Boosting is a technique in machine learning that has been shown to produce models with high predictive accuracy.

One of the most common ways to implement boosting in practice is to use **XGBoost**, short for “extreme gradient boosting.”

This tutorial provides a step-by-step example of how to use XGBoost to fit a boosted model in R.

**Step 1: Load the Necessary Packages**

First, we’ll load the necessary libraries.

library(xgboost) #for fitting the xgboost model library(caret) #for general data preparation and model fitting

**Step 2: Load the Data**

For this example we’ll fit a boosted regression model to the **Boston** dataset from the **MASS** package.

This dataset contains 13 predictor variables that we’ll use to predict one response variable called **mdev**, which represents the median value of homes in different census tracts around Boston.

#load the data data = MASS::Boston #view the structure of the data str(data) 'data.frame': 506 obs. of 14 variables: $ crim : num 0.00632 0.02731 0.02729 0.03237 0.06905 ... $ zn : num 18 0 0 0 0 0 12.5 12.5 12.5 12.5 ... $ indus : num 2.31 7.07 7.07 2.18 2.18 2.18 7.87 7.87 7.87 7.87 ... $ chas : int 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ... $ nox : num 0.538 0.469 0.469 0.458 0.458 0.458 0.524 0.524 0.524 0.524 ... $ rm : num 6.58 6.42 7.18 7 7.15 ... $ age : num 65.2 78.9 61.1 45.8 54.2 58.7 66.6 96.1 100 85.9 ... $ dis : num 4.09 4.97 4.97 6.06 6.06 ... $ rad : int 1 2 2 3 3 3 5 5 5 5 ... $ tax : num 296 242 242 222 222 222 311 311 311 311 ... $ ptratio: num 15.3 17.8 17.8 18.7 18.7 18.7 15.2 15.2 15.2 15.2 ... $ black : num 397 397 393 395 397 ... $ lstat : num 4.98 9.14 4.03 2.94 5.33 ... $ medv : num 24 21.6 34.7 33.4 36.2 28.7 22.9 27.1 16.5 18.9 ...

We can see that the dataset contains 506 observations and 14 total variables.

**Step 3: Prep the Data**

Next, we’ll use the **createDataPartition()** function from the caret package to split the original dataset into a training and testing set.

For this example, we’ll choose to use 80% of the original dataset as part of the training set.

Note that the xgboost package also uses matrix data, so we’ll use the **data.matrix()** function to hold our predictor variables.

#make this example reproducible set.seed(0) #split into training (80%) and testing set (20%) parts = createDataPartition(data$medv, p = .8, list = F) train = data[parts, ] test = data[-parts, ] #define predictor and response variables in training set train_x = data.matrix(train[, -13]) train_y = train[,13] #define predictor and response variables in testing set test_x = data.matrix(test[, -13]) test_y = test[, 13] #define final training and testing sets xgb_train = xgb.DMatrix(data = train_x, label = train_y) xgb_test = xgb.DMatrix(data = test_x, label = test_y)

**Step 4: Fit the Model**

Next, we’ll fit the XGBoost model by using the **xgb.train()** function, which displays the training and testing RMSE (root mean squared error) for each round of boosting.

Note that we chose to use 70 rounds for this example, but for much larger datasets it’s not uncommon to use hundreds or even thousands of rounds. Just keep in mind that the more rounds, the longer the run time.

Also note that the **max.depth** argument specifies how deep to grow the individual decision trees. We typically choose this number to be quite low like 2 or 3 so that smaller trees are grown. It has been shown that this approach tends to produce more accurate models.

