Data Science Toolbox: How to use R with Tableau

Recently Tableau released an exciting new feature: R integration via RServe. Tableau with R seems to bring my data science toolbox to the next level! In this tutorial I’m going to walk you through the installation and connecting Tableau with RServe. I will also give you an example of calling an R function with a parameter from Tableau to visualize the results in Tableau.

1. Install and start R and RServe

You can download base R from r-project.org. Next, invoke R from the terminal to install and run the RServe package:

> install.packages("Rserve")
> library(Rserve)
> Rserve()

To ensure RServe is running, you can try Telnet to connect to it:

Telnet

Protip: If you prefer an IDE for R, I can highly recommend you to install RStudio.

2. Connecting Tableau to RServe

Now let’s open Tableau and set up the connection:

Tableau 10 Help menu

Tableau 10 External Service Connection

3. Adding R code to a Calculated Field

You can invoke R scripts in Tableau’s Calculated Fields, such as k-means clustering controlled by an interactive parameter slider:

Calculated Field in Tableau 10

4. Use Calculated Field in Tableau

You can now use your R calculation as an alternate Calculated Field in your Tableau worksheet:

Tableau 10 showing k-means clustering

Feel free to download the Tableau Packaged Workbook (twbx) here.

Further reading: Hands-On with R

[Update 26 Jun 2016]: Tableau 8.1 screenshots were updated with Tableau 10.0 (Beta) screenshots due to my upcoming Advanced Analytics session at TC16, which is going to reference back to this blog post.

Analyzing High Energy Physics Data with Tableau at CERN

Screenshot of Tableau 4.0 analyzing High Energy Physics Data at CERN
Screenshot of Tableau 4.0 analyzing High Energy Physics Data at CERN

About a year ago, I had a first try with Tableau and some survey data for a university project. Last week, I finally found time to test Tableau with High Energy Physics (HEP) data from CERN’s Proton Synchrotron (PS). Tableau enjoys a stellar reputation among the data visualization community, while the HEP community heavily uses Gnuplot and Python.

Tableau 4.0: Connect to Data
Tableau 4.0: Connect to Data

I was using an ordinary CSV file as data source for this quick visualization. Furthermore, Tableau can connect to other file types such as Excel, as well as to databases like Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, and Postgres.

I’m also quite impressed by the ease and speed with which insightful analysis seems to appear out of bland data. Even though your analysis toolchain is script-based (as usual at CERN where batch processing is mandatory), I highly recommend using Tableau for prototyping and for ad-hoc data exploration.