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Similar to rstantools for rstan, the instantiate package builds pre-compiled CmdStan models into CRAN-ready statistical modeling R packages. The models compile once during installation, the executables live inside the file systems of their respective packages, and users have the full power and convenience of CmdStanR without any additional compilation after package installation. This approach saves time and helps R package developers migrate from rstan to the more modern CmdStanR.


The website at includes a function reference and other documentation.


The instantiate package depends on the R package CmdStanR and the command line tool CmdStan, so it is important to follow these stages in order:

  1. Install the R package CmdStanR. CmdStanR is not on CRAN, so the recommended way to install it is install.packages("cmdstanr", repos = c("", getOption("repos"))).
  2. Optional: set environment variables CMDSTAN_INSTALL and/or CMDSTAN to manage the CmdStan installation. See the “Administering CmdStan” section below for details.
  3. Install instantiate using one of the R commands below.
Type Source Command
Release CRAN install.packages("instantiate")
Development GitHub remotes::install_github("wlandau/instantiate")
Development R-universe install.packages("instantiate", repos = "")

Environment variables

The instantiate package uses environment variables to manage the installation of CmdStan. An environment variable is an operating system setting with a name and a value (both text strings). In R, there are two ways to set environment variables:

  1. Sys.setenv(), which sets environment variables temporarily for the current R session.
  2. The .Renviron text file in you home directory, which passes environment variables to all new R sessions. the edit_r_environ() function from the usethis package helps.

Administering CmdStan

By default, instantiate looks for the copy of CmdStan located at cmdstanr::install_cmdstan(). If you upgrade CmdStan, then the path returned by cmdstanr::install_cmdstan() will change, which may not be desirable in some cases. To permanently lock the path that instantiate uses, follow these steps:

  1. Set the CMDSTAN environment variable to the desired path to CmdStan.
  2. Set the CMDSTAN_INSTALL environment variable to "fixed".
  3. Install instantiate.

Henceforth, instantiate will automatically use the CmdStan path from (1), regardless of the value of CMDSTAN after (3). To prefer cmdstanr::cmdstan_path() instead, you could do one of the following:

  • Reinstall instantiate with CMDSTAN_INSTALL not equal to "fixed", or
  • Set CMDSTAN_INSTALL to "implicit" at runtime, or
  • Set the cmdstan_install argument to "implicit" for the current instantiate package function you are using.

Packaging Stan models

The following section explains how to create an R package with pre-compiled Stan models. This stage of the development workflow is considered “runtime” for the purposes of administering CmdStan as described previously.


Begin with an R package with one or more Stan model files inside the src/stan/ directory. stan_package_create() is a convenient way to start.

stan_package_create(path = "package_folder")
#> Example package named "example" created at "package_folder". Run stan_package_configure(path = "package_folder") so that the built-in Stan model will compile when the package installs.

At minimum the package file structure should look something like this:

#> package_folder
#> └── src
#>     └── stan
#>         └── bernoulli.stan


Configure the package so the Stan models compile during installation. stan_package_configure() writes required scripts cleanup,, src/Makevars, src/, and src/install.libs.R. Inside src/install.libs.R is a call to instantiate::stan_package_compile() which you can manually edit to control how your models are compiled. For example, different calls to stan_package_compile() can compile different groups of models using different C++ compiler flags.

#> package_folder
#> ├── cleanup
#> ├──
#> └── src
#>     ├── Makevars
#>     ├──
#>     ├── install.libs.R
#>     └── stan
#>         └── bernoulli.stan


Install the package just like you would any other R package. To install it from your local copy of package_folder, open R and run:

install.packages(pkgs = "package_folder", type = "source", repos = NULL)


A user can now run a model from the package without any additional compilation. See the documentation of CmdStanR to learn how to use CmdStanR model objects.

