkg[attach_list], ...)



further import declarations


a qualified module name


a package name


an alias name


a list of names to attached, optionally witha aliases of the form alias = name; or the special placeholder name ...


box::use has no return value. It is called for its side effect.


box::use(...) specifies a list of one or more import declarations, given as individual arguments to box::use, separated by comma. box::use permits using a trailing comma after the last import declaration. Each import declaration takes one of the following forms:


Import a module given the qualified module name prefix/mod and make it available locally using the name mod. The prefix itself can be a nested name to allow importing specific submodules. Local imports can be specified via the prefixes starting with . and .., to override the search path and use the local path instead. See the ‘Search path’ below for details.


Import a package pkg and make it available locally using its own package name.

alias = prefix/mod or alias = pkg:

Import a module or package, and make it available locally using the name alias instead of its regular module or package name.

prefix/mod[attach_list] or pkg[attach_list]:

Import a module or package and attach the exported symbols listed in attach_list locally. This declaration does not make the module/package itself available locally. To override this, provide an alias, that is, use alias = prefix/mod[attach_list] or alias = pkg[attach_list].

The attach_list is a comma-separated list of names, optionally with aliases assigned via alias = name. The list can also contain the special symbol ..., which causes all exported names of the module/package to be imported.

See the vignette at vignette('box', 'box') for detailed examples of the different types of use declarations listed above.

Import semantics

Modules and packages are loaded into dedicated namespace environments. Names from a module or package can be selectively attached to the current scope as shown above.

Unlike with library, attaching happens locally, i.e. in the caller’s environment: if box::use is executed in the global environment, the effect is the same. Otherwise, the effect of importing and attaching a module or package is limited to the caller’s local scope (its environment()). When used inside a module at module scope, the newly imported module is only available inside the module’s scope, not outside it (nor in other modules which might be loaded).

Member access of (non-attached) exported names of modules and packages happens via the $ operator. This operator does not perform partial argument matching, in contrast with the behavior of the $ operator in base R, which matches partial names.

Note that replacement functions (i.e. functions of the form fun<-) must be attached to be usable, because R syntactically does not allow assignment calls where the left-hand side of the assignment contains $.

Export specification

Names defined in modules can be marked as exported by prefixing them with an @export tag comment; that is, the name needs to be immediately prefixed by a comment that reads, verbatim, #' @export. That line may optionally be part of a roxygen2 documentation for that name.

Alternatively, exports may be specified via the box::export function, but using declarative @export tags is generally preferred.

A module which has not declared any exports is treated as a legacy module and exports all default-visible names (that is, all names that do not start with a dot (.). This usage is present only for backwards compatibility with plain R scripts, and its usage is not recommended when writing new modules.

To define a module that exports no names, call box::export() without arguments. This prevents the module from being treated as a legacy module.

Search path

Modules are searched in the module search path, given by getOption('box.path'). This is a character vector of paths to search, from the highest to the lowest priority. The current directory is always considered last. That is, if a file a/b.r exists both locally in the current directory and in a module search path, the local file ./a/b.r will not be loaded, unless the import is explicitly declared as box::use(./a/b).

Modules in the module search path must be organised in subfolders, and must be imported fully qualified. Keep in mind that box::use(name) will never attempt to load a module; it always attempts to load a package. A common module organisation is by project, company or user name; for instance, fully qualified module names could mirror repository names on source code sharing websites (such as GitHub).

Given a declaration box::use(a/b) and a search path p, if the file p/a/b.r does not exist, box alternatively looks for a nested file p/a/b/__init__r to load. Module path names are case sensitive (even on case insensitive file systems), but the file extension can be spelled as either .r or .R (if both exist, .r is given preference).

The module search path can be overridden by the environment variable R_BOX_PATH. If set, it may consist of one or more search paths, separated by the platform’s path separator (i.e. ; on Windows, and : on most other platforms).

Deprecation warning: in the next major version, box will read environment variables only once, at package load time. Modifying the value of R_BOX_PATH afterwards will have no effect, unless the package is unloaded and reloaded.

The current directory is context-dependent: inside a module, the directory corresponds to the module’s directory. Inside an R code file invoked from the command line, it corresponds to the directory containing that file. If the code is running inside a Shiny application or a knitr document, the directory of the execution is used. Otherwise (e.g. in an interactive R session), the current working directory as given by getwd() is used.

Local import declarations (that is, module prefixes that start with ./ or ../) never use the search path to find the module. Instead, only the current module’s directory (for ./) or the parent module’s directory (for ../) is looked at. ../ can be nested: ../../ denotes the grandparent module, etc.

S3 support

Modules can contain S3 generics and methods. To override known generics (= those defined outside the module), methods inside a module need to be registered using box::register_S3_method. See the documentation there for details.

Module names

A module’s full name consists of one or more R names separated by /. Since box::use declarations contain R expressions, the names need to be valid R names. Non-syntactic names need to be wrapped in backticks; see Quotes.

Furthermore, since module names usually correspond to file or folder names, they should consist only of valid path name characters to ensure portability.


All module source code files are assumed to be UTF-8 encoded.

See also

box::name and box::file give information about loaded modules. box::help displays help for a module’s exported names. box::unload and box::reload aid during module development by performing dynamic unloading and reloading of modules in a running R session. box::export can be used as an alternative to @export comments inside a module to declare module exports.


# Set the module search path for the example module.
old_opts = options(box.path = system.file(package = 'box'))

# Basic usage
# The file `mod/hello_world.r` exports the functions `hello` and `bye`.
#> Hello, Robert!
#> Goodbye Robert!

# Using an alias
box::use(world = mod/hello_world)
#> Hello, John!

# Attaching exported names
#> Hello, Jenny!
# Exported but not attached, thus access fails:
#> Error in bye("Jenny") : could not find function "bye"

# Attach everything, give `hello` an alias:
box::use(mod/hello_world[hi = hello, ...])
#> Hello, Eve!
#> Goodbye Eve!

# Reset the module search path

if (FALSE) {
# The following code illustrates different import declaration syntaxes
# inside a single `box::use` declaration:

    mod2 = ./local/mod,
    tbl = tibble,
    dplyr = dplyr[filter, select],
    stats[st_filter = filter, ...],

# This declaration makes the following names available in the caller’s scope:
# 1. `mod`, which refers to the module environment for  `global/mod`
# 2. `mod2`, which refers to the module environment for `./local/mod`
# 3. `purrr`, which refers to the package environment for ‘purrr’
# 4. `tbl`, which refers to the package environment for ‘tibble’
# 5. `dplyr`, which refers to the package environment for ‘dplyr’
# 6. `filter` and `select`, which refer to the names exported by ‘dplyr’
# 7. `st_filter`, which refers to `stats::filter`
# 8. all other exported names from the ‘stats’ package