An Explanation and Practical Application of the Machine Learning Algorithm XGBoost in Data Science

The name XGBoost may seem unusual, but with a few basic concepts clarified, it can be quite easy to comprehend. You might be apprehensive initially due to the futuristic terms like “decision trees”, “learning algorithms”, “gradient boosting”, among others. However, we’ll delve into XGBoost, from the basics upwards, and define the crucial terms, so you’ll have an understanding of how it operates before examining its role in the field of data science.

Let’s start by defining XGBoost.

XGBoost is an open-source package that is founded on the most efficient distributed gradient boosting technique that is used for developing machine learning models and for implementing learning algorithms. This package provides a strong base for gradient boosting. Extreme gradient boosting or XGBoost is a form of decision tree classified as a distributed gradient boosted model (GBDT). It is one of the widely used machine learning libraries for activities such as classification, ranking, and regression. The application of XGBoost provides the ability of parallel tree boosting.

Additionally, XGBoost is a well-liked option among Kaggle competitors for its accessibility to programmers and its ability to make predictions with high quality.

To reap the maximum benefits of XGBoost, one needs to have a basic comprehension of the algorithms and machine learning principles employed by it. Utilising XGBoost can considerably simplify the coding process, and accelerate it, as demonstrated by a few examples.

  • Boosting the gradient
  • Methods for making decisions
  • Supervised learning, also known as AI with human oversight
  • Shared comprehension

Allow me to elucidate each of these factors for you.

Employing a boosted gradient

Gradient boosting is an extensively used machine learning method, that is used ubiquitously. With respect to machine learning, anomalies and errors could be grouped into the following categories:

  • Accurate Variance
  • Downside bias

Gradient boosting, as its name indicates, is a boosting technique. By fixing the issues, the effectiveness of the model is increased.

Moreover, gradient boosting method could be used as a classifier to forecast categorical targets, as well as a regressor for predicting continuous goals. If employed as a classifier, the cost function is assessed via the log loss function. Similarly, when used as a regressor, the Mean Square Error is considered as the cost function.

Methods for decision making

A decision tree is a variety of supervised machine learning model that continuously segments data based on certain criteria. The model is structured similar to a tree, that allows for multiple decisions to be made concurrently. Decision trees are usable for both casual and formal discussions because they provide a visual illustration of an algorithm that can assist in determining the most fitting course of action.

A decision tree is a structured representation of diverse choices that are open while making a decision, where each outcome is designated by a distinct code. These outcomes are divided into several branches, or nodes, representing further possibilities. This structure is similar to a tree, the process of which is akin to that of controlled fission reaction.

Primarily, all nodes are not created equal.

  • The location where decisions are taken
  • The likelihood of an event occurring
  • Concluding decisions

On every node, a descriptive circle is used to depict the scope of possible outcomes. Also, the presence of a choice is marked by a square decision node, and the ultimate outcome of a decision pathway is presented by a terminal node.

Supervised learning, or AI under human surveillance

Machine learning under human surveillance is known as supervised machine learning, where prior data is utilized to generate predictions. In this approach, a supervisor is actively present during the training process to provide computers with the requisite data for accurate predictions.

Mutual comprehension

Ensemble learning is a methodology employed to tackle computational problems by producing and integrating numerous designs, like classifiers and regressors. The use of optimisation learning can enhance the parameters of these models, such as prediction, function approximation, and classification.

Ensemble learning is a meta method in machine learning, which employs the potency of integrating several models to realize enhanced prediction performance. This technique fosters more precise predictions by utilizing the results of previous models.

Ensemble learning can be typically classified into three extensive groups:

  1. Bagging

    The approach of “bagging” entails fitting multiple decision trees employing the same datasets, albeit on distinct samples. This technique also facilitates the streamlining of average predictions.
  2. Stacking

    Stacking is an approach in which several learning models are trained on identical datasets, following which a third model is utilized to combine the predictions formulated by the initial models. This technique has the ability to enhance predictive performance by merging the benefits of different models.
  3. Boosting

    Introducing boosting in a pre-existing machine learning model involves adding new ensemble members to refine and advance the accuracy of the network’s predictions. This segment will concentrate on the fundamental aspects of mitigating errors and refining the system’s output.

Mighty XGBoost Capabilities

XGBoost is a formidable version of gradient boosting, decision trees, machine learning models, and learning algorithms that can be easily interpreted by experts in these areas. Moreover, XGBoost was designed to be highly efficient and provide exceptional model performance. Additionally, hyperparameters assume a crucial role in the model output as they are pre-learning configurations that can significantly impact the final outcome.

What is a Hyperparameter?

Hyperparameters are adaptable values utilized to regulate the operating process of a learning algorithm. XGBoost presents an extensive range of hyperparameters that can be customized to make the most of its capabilities. Through optimizing these hyperparameters, we can guarantee that XGBoost is used optimally.

This raises the question, “Which hyperparameters should be utilized when employing XGBoost?” Do you have any recommendations on implementing these hyperparameters?

Below, we have compiled a list of various XGBoost Hyperparameters.

  • Booster
  • Regularization lambda and alpha
  • Maximum depth
  • subsample
  • Number of estimators

Let’s now scrutinize each of these hyperparameters one by one.


The Booster boosting algorithm provides three unique settings:

  • Dart:

    Dart combats overfitting by employing dropout techniques and is otherwise quite similar to gbtree.
  • Gblinear:

    Gblinear features linear regression.
  • Gbtree:

    The gradient descent tree type default is gbtree, which is the default tree type. Consequently, handling complexity incurs a higher cost.

Regularization lambda and alpha

“Reg alpha” stems from the initial language, whereas “reg lambda” is derived from the second language. As these parameters increase, the model becomes more conservative in its behaviour. It is recommended that both these values fall within the range of 0-1000.