model <- stan_package_model(name = "bernoulli", package = "example")
print(model) # CmdStanR model object
#> data {
#>   int<lower=0> N;
#>   array[N] int<lower=0,upper=1> y;
#> }
#> parameters {
#>   real<lower=0,upper=1> theta;
#> }
#> model {
#>   theta ~ beta(1,1);  // uniform prior on interval 0,1
#>   y ~ bernoulli(theta);
#> }
fit <- model$sample(
  data = list(N = 10, y = c(1, 0, 1, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0)),
  refresh = 0,
  iter_warmup = 2000,
  iter_sampling = 4000
#> Running MCMC with 4 sequential chains...
#> Chain 1 finished in 0.0 seconds.
#> Chain 2 finished in 0.0 seconds.
#> Chain 3 finished in 0.0 seconds.
#> Chain 4 finished in 0.0 seconds.
#> All 4 chains finished successfully.
#> Mean chain execution time: 0.0 seconds.
#> Total execution time: 0.6 seconds.

#> # A tibble: 2 × 10
#>   variable   mean median    sd   mad     q5    q95  rhat ess_bulk ess_tail
#>   <chr>     <num>  <num> <num> <num>  <num>  <num> <num>    <num>    <num>
#> 1 lp__     -8.15  -7.87  0.725 0.317 -9.60  -7.64   1.00    7365.    8498.
#> 2 theta     0.333  0.324 0.130 0.134  0.137  0.563  1.00    6229.    7560.

You can write an exported user-side function in your R package to access the model. For example, you might store this code in a R/model.R file in the package:

#' @title Fit the Bernoulli model.
#' @export
#' @family models
#' @description Fit the Bernoulli Stan model and return posterior summaries.
#' @return A data frame of posterior summaries.
#' @param y Numeric vector of Bernoulli observations (zeroes and ones).
#' @param `...` Named arguments to the `sample()` method of CmdStan model
#'   objects: <>
#' @examples
#' if (instantiate::stan_cmdstan_exists()) {
#'   run_bernoulli_model(y = c(1, 0, 1, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0))
#' }
run_bernoulli_model <- function(y, ...) {
  stopifnot(is.numeric(y) && all(y >= 0 & y <= 1))
  model <- stan_package_model(name = "bernoulli", package = "mypackage")
  fit <- model$sample(data = list(N = length(y), y = y), ...)


  1. In your package DESCRIPTION file, list in the Additional_repositories: field (example in brms). This step is only necessary while cmdstanr is not yet on CRAN.
  1. In your package DESCRIPTION and NAMESPACE files, import the instantiate package and function stan_package_model().
  2. Write user-side statistical modeling functions which call the models in your package as mentioned above.
  3. CmdStan is too big for CRAN, so instantiate will not be able to access it there. So if you plan to submit your package to CRAN, please skip the appropriate code in your examples, vignettes, and tests when instantiate::stan_cmdstan_exists() is FALSE. Explicit if() statements like the above one in the roxygen2 @examples work for examples and vignettes. For tests, it is convenient to use testthat::skip_if_not(), e.g. skip_if_not(stan_cmdstan_exists()).
  4. pkgload::load_all() might not compile your models. If you use pkgload or devtools to load and develop your package, you may need to call instantiate::stan_package_compile() from the root directory of your package to compile your models manually.
  5. For version control, it is best practice to commit only source code files and documentation. Please do not commit any compiled executable Stan model files to your repository. If you do commit them, then other users with different machines will have trouble installing your package, and your commit history will consume too much storage. For Git, you may add the following lines to the .gitigore file at the root of your package:
  1. For continuous integration (e.g. on GitHub Actions), please use cmdstanr-based installation as explained above, and tweak your workflow YAML files as explained in that section.
  2. For general information on R package development, please consult the free online book R Packages (2e) by Hadley Wickham and Jennifer Bryan, as well as the official manual on Writing R Extensions by the R Core Team.

Code of Conduct

Please note that the instantiate project is released with a Contributor Code of Conduct. By contributing to this project, you agree to abide by its terms.


To cite package ‘instantiate’ in publications use:

  Landau WM (2023). _instantiate: A Minimal CmdStan Client for R Packages_.,

A BibTeX entry for LaTeX users is

    title = {instantiate: A Minimal CmdStan Client for R Packages},
    author = {William Michael Landau},
    year = {2023},
    note = {,},