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Demo of RNeo4j Part 1: Building a Database

I’ve recently been working on an R driver for Neo4j, RNeo4j, and it’s gotten to the point where the package mostly works aside from a few known bugs and probably several unknown bugs. To hopefully convince at least one person that this package is useful, I want to demonstrate how you can build and interact with a Neo4j database entirely from your R environment.


First and foremost, shoutouts to Hilary Parker for showing me how easy it is to build an R package and to Kenny Bastani for very patiently teaching me regular expressions.

The Vision

I want to build a graph database of Twitter data containing Users, Tweets, and Hashtags. It’ll look like this:

Get Started

Install RNeo4j using devtools.


Install twitteR and get authenticated.


reqURL <- "https://api.twitter.com/oauth/request_token"
accessURL <- "https://api.twitter.com/oauth/access_token"
authURL <- "http://api.twitter.com/oauth/authorize"

consumerKey <- "5ij43543flskfsdafdsa322"
consumerSecret <- "rwe5432k5jh42j3klh5jkl23"

twitCred <- OAuthFactory$new(consumerKey=consumerKey,


# Save Twitter OAuth credentials for later.
save(twitCred, file = "/home/nicole/twitCred.RData")

Get Tweets

I want to get a bunch of tweets that have the word “neo4j” in them, which is easy with twitteR’s searchTwitter.

tweets = searchTwitter("neo4j", n = 100, lang = "en") # Run on 27 May 2014 ~5:00PM CT
more_tweets = searchTwitter("neo4j", n = 100, lang = "en") # Run on 28 May 2014 ~9:00AM CT
even_more_tweets = searchTwitter("neo4j", n = 100, lang = "en") # Run on 29 May 2014 ~ 10:00AM CT

neo4j_tweets = c(tweets, more_tweets, even_more_tweets)

searchTwitter returns a list of status objects. The status object properties I am interested in are id, text, replyToSN, and screenName. These properties can be accessed by status$property. For example, the id of a tweet can be accessed by status$id.

User mentions, the screen name of who was retweeted, and hashtags (if any) are extracted from the tweet’s text with regular expessions, shown below.


getHashtags = function(twit) {
  hashtags = unlist(str_extract_all(twit, perl("(?<=\\s|^)#(.+?)(?=\\b|$)")))
  hashtags = tolower(hashtags)
  if(length(hashtags) > 0) {
  } else {

getRetweetSN = function(twit) {
  retweet = str_extract(twit, perl("(?<=^RT\\s@)(.+?)(?=:)"))
  if(!is.na(retweet)) {
  } else {

getMentions = function(twit) {
  mentions = unlist(str_extract_all(twit, perl("(?<!^RT\\s@|^@)(?<=@)(.+?)(?=\\b|$)")))
  if(length(mentions) > 0) {
  } else{

Build the Database

Establish a connection (make sure Neo4j is running), clear the graph, and add the necessary uniqueness constraints with addConstraint.

graph = startGraph("http://localhost:7474/db/data/")

addConstraint(graph, "Tweet", "id")
addConstraint(graph, "User", "username")
addConstraint(graph, "Hashtag", "hashtag")

Now, I need to write a function through which I will pass each status object in order to add the tweet to the graph. I can then use lapply to apply the function over neo4j_tweets.

I only need to use RNeo4j functions getOrCreateNode and createRel to build the database. I have to use getOrCreateNode because Users, Hashtags, and Tweets will occur more than once and I don’t want to create any duplicates. So, getOrCreateNode either creates the node if it doesn’t exist or retrieves it from the graph. The syntax is getOrCreateNode(graph, label, ...) where ... are the node properties in the form key = value. It is necessary that uniqueness constraints exist to use this function.

Then, createRel creates a relationship between two nodes with the syntax createRel(fromNode, type, toNode, ...), where ... are optional relationship properties in the form key = value.

The following function takes a status object, x, as an input and adds it to the graph database.

create_db = function(x) {
  tweet = getOrCreateNode(graph, "Tweet", id = x$id, text = x$text)
  user = getOrCreateNode(graph, "User", username = x$screenName)
  createRel(user, "TWEETED", tweet)

  reply_to_sn = x$replyToSN
  if(length(reply_to_sn) > 0) {
    reply_user = getOrCreateNode(graph, "User", username = reply_to_sn)
    createRel(tweet, "IN_REPLY_TO", reply_user)
  retweet_sn = getRetweetSN(x$text)
  if(!is.null(retweet_sn)) {
    retweet_user = getOrCreateNode(graph, "User", username = retweet_sn)
    createRel(tweet, "RETWEET_OF", retweet_user)
  hashtags = getHashtags(x$text)
  if(!is.null(hashtags)) {
    hashtag_nodes = lapply(hashtags, function(h) getOrCreateNode(graph, "Hashtag", hashtag = h))
    lapply(hashtag_nodes, function(h) createRel(tweet, "HASHTAG", h))
  mentions = getMentions(x$text)
  if(!is.null(mentions)) {
      mentioned_users = lapply(mentions, function(m) getOrCreateNode(graph, "User", username = m))
      lapply(mentioned_users, function(u) createRel(tweet, "MENTIONED", u))

Now I just need to lapply the function create_db over the list of status objects:

lapply(neo4j_tweets, create_db)

And the graph is created! You can download the zip of the database here.

Running summary on the graph object returns results for the “What is related and how?” query.


#    This          To    That
# 1 Tweet     HASHTAG Hashtag
# 2  User     TWEETED   Tweet
# 3 Tweet   MENTIONED    User
# 4 Tweet  RETWEET_OF    User
# 5 Tweet IN_REPLY_TO    User

And of course, going to the browser is always fun. Here’s Richard Searle in the graph.

With the database created, I can start using RNeo4j functions designed to retrieve data from the database. See Part 2: Plotting and Analysis.

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