Ever used an R function that produced a not-very-helpful error message, just to discover after minutes of debugging that you simply passed a wrong argument?

Blaming the laziness of the package author for not doing such standard checks (in a dynamically typed language such as R) is at least partially unfair, as R makes these types of checks cumbersome and annoying. Well, that’s how it was in the past.

Enter checkmate.

Virtually **every standard type of user error** when
passing arguments into function can be caught with a simple, readable
line which produces an **informative error message** in
case. A substantial part of the package was written in C to
**minimize any worries about execution time overhead**.

## Intro

As a motivational example, consider you have a function to calculate
the faculty of a natural number and the user may choose between using
either the stirling approximation or R’s `factorial`

function
(which internally uses the gamma function). Thus, you have two
arguments, `n`

and `method`

. Argument
`n`

must obviously be a positive natural number and
`method`

must be either `"stirling"`

or
`"factorial"`

. Here is a version of all the hoops you need to
jump through to ensure that these simple requirements are met:

```
fact <- function(n, method = "stirling") {
if (length(n) != 1)
stop("Argument 'n' must have length 1")
if (!is.numeric(n))
stop("Argument 'n' must be numeric")
if (is.na(n))
stop("Argument 'n' may not be NA")
if (is.double(n)) {
if (is.nan(n))
stop("Argument 'n' may not be NaN")
if (is.infinite(n))
stop("Argument 'n' must be finite")
if (abs(n - round(n, 0)) > sqrt(.Machine$double.eps))
stop("Argument 'n' must be an integerish value")
n <- as.integer(n)
}
if (n < 0)
stop("Argument 'n' must be >= 0")
if (length(method) != 1)
stop("Argument 'method' must have length 1")
if (!is.character(method) || !method %in% c("stirling", "factorial"))
stop("Argument 'method' must be either 'stirling' or 'factorial'")
if (method == "factorial")
factorial(n)
else
sqrt(2 * pi * n) * (n / exp(1))^n
}
```

And for comparison, here is the same function using checkmate:

```
fact <- function(n, method = "stirling") {
assertCount(n)
assertChoice(method, c("stirling", "factorial"))
if (method == "factorial")
factorial(n)
else
sqrt(2 * pi * n) * (n / exp(1))^n
}
```

## Function overview

The functions can be split into four functional groups, indicated by their prefix.

If prefixed with `assert`

, an error is thrown if the
corresponding check fails. Otherwise, the checked object is returned
invisibly. There are many different coding styles out there in the wild,
but most R programmers stick to either `camelBack`

or
`underscore_case`

. Therefore, `checkmate`

offers
all functions in both flavors: `assert_count`

is just an
alias for `assertCount`

but allows you to retain your
favorite style.

The family of functions prefixed with `test`

always return
the check result as logical value. Again, you can use
`test_count`

and `testCount`

interchangeably.

Functions starting with `check`

return the error message
as a string (or `TRUE`

otherwise) and can be used if you need
more control and, e.g., want to grep on the returned error message.

`expect`

is the last family of functions and is intended
to be used with the testthat package.
All performed checks are logged into the `testthat`

reporter.
Because `testthat`

uses the `underscore_case`

, the
extension functions only come in the underscore style.

All functions are categorized into objects to check on the package help page.

## In case you miss flexibility

You can use assert to perform multiple checks at once and throw an assertion if all checks fail.

Here is an example where we check that x is either of class
`foo`

or class `bar`

:

```
f <- function(x) {
assert(
checkClass(x, "foo"),
checkClass(x, "bar")
)
}
```

Note that `assert(, combine = "or")`

and
`assert(, combine = "and")`

allow to control the logical
combination of the specified checks, and that the former is the
default.

## Argument Checks for the Lazy

The following functions allow a special syntax to define argument
checks using a special format specification. E.g.,
`qassert(x, "I+")`

asserts that `x`

is an integer
vector with at least one element and no missing values. This very simple
domain specific language covers a large variety of frequent argument
checks with only a few keystrokes. You choose what you like best.

