Passing a query string value to R Markdown


Even though I’m an R rookie, I’ve appreciated R Markdown (R files with an .Rmd extension) for easy single page interactive “reports” that can combine inputs, tables, charts and more. In this post, I’ll describe how I pass & read values from a query string in R Markdown, which works on a development computer with RStudio or on a Shiny server.

The code below has been tested with a recent version of RStudio (August 2022), running R version 4.2.0. R Markdown can be output to many different formats, I’m most interested in web pages and haven’t tried this code with PDF, Word or other outputs.

Update: the code for query-string.Rmd can be found at

As background, a query string is part of a web page address. Query strings are used to pass information to web pages, in name/value pairs separated by an equals sign - for instance, user=Andrew or country=au. Name/value pairs are themselves separated by ampersands, so passing multiple values looks like user=Andrew&country=au.

Back to R Markdown: in specially-formatted header text (also known as YAML front-matter), default values for parameters can be defined like below. In addition to RStudio, the “shiny” and “rmarkdown” packages are required, and the file name - which will be important soon - is test.Rmd:

title: "test.Rmd"
output: html_document
runtime: shiny
  name: "Sam"

```{r echo = FALSE}
cat("Parameter \"name\" is", params$name)

Save and run test.Rmd, and you’ll see something like:

## Parameter "name" is: Sam

The code above says the output should be a web page, calling Shiny, and to display the value of the “name” parameter (referenced as params$name). If you want to know more, the definitive guide to parameters in R Markdown is at which covers parameter types, ranges and more about the user interface.

Next, let’s read from the query string (even though it’s initially empty) and put it into a variable called name. Add the code below to test.Rmd:

```{r echo = FALSE}
# get the value of query string parameter "name"
# if missing, will be NULL
# "session$" is special Shiny variable (ignore "no scope" warning)
# needs to be wrapped in reactive
name <- shiny::reactive(shiny::parseQueryString(session$clientData$url_search)[["name"]])
# output value of query string parameter "name"
# need special syntax to get at reactive value, see
cat("Query string \"name\" is:", shiny::isolate(name()))
# can test if we have a value using is.null
cat("Query string \"name\" is null?", is.null(shiny::isolate(name())))

<!-- output a link to take us to this same page, with a query string "name" of "Bob" -->
<h2><a href="test.Rmd?name=Bob">Click to pass query string "name" of "Bob"</a></h2>

If you run test.Rmd now, nothing much has changed. The default “name” parameter params$name is still “Sam” (we can’t change that), and there’s no query string “name” value. Click on the link at the bottom of the page, though, and the page will load and display:

## Query string "name" is: Bob

## Query string "name" is null? FALSE

The magic is done by Shiny’s session$clientData$url_search and using reactive and isolate calls to glue it all together in R Markdown.

This approach is useful to set a default value as well as allow passing values, and could be built on to dynamically link from one R Markdown file to another.