Maximum depth

The ‘max depth’ option enables the adjustment and modification of the maximum depth of decision trees. The model’s level of conservatism decreases when this value is increased. If the ‘max depth’ is set to 0, there are no constraints on the depth of the decision trees that can be produced.


To avoid overfitting and ensure precise predictions, the training predictors can use a subsample of the entire dataset. The default setting uses the complete dataset for analysis; however, setting the option to 0.7 enables a random sample of 70% of the data to be used for each boosting loop. Utilizing a subsample can help prevent overfitting.

Number of estimators

The number of iterative boosts used can be controlled by adjusting the number of estimators. This value essentially determines the quantity of improved decision trees that will be utilized. Moreover, as the number of estimators rises, the chances of overfitting also increase.

Implementing XGBoost: A Case Study

To better comprehend the workings of XGBoost and how to use it, let us choose a simple example of calculating the number of ‘Titanic Survivors’ in a Kaggle competition.

Our data contains several variables, and we will employ the same strategy as before, taking both ‘age’ and ‘gender’ into consideration.

At the outset of our code, we generate two placeholder variables regarding gender. To convert the ‘gender’ variable into a numerical representation, we divide it into two distinct categories: “male” and “female”. This allows us to assign new variables the value of either 0 or 1, based on the gender of the Titanic passenger.

Moving forward, we will define the essential variables required for precise predictions about the target variable, as well as the variables that will be utilized to make such predictions (survivors). We will subsequently employ code lines to differentiate the two variable sets.

Example tests

Our XGBoost model’s performance on the test sets is assessed.

Model railways

The XGBoost model that we created is heavily dependent on train sets.

The Functions of XGBoost

XGBoost is widely regarded as a data science breakthrough due to its scalability in distributed and memory-restricted environments, as well as its efficient learning algorithm. This allows for XGBoost to be implemented on a large scale, making it an essential data science tool. So, what makes it so beneficial? Let us delve into some of its top features.

  1. A simplified algorithm

    Identifying the optimal split across a continuous feature can be a daunting task, especially with large datasets that need to be analysed and stored in memory. In such cases, the volume of data can be quite cumbersome to handle.

    To overcome this challenge, a learning technique that uses approximations is employed. This approach takes into account the feature distribution to identify potential separation points. These candidate separation points provide direction when utilizing the continuous features. Eventually, the best possible selection is made based on the gathered information.
  2. Column Blocking

    Sorting data can be a tedious process, particularly when using decision tree algorithms or other kinds of machine learning. To reduce the amount of time and energy spent on this task, the data is arranged in memory blocks, with feature values used to order columns within each block. This computation is highly precise and should only be performed once, before training begins.

    The task of sorting blocks can be split across multiple threads running concurrently on the same central processing unit (CPU). Additionally, while the blocks are being sorted, data from each column can be collected simultaneously, allowing the process of identifying splits to happen in parallel.
  3. Quantile Intensity Plot

    In order to simplify the process of partitioning candidates and constructing weighted datasets, we employ the weighted quantile sketch. This technique enables us to efficiently combine data quantile summaries.
  4. A Sparsity-Aware Algorithm

    Given the existence of missing values, zero entries, and one-hot encoding, the input data is quite sparse. To improve input retrieval, XGBoost employs its sparsity-aware algorithm to identify the default direction in each node and traverse in that direction.
  5. Distributed Processing

    XGBoost is a potent machine learning algorithm capable of dividing data into multiple blocks and storing them on the system if they cannot fit into main memory. This approach ensures efficient memory management and processing. XGBoost also offers a practical mechanism for compressing and decompressing data blocks on-the-fly, which is expedited by a separate thread.
  6. Structured Guidance

    To properly evaluate the effectiveness of a model based on a set of inputs, it is essential to establish an objective function. This objective function consists of two distinct components:
    • Regularisation
    • Reduced Training Time

      By using the regularisation term, the model can be simplified.

The Data Science Features and Benefits of XGBoost

XGBoost offers a wide range of advantages and features.

  • The XGBoost algorithm is continually evolving, thanks to contributions from the expanding data science and data scientist community. As a result of these open-source contributions, new features and enhancements are frequently integrated, making the development process more efficient and saving time and effort.
  • XGBoost can simplify many areas, including regression, ranking, and custom prediction problems.
  • XGBoost offers a comprehensive library that is cross-platform and compatible with Linux, OS X, and Windows operating systems.
  • In addition, XGBoost seamlessly integrates with various cloud-based platforms, including Apache Hadoop Yarn clusters, Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and many other similar ecosystems.
  • XGBoost plays a significant role in various groups and industries.

Although XGBoost boasts remarkable performance across a variety of machine learning tasks and algorithms, it should not be considered a one-size-fits-all solution. For optimal success in the field of data science, it is advisable to pair it with feature engineering and data exploration. We trust this post has provided valuable insights on this subject.


  1. What algorithm does XGBoost use?

    XGBoost (short for “Extreme Gradient Boosting”) is an efficient and powerful advancement over the conventional Gradient Boosting algorithms. This approach integrates distributed gradient boosting methodology into various machine learning models and algorithms, resulting in improved performance and accuracy. By leveraging this implementation, XGBoost can offer better solutions to complex problems.
  2. How can XGBoost assist in data science applications?

    XGBoost (Extreme Gradient Boosting) is an open-source toolkit that is designed to create robust machine learning models and algorithms that are specifically tailored for modern data science applications. By utilising boosting approaches, XGBoost allows users to optimise their machine learning models in a more efficient manner. It helps users to develop powerful machine learning models and learning algorithms that meet the requirements of modern data science applications.

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