## checkmate as testthat extension

To extend testthat, you
need to IMPORT, DEPEND or SUGGEST on the `checkmate`

package.
Here is a minimal example:

```
# file: tests/test-all.R
library(testthat)
library(checkmate) # for testthat extensions
test_check("mypkg")
```

Now you are all set and can use more than 30 new expectations in your tests.

```
test_that("checkmate is a sweet extension for testthat", {
x = runif(100)
expect_numeric(x, len = 100, any.missing = FALSE, lower = 0, upper = 1)
# or, equivalent, using the lazy style:
qexpect(x, "N100[0,1]")
})
```

## Speed considerations

In comparison with tediously writing the checks yourself in R (c.f.
factorial example at the beginning of the vignette), R is sometimes a
tad faster while performing checks on scalars. This seems odd at first,
because checkmate is mostly written in C and should be comparably fast.
Yet many of the functions in the `base`

package are not
regular functions, but primitives. While primitives jump directly into
the C code, checkmate has to use the considerably slower
`.Call`

interface. As a result, it is possible to write (very
simple) checks using only the base functions which, under some
circumstances, slightly outperform checkmate. However, if you go one
step further and wrap the custom check into a function to convenient
re-use it, the performance gain is often lost (see benchmark 1).

For larger objects the tide has turned because checkmate avoids many
unnecessary intermediate variables. Also note that the quick/lazy
implementation in
`qassert`

/`qtest`

/`qexpect`

is often a
tad faster because only two arguments have to be evaluated (the object
and the rule) to determine the set of checks to perform.

Below you find some (probably unrepresentative) benchmark. But also
note that this one here has been executed from inside `knitr`

which is often the cause for outliers in the measured execution time.
Better run the benchmark yourself to get unbiased results.

### Benchmark 1: Assert that `x`

is a flag

```
library(checkmate)
library(ggplot2)
library(microbenchmark)
x = TRUE
r = function(x, na.ok = FALSE) { stopifnot(is.logical(x), length(x) == 1, na.ok || !is.na(x)) }
cm = function(x) assertFlag(x)
cmq = function(x) qassert(x, "B1")
mb = microbenchmark(r(x), cm(x), cmq(x))
print(mb)
```

```
## Unit: microseconds
## expr min lq mean median uq max neval
## r(x) 3.507 3.6220 28.99090 3.747 3.9025 2484.496 100
## cm(x) 2.375 2.4945 14.01773 2.584 2.7050 1023.099 100
## cmq(x) 1.603 1.7630 10.36173 1.853 1.9640 810.002 100
```

`autoplot(mb)`

### Benchmark 2: Assert that `x`

is a numeric of length 1000
with no missing nor NaN values

```
x = runif(1000)
r = function(x) stopifnot(is.numeric(x), length(x) == 1000, all(!is.na(x) & x >= 0 & x <= 1))
cm = function(x) assertNumeric(x, len = 1000, any.missing = FALSE, lower = 0, upper = 1)
cmq = function(x) qassert(x, "N1000[0,1]")
mb = microbenchmark(r(x), cm(x), cmq(x))
print(mb)
```

```
## Unit: microseconds
## expr min lq mean median uq max neval
## r(x) 12.774 13.1095 48.64547 13.4555 13.8760 3476.988 100
## cm(x) 5.420 5.6560 15.21357 5.7810 5.9865 868.630 100
## cmq(x) 6.362 6.4870 14.51176 6.6470 6.7775 770.288 100
```

`autoplot(mb)`

### Benchmark 3: Assert that `x`

is a character vector with
no missing values nor empty strings

```
x = sample(letters, 10000, replace = TRUE)
r = function(x) stopifnot(is.character(x), !any(is.na(x)), all(nchar(x) > 0))
cm = function(x) assertCharacter(x, any.missing = FALSE, min.chars = 1)
cmq = function(x) qassert(x, "S+[1,]")
mb = microbenchmark(r(x), cm(x), cmq(x))
print(mb)
```

```
## Unit: microseconds
## expr min lq mean median uq max neval
## r(x) 281.275 284.401 314.8876 284.852 285.6385 2760.622 100
## cm(x) 110.507 110.867 122.7863 111.533 112.6710 978.857 100
## cmq(x) 125.164 125.444 136.4641 125.735 126.2355 1095.054 100
```

