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Accessing MS SQLserver with R from my Mac

19 December 2014

A few years back I had used unixODBC and freeTDS to be able to connect from my Mac to the Microsoft SQLserver that is here in the lab. Since then I have switched computers and upgraded operating systems, etc., and need to redo it. My goal here is to be able to use the RODBC package to slurp data from the SQL tables into R.

I have a whole collection of notes from the last time I did this. It looks like there are some nice instructions here for connecting to postgreSQL. Which might be a good resource.

Let’s try it:

Install unixODBC

This can be done via homebrew, and maybe I will try that first, though last time I built it from source by hand. In the terminal:

brew update
brew install unixodbc

That seemed very easy.

Install freeTDS

Last time I built this by hand, too, but it looks like we should be able to brew it today:

brew install freetds --with-unixodbc  

The –with-unixodbc is esential, as otherwise you won’t get the file /usr/local/lib/ That required a fair bit of crunching and had some caveats, but it looks like it completed without too much trouble.

Configuration files, etc

It looks like there are two different files that need to be modified to set up access to a particular server or data base. They are /usr/local/etc/freetds.conf and /usr/local/etc/odbc.ini.


After the installations above, this file exists and has a section that looks like this:

# A typical Microsoft server
  host =
	port = 1433
	tds version = 7.0

I modified that (use any text editor) to look like this:

# Big Creek Pit Tag data on Microsoft SQL-server at lab
  host =
	port = 1433
	tds version = 8.0
	client charset = UTF-8


This file was present on my system after I installed freetds. Apparently one can put a comparable file into their home directory if desired, but I am fine sticking it in at the system level. Here is what I put in it:



I tried connecting with my old username and password, and it failed, but then I tried setting up and accessing Doug Jackson’s data base with his username and password and it worked.

So, my account must have gotten deactivated (or the password changed) in the last upgrade to pinniger. I found that Rundio can connect to bcpittags from my machine using his name and password (censored):

isql -v  bcpittags daver ********
| Connected!                            |
|                                       |
| sql-statement                         |
| help [tablename]                      |
| quit                                  |
|                                       |

Hooray! Now, all that remains is checking to see that we can get to it from R.

Connecting from R via RODBC

First, I got the RODBC package. I had to build it from source:

install.packages("RODBC", type = "source")

Then, I tried this:


# create a connection
bcp <- odbcConnect("bcpittags", uid="daver", pwd="********")

# see what it looks like:

#> RODBC Connection 1
#> Details:
#>   case=nochange
#>   DSN=bcpittags
#>   UID=daver
#>   PWD=******

# try to run a query
lcbd <- sqlQuery(bcp, "SELECT * FROM MS_DC_genotyped_HDX_last_capt_and_beach_detect_UPDATED")

# did we  get something?

#> [1] 919  14

Cool! It is working!