How to Save and Load RDA Files in R

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R is a popular open-source language for statistical analysis and graphics. Among the many features that make it appealing for data science tasks is its ability to save and load data objects, such as vectors, matrices, lists, data frames, and more, into and from binary files with the extension ‘.rda’ or ‘.RData’.

The ‘.rda’ or ‘.RData’ file format is a binary file format exclusive to R, which allows you to save one or more R objects into a single file and restore them later. This article will guide you through the process of saving and loading ‘.rda’ files in R, providing comprehensive instructions, practical examples, and troubleshooting advice.

Overview of RDA Files

‘RDA’ stands for R data file, and it’s a file format that R uses to store data. ‘RDA’ files allow for storing and transferring R objects between different R sessions or even different systems, making them highly useful for large projects or sharing work between teams.

‘RData’ is another file extension that serves the same purpose as ‘rda’ but is more frequently used to save the R workspace at the end of a session. However, both ‘rda’ and ‘RData’ files are binary, meaning they can only be read by R or programs that specifically support the format. Both these file types compress data by default, making them an efficient way to store large datasets or complex objects.

Saving R Objects to RDA Files

The save() function in R is used to save one or more R objects to a specified file. The syntax for this function is:

save(..., file = "", list = character(), envir = parent.frame(),
     compress = isTRUE(!identical(file, "")), compression_level,
     ascii = FALSE, version = NULL, eval.promises = TRUE)

In this function:

  • ... refers to one or more R objects that you want to save.
  • file is a character string giving the name of the file.
  • list is a character vector containing the names of objects to be saved.
  • envir is an environment to search for objects.
  • compress indicates whether saving to a named file is to use compression.
  • ascii indicates whether an ASCII representation should be written.
  • version specifies the workspace format version to use.
  • eval.promises indicates whether promises should be forced before saving.

Here is an example where we create two objects and save them into an ‘.rda’ file:

# Create two objects
x <- 1:10
y <- matrix(1:20, nrow = 5)

# Save x and y into a file called mydata.rda
save(x, y, file = "mydata.rda")

In this case, ‘mydata.rda’ will be saved in your current working directory. You can check your current working directory using the getwd() function and set a new working directory using the setwd() function.

Loading R Objects from RDA Files

To load R objects from an ‘.rda’ or ‘.RData’ file, you can use the load() function. The syntax for this function is:

load(file, envir = parent.frame(), verbose = FALSE)

In this function:

  • file is a character string giving the name of the file.
  • envir is the environment where data should be loaded.
  • verbose indicates whether to print information during loading.

Here is an example of loading an ‘.rda’ file:

# Load mydata.rda file

The data objects saved in ‘mydata.rda’ will now be available in your workspace. You can use the ls() function to list all objects in the current workspace.

Using saveRDS() and readRDS()

While save() and load() work well when dealing with multiple R objects, they can pose challenges when you want to save and load a single R object. The functions saveRDS() and readRDS() are more suitable in such cases.

saveRDS() allows you to save a single R object to a file, and readRDS() lets you restore this data. The benefit of these functions is that they do not restore the object with its original name but return the object to you, allowing you to decide the name of the object in the new environment.

Here is how you can use these functions:

# Create a data frame
df <- data.frame(Name = c("Anna", "Ella", "Sophia"),
                 Age = c(23, 30, 21))

# Save the df object
saveRDS(df, "mydata.rds")

# Load the df object
df_new <- readRDS("mydata.rds")

In this example, the original data frame ‘df’ was saved as ‘mydata.rds’. When loaded back using readRDS(), it was assigned to a new object ‘df_new’.


When working with ‘.rda’ files in R, you might encounter some issues. Here are a few common problems and how to solve them:

  1. Problem: Cannot open the connection. Solution: This usually means that R cannot find your file. Check your file path and ensure that the file exists in your working directory.
  2. Problem: The file was created with a more recent version of R. Solution: You are trying to open a file created with a later version of R. Update your R to the latest version.
  3. Problem: Saved object not found upon loading. Solution: The object might not exist in the saved ‘.rda’ file. Make sure the correct objects are saved in the file.


In conclusion, ‘.rda’ files serve as an efficient method to save and load data in R, facilitating data sharing and management. While save() and load() functions are used for handling multiple R objects, saveRDS() and readRDS() provide a more refined control when dealing with single R objects. Understanding these functions and how to use them can significantly improve your data handling capacity in R.

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