`autoplot(mb)`

### Benchmark 4: Test that `x`

is a data frame with no
missing values

```
N = 10000
x = data.frame(a = runif(N), b = sample(letters[1:5], N, replace = TRUE), c = sample(c(FALSE, TRUE), N, replace = TRUE))
r = function(x) is.data.frame(x) && !any(sapply(x, function(x) any(is.na(x))))
cm = function(x) testDataFrame(x, any.missing = FALSE)
cmq = function(x) qtest(x, "D")
mb = microbenchmark(r(x), cm(x), cmq(x))
print(mb)
```

```
## Unit: microseconds
## expr min lq mean median uq max neval
## r(x) 65.412 67.0700 95.57880 67.882 69.4395 2664.332 100
## cm(x) 35.366 36.0325 48.74085 36.904 37.5655 993.484 100
## cmq(x) 28.864 29.1140 36.45230 29.475 29.6800 709.424 100
```

`autoplot(mb)`

```
# checkmate tries to stop as early as possible
x$a[1] = NA
mb = microbenchmark(r(x), cm(x), cmq(x))
print(mb)
```

```
## Unit: microseconds
## expr min lq mean median uq max neval
## r(x) 55.764 56.7805 58.85686 57.7675 59.1955 117.238 100
## cm(x) 5.090 5.3650 6.80784 6.3725 6.8330 37.440 100
## cmq(x) 1.082 1.2325 1.63559 1.4380 1.8990 7.474 100
```

`autoplot(mb)`

### Benchmark 5: Assert that `x`

is an increasing sequence of
integers with no missing values

```
N = 10000
x.altrep = seq_len(N) # this is an ALTREP in R version >= 3.5.0
x.sexp = c(x.altrep) # this is a regular SEXP OTOH
r = function(x) stopifnot(is.integer(x), !any(is.na(x)), !is.unsorted(x))
cm = function(x) assertInteger(x, any.missing = FALSE, sorted = TRUE)
mb = microbenchmark(r(x.sexp), cm(x.sexp), r(x.altrep), cm(x.altrep))
print(mb)
```

```
## Unit: microseconds
## expr min lq mean median uq max neval
## r(x.sexp) 29.595 29.9660 52.96979 30.2015 30.5175 2276.468 100
## cm(x.sexp) 13.014 13.2650 24.28609 13.4655 13.7300 1079.114 100
## r(x.altrep) 38.703 39.1430 40.00148 39.4030 39.9350 60.092 100
## cm(x.altrep) 3.717 3.9375 5.19218 4.1730 4.4435 100.027 100
```

`autoplot(mb)`

## Extending checkmate

To extend checkmate a custom `check*`

function has to be
written. For example, to check for a square matrix one can re-use parts
of checkmate and extend the check with additional functionality:

```
checkSquareMatrix = function(x, mode = NULL) {
# check functions must return TRUE on success
# and a custom error message otherwise
res = checkMatrix(x, mode = mode)
if (!isTRUE(res))
return(res)
if (nrow(x) != ncol(x))
return("Must be square")
return(TRUE)
}
# a quick test:
X = matrix(1:9, nrow = 3)
checkSquareMatrix(X)
```

`## [1] TRUE`

`checkSquareMatrix(X, mode = "character")`

`## [1] "Must store characters"`

`checkSquareMatrix(X[1:2, ])`

`## [1] "Must be square"`

The respective counterparts to the `check`

-function can be
created using the constructors makeAssertionFunction,
makeTestFunction
and makeExpectationFunction:

```
# For assertions:
assert_square_matrix = assertSquareMatrix = makeAssertionFunction(checkSquareMatrix)
print(assertSquareMatrix)
```

```
## function (x, mode = NULL, .var.name = checkmate::vname(x), add = NULL)
## {
## if (missing(x))
## stop(sprintf("argument \"%s\" is missing, with no default",
## .var.name))
## res = checkSquareMatrix(x, mode)
## checkmate::makeAssertion(x, res, .var.name, add)
## }
```

```
# For tests:
test_square_matrix = testSquareMatrix = makeTestFunction(checkSquareMatrix)
print(testSquareMatrix)
```

```
## function (x, mode = NULL)
## {
## isTRUE(checkSquareMatrix(x, mode))
## }
```

```
# For expectations:
expect_square_matrix = makeExpectationFunction(checkSquareMatrix)
print(expect_square_matrix)
```

```
## function (x, mode = NULL, info = NULL, label = vname(x))
## {
## if (missing(x))
## stop(sprintf("Argument '%s' is missing", label))
## res = checkSquareMatrix(x, mode)
## makeExpectation(x, res, info, label)
## }
```

