R Error cannot change working directory

The “cannot change working directory” R file error message is an odd little message in that while it is a coding problem it may not result from an R code mistake. Rather it is a problem that arises from trying to change a root directory to a non-existing name. This makes it an unusual problem and fortunately one that is easy to fix within the R console.

The circumstances of this problem.

The “cannot change working directory” error message occurs when using the setwd() function to change the working directory in the format of setwd(“~/”) or entering an invalid data directory name. Normally a file is placed in the default working directory. However, there are circumstances where you might want to change the current working directory within your r script file. This has the advantage that it automatically resets itself when the project or dataset is reloaded. As a result, it is a handy tool for saving and loading files from a different directory path other than the default directory path. This comes in handy when you know the file location for 2 different files or more in the project directory.

What is causing this problem?

The “cannot change working directory” error message is caused by an operating system not recognizing “~/” as indicating a root directory or pointing to an invalid folder name. As a result, the software is looking for a non-existent folder. This causes it to return this message because it cannot change the working directory.

# r error cannot change working directory r code
> getwd()
[1] "C:/Users/Owner/Documents/R/error test"
> setwd("C:/Users/Owner/Documents/R/test")
Error in setwd("C:/Users/Owner/Documents/R/test") :
cannot change working directory

In this case, we got the message because we entered an invalid folder. In most systems using setwd(“~/”) will simply change the working directory to the root directory. However, there are some systems where “~/” is not recognized resulting in this message. Fortunately, small a change in syntax can fix the problem.

How to fix this problem.

Fixing this problem is simply a matter of eliminating the “~/” reference from your script. Because the setwd() function is the set working directory function, you can use it to set the current directory in your code. All you need to do is set it to the file path folder you are looking for. The getwd() function is similar to the dose “dir” command except that it gets you to the current working directory in your r console workspace.

# r error cannot change working directory solution code
> getwd()
[1] "C:/Users/Owner/Documents/R/error test"
> setwd("~/")
> getwd()
[1] "C:/Users/Owner/Documents"

To get the same effect as this example R code you simply need to substitute the name of the specific project directory you want to go to in the character string here in place of “~/”. To get the current working directory just use the getwd() function and make the needed adjustments to get the file location folder or absolute filepath that you want as your current directory.

# cannot change working directory r error solution example code
> getwd()
[1] "C:/Users/Owner/Documents/R/error test"
> setwd("C:/Users/Owner/Documents")
> getwd()
[1] "C:/Users/Owner/Documents"

In this example, we simply define the working directory as “C:/Users/Owner/Documents” to make the desired change. It may not be as elegant or short as the other version but it works. In the situation where you have an erroneous folder or file system name simply correct it in the home directory so that it is a valid name.

This is a simple problem to solve but you are only likely to get it by miss typing a folder name. If you get it for “~/” then you just have to specify where you want to put it and it will work. In both cases, you will fix the problem.

R Error cannot change working directory