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Fix: Error: Attempt to use zero-length variable name

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Programming has become way easier than it used to be a decade or so ago. There are now in-depth guides and even full courses available just a few clicks away online that can help you get through most of the hurdles you’ll face. That said, actually writing code and struggling with errors you might not see in a guide is still one of the best ways to get proficient in the language of your choice.

In this article, we’re talking about the “error: attempt to use zero-length variable name” issue in R, its causes and what you can do to fix the problem.

Also read: Fix: Unknown error: soap-error: encoding: object has no uirequestid property

What causes the attempt to use zero-length variable name error?

The issue is often triggered when you’re using the global environment as an RMD editor and try run to run your code that has backtick characters. Backticks are not allowed in R code as a rmarkdown piece of text might have the plain text and a character that can cause problems. Overall, the error arises from mixing two different types of code in the same window, inevitably running into issues. 

How to fix the attempt to use zero-length variable name error?

Here are two fixes you can try out.

Avoid writing RMD code

The first fix to the problem is avoiding RMD code altogether. You can skip the error by removing the line of code with backtick characters. While this is a good example of fixing a problem by avoiding it in the first place, in case the line with backticks is important or you can’t find a way to work around it, it can be a problem.

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Convert backticks to R code

If you can’t remove the line with backticks from your code, converting it into legit R code can also help solve the issue. You can do this by either using pre-built functions or simply replacing backticks (`) with curvy brackets ({}). The problem with this approach is that it might generate a really long codebase. However, if you can’t remove the backtick line, this is pretty much your only option. 

Also read: How to fix Ray out of memory error in Python?

Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah is a Computer Science graduate who writes/edits/shoots/codes all things cybersecurity, gaming, and tech hardware. When he's not, he streams himself racing virtual cars. He's been writing and reporting on tech and cybersecurity with websites like Candid.Technology and MakeUseOf since 2018. You can contact him here: