Singularity is useful for running containers as an unprivileged user, especially in multi-user environments like High-Performance Computing clusters. Rocker images can be imported and run using Singularity, with optional custom password support.

Importing a Rocker Image

Use the singularity pull command to import the desired Rocker image from Docker Hub into a (compressed, read-only) Singularity Image File:

singularity pull docker://rocker/rstudio:4.0.4

If additional Debian (or other) software packages are needed, a Rocker base image can be extended in a Singularity definition file. Note that sudo privileges are required to use the singularity build command, unless using a remote builder such as the Sylabs Cloud Remote Builder. Alternatively, a Rocker base image can be extended in a Dockerfile and a Singularity image built using the docker2singularity Docker image. Modifications to the base Rocker image are not needed for installing R packages into a personal library in the user’s home directory.

Running a Rocker Singularity container (localhost, no password)

mkdir -p run var-lib-rstudio-server

printf 'provider=sqlite\ndirectory=/var/lib/rstudio-server\n' > database.conf

singularity exec --bind run:/run,var-lib-rstudio-server:/var/lib/rstudio-server,database.conf:/etc/rstudio/database.conf rstudio_4.0.4.sif rserver --www-address=

This will run rserver in a Singularity container. The --www-address= option binds to localhost (the default is, or all IP addresses on the host). listening on

Running a Rocker Singularity container with password authentication

To enable password authentication, set the PASSWORD environment variable and add the --auth-none=0 --auth-pam-helper-path=pam-helper options:

PASSWORD='...' singularity exec --bind run:/run,var-lib-rstudio-server:/var/lib/rstudio-server,database.conf:/etc/rstudio/database.conf rstudio_4.0.4.sif rserver --auth-none=0  --auth-pam-helper-path=pam-helper

After pointing your browser to http://hostname:8787, enter your local user ID on the system as the username, and the custom password specified in the PASSWORD environment variable.

Additional Options for RStudio >= 1.3.x

In addition, RStudio >= 1.3.x enforces a stricter policy for session timeout, defaulting to 60 Minutes. You can opt in to the legacy behaviour by adding the following parameters:

--auth-timeout-minutes=0 --auth-stay-signed-in-days=30

SLURM job script

On an HPC cluster, a Rocker Singularity container can be started on a compute node using the cluster’s job scheduler, allowing it to access compute, memory, and storage resources that may far exceed those found in a typical desktop workstation. A per-user /tmp should be bind-mounted when running on a multi-tenant HPC cluster that has singularity configured to bind mount the host /tmp, to avoid an existing /tmp/rstudio-server owned by another user.

The following example illustrates how this may be done with a SLURM job script.

#SBATCH --time=08:00:00
#SBATCH --signal=USR2
#SBATCH --ntasks=1
#SBATCH --cpus-per-task=2
#SBATCH --mem=8192
#SBATCH --output=/home/%u/rstudio-server.job.%j
# customize --output path as appropriate (to a directory readable only by the user!)

# Create temporary directory to be populated with directories to bind-mount in the container
# where writable file systems are necessary. Adjust path as appropriate for your computing environment.
workdir=$(python -c 'import tempfile; print(tempfile.mkdtemp())')

mkdir -p -m 700 ${workdir}/run ${workdir}/tmp ${workdir}/var/lib/rstudio-server
cat > ${workdir}/database.conf <<END

# Set OMP_NUM_THREADS to prevent OpenBLAS (and any other OpenMP-enhanced
# libraries used by R) from spawning more threads than the number of processors
# allocated to the job.
# Set R_LIBS_USER to a path specific to rocker/rstudio to avoid conflicts with
# personal libraries from any R installation in the host environment

cat > ${workdir}/ <<END
export R_LIBS_USER=${HOME}/R/rocker-rstudio/4.0
exec rsession "\${@}"

chmod +x ${workdir}/

export SINGULARITY_BIND="${workdir}/run:/run,${workdir}/tmp:/tmp,${workdir}/database.conf:/etc/rstudio/database.conf,${workdir}/,${workdir}/var/lib/rstudio-server:/var/lib/rstudio-server"

# Do not suspend idle sessions.
# Alternative to setting session-timeout-minutes=0 in /etc/rstudio/rsession.conf

export SINGULARITYENV_USER=$(id -un)
export SINGULARITYENV_PASSWORD=$(openssl rand -base64 15)
# get unused socket per
# tiny race condition between the python & singularity commands
readonly PORT=$(python -c 'import socket; s=socket.socket(); s.bind(("", 0)); print(s.getsockname()[1]); s.close()')
cat 1>&2 <<END
1. SSH tunnel from your workstation using the following command:


   and point your web browser to http://localhost:8787

2. log in to RStudio Server using the following credentials:


When done using RStudio Server, terminate the job by:

1. Exit the RStudio Session ("power" button in the top right corner of the RStudio window)
2. Issue the following command on the login node:

      scancel -f ${SLURM_JOB_ID}

singularity exec --cleanenv rstudio_4.0.4.sif \
    rserver --www-port ${PORT} \
            --auth-none=0 \
            --auth-pam-helper-path=pam-helper \
            --auth-stay-signed-in-days=30 \
            --auth-timeout-minutes=0 \
printf 'rserver exited' 1>&2

The job script is submitted using the SLURM sbatch command:

$ sbatch rstudio-server.job
Submitted batch job 123456

After the scheduled job begins execution, rserver is started in a Singularity container, and the connection information (including the compute node hostname, TCP port, and a randomly-generated custom password) is sent in the job script stderr to a file in the user’s home directory named rstudio-server.job.123456.

The rserver process (and resulting rsession process after login) will persist until:

  1. The job wall time (--time=08:00:00, or 8 hours) is reached.
    • The --signal=USR2 directive tells SLURM to send SIGUSR2 approximately 60 seconds before the wall time limit is reached. This causes the rsession process to save user’s session state to their home directory, so it can be resumed in a subsequent job.
  2. The SLURM scancel command is used to cancel the job.