Note that all the additional arguments `.var.name`

,
`add`

, `info`

and `label`

are
automatically joined with the function arguments of your custom check
function. Also note that if you define these functions inside an R
package, the constructors are called at build-time (thus, there is no
negative impact on the runtime).

## Calling checkmate from C/C++

The package registers two functions which can be used in other packages’ C/C++ code for argument checks.

These are the counterparts to qassert and qtest. Due to their simplistic interface, they perfectly suit the requirements of most type checks in C/C++.

For detailed background information on the register mechanism, see the Exporting C Code section in Hadley’s Book “R Packages” or WRE. Here is a step-by-step guide to get you started:

- Add
`checkmate`

to your “Imports” and “LinkingTo” sections in your DESCRIPTION file. - Create a stub C source file
`"checkmate_stub.c"`

, see below. - Include the provided header file
`<checkmate.h>`

in each compilation unit where you want to use checkmate.

File contents for (2):

```
#include <checkmate.h>
#include <checkmate_stub.c>
```

## Session Info

For the sake of completeness, here the `sessionInfo()`

for
the benchmark (but remember the note before on `knitr`

possibly biasing the results).

```
## R version 4.4.1 (2024-06-14)
## Platform: x86_64-pc-linux-gnu
## Running under: Ubuntu 22.04.4 LTS
##
## Matrix products: default
## BLAS: /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/openblas-pthread/libblas.so.3
## LAPACK: /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/openblas-pthread/libopenblasp-r0.3.20.so; LAPACK version 3.10.0
##
## locale:
## [1] LC_CTYPE=C.UTF-8 LC_NUMERIC=C LC_TIME=C.UTF-8
## [4] LC_COLLATE=C.UTF-8 LC_MONETARY=C.UTF-8 LC_MESSAGES=C.UTF-8
## [7] LC_PAPER=C.UTF-8 LC_NAME=C LC_ADDRESS=C
## [10] LC_TELEPHONE=C LC_MEASUREMENT=C.UTF-8 LC_IDENTIFICATION=C
##
## time zone: UTC
## tzcode source: system (glibc)
##
## attached base packages:
## [1] stats graphics grDevices utils datasets methods base
##
## other attached packages:
## [1] microbenchmark_1.4.10 ggplot2_3.5.1 checkmate_2.3.2
##
## loaded via a namespace (and not attached):
## [1] gtable_0.3.5 jsonlite_1.8.8 highr_0.11 compiler_4.4.1
## [5] jquerylib_0.1.4 systemfonts_1.1.0 scales_1.3.0 textshaping_0.4.0
## [9] yaml_2.3.10 fastmap_1.2.0 R6_2.5.1 knitr_1.48
## [13] htmlwidgets_1.6.4 backports_1.5.0 tibble_3.2.1 desc_1.4.3
## [17] munsell_0.5.1 bslib_0.7.0 pillar_1.9.0 rlang_1.1.4
## [21] utf8_1.2.4 cachem_1.1.0 xfun_0.46 fs_1.6.4
## [25] sass_0.4.9 cli_3.6.3 pkgdown_2.1.0 withr_3.0.0
## [29] magrittr_2.0.3 digest_0.6.36 grid_4.4.1 lifecycle_1.0.4
## [33] vctrs_0.6.5 evaluate_0.24.0 glue_1.7.0 farver_2.1.2
## [37] ragg_1.3.2 fansi_1.0.6 colorspace_2.1-1 rmarkdown_2.27
## [41] tools_4.4.1 pkgconfig_2.0.3 htmltools_0.5.8.1
```