Working with R network objects

Here are a few things that I have learnt while working with R network objects, using the igraph and network + sna packages (the last two packages go well together).

This note is only concerned with some quirky internals of the packages mentioned above. For network visualization, readers should head to Katherine Ognyanova's excellent tutorial.


The igraph package implements more placement algorithms than the sna package does, and its implementations tend to accept more parameters, such as edge weights for the Fruchterman-Reingold and Kamada-Kawai algorithms.

As of version 1.1.0 of the package, edge rewiring does not play well with edge attributes. This is a serious issue if the aim of the rewiring is to randomise an edge value.

The development repository of the igraph R package has lots of issues (over a hundred right now, half of which are still open), including some nasty namespace conflicts.


There are two different methods to set edge values on a network object: set.edge.attribute and set.edge.value. The functions work identically, but perform completely different assignments.

Reading through the package documentation too quickly, I missed the subtle difference between set.edge.attribute, which assigns values to edges in “sequential order”, and set.edge.value (or the %e% method, which is a shortcut for it), which assigns values in “adjacency matrix form”.

This Gist illustrates the difference between both methods (which I then thought to be a bug). Right below the Gist is a nice explanation by the author of the package of when to use each method.


There is extensive namespace overlap between igraph and network + sna. Consequently, loading the packages together can be error-prone.

This pull request illustrates the problem through the degree function of the sna package. The function calls another sna function, which itself calls the is.bipartite function, expecting it to be that of the network package. If the igraph package has been loaded after the network package, this function will have been masked and the code will break.

Here's the line of code that causes the error (the comment next to it reads quite ironically in the present context). Fixing the issue would only require editing two lines of code in the sna package.

  • First published on September 17th, 2015