#define watchlist watchlist = list(train=xgb_train, test=xgb_test) #fit XGBoost model and display training and testing data at each round model = xgb.train(data = xgb_train, max.depth = 3, watchlist=watchlist, nrounds = 70) [1] train-rmse:10.167523 test-rmse:10.839775 [2] train-rmse:7.521903 test-rmse:8.329679 [3] train-rmse:5.702393 test-rmse:6.691415 [4] train-rmse:4.463687 test-rmse:5.631310 [5] train-rmse:3.666278 test-rmse:4.878750 [6] train-rmse:3.159799 test-rmse:4.485698 [7] train-rmse:2.855133 test-rmse:4.230533 [8] train-rmse:2.603367 test-rmse:4.099881 [9] train-rmse:2.445718 test-rmse:4.084360 [10] train-rmse:2.327318 test-rmse:3.993562 [11] train-rmse:2.267629 test-rmse:3.944454 [12] train-rmse:2.189527 test-rmse:3.930808 [13] train-rmse:2.119130 test-rmse:3.865036 [14] train-rmse:2.086450 test-rmse:3.875088 [15] train-rmse:2.038356 test-rmse:3.881442 [16] train-rmse:2.010995 test-rmse:3.883322 [17] train-rmse:1.949505 test-rmse:3.844382 [18] train-rmse:1.911711 test-rmse:3.809830 [19] train-rmse:1.888488 test-rmse:3.809830 [20] train-rmse:1.832443 test-rmse:3.758502 [21] train-rmse:1.816150 test-rmse:3.770216 [22] train-rmse:1.801369 test-rmse:3.770474 [23] train-rmse:1.788891 test-rmse:3.766608 [24] train-rmse:1.751795 test-rmse:3.749583 [25] train-rmse:1.713306 test-rmse:3.720173 [26] train-rmse:1.672227 test-rmse:3.675086 [27] train-rmse:1.648323 test-rmse:3.675977 [28] train-rmse:1.609927 test-rmse:3.745338 [29] train-rmse:1.594891 test-rmse:3.756049 [30] train-rmse:1.578573 test-rmse:3.760104 [31] train-rmse:1.559810 test-rmse:3.727940 [32] train-rmse:1.547852 test-rmse:3.731702 [33] train-rmse:1.534589 test-rmse:3.729761 [34] train-rmse:1.520566 test-rmse:3.742681 [35] train-rmse:1.495155 test-rmse:3.732993 [36] train-rmse:1.467939 test-rmse:3.738329 [37] train-rmse:1.446343 test-rmse:3.713748 [38] train-rmse:1.435368 test-rmse:3.709469 [39] train-rmse:1.401356 test-rmse:3.710637 [40] train-rmse:1.390318 test-rmse:3.709461 [41] train-rmse:1.372635 test-rmse:3.708049 [42] train-rmse:1.367977 test-rmse:3.707429 [43] train-rmse:1.359531 test-rmse:3.711663 [44] train-rmse:1.335347 test-rmse:3.709101 [45] train-rmse:1.331750 test-rmse:3.712490 [46] train-rmse:1.313087 test-rmse:3.722981 [47] train-rmse:1.284392 test-rmse:3.712840 [48] train-rmse:1.257714 test-rmse:3.697482 [49] train-rmse:1.248218 test-rmse:3.700167 [50] train-rmse:1.243377 test-rmse:3.697914 [51] train-rmse:1.231956 test-rmse:3.695797 [52] train-rmse:1.219341 test-rmse:3.696277 [53] train-rmse:1.207413 test-rmse:3.691465 [54] train-rmse:1.197197 test-rmse:3.692108 [55] train-rmse:1.171748 test-rmse:3.683577 [56] train-rmse:1.156332 test-rmse:3.674458 [57] train-rmse:1.147686 test-rmse:3.686367 [58] train-rmse:1.143572 test-rmse:3.686375 [59] train-rmse:1.129780 test-rmse:3.679791 [60] train-rmse:1.111257 test-rmse:3.679022 [61] train-rmse:1.093541 test-rmse:3.699670 [62] train-rmse:1.083934 test-rmse:3.708187 [63] train-rmse:1.067109 test-rmse:3.712538 [64] train-rmse:1.053887 test-rmse:3.722480 [65] train-rmse:1.042127 test-rmse:3.720720 [66] train-rmse:1.031617 test-rmse:3.721224 [67] train-rmse:1.016274 test-rmse:3.699549 [68] train-rmse:1.008184 test-rmse:3.709522 [69] train-rmse:0.999220 test-rmse:3.708000 [70] train-rmse:0.985907 test-rmse:3.705192

From the output we can see that the minimum testing RMSE is achieved at **56** rounds. Beyond this point, the test RMSE actually begins to increase, which is a sign that we’re overfitting the training data.

Thus, we’ll define our final XGBoost model to use 56 rounds:

#define final model final = xgboost(data = xgb_train, max.depth = 3, nrounds = 56, verbose = 0)

Note: The argument **verbose = 0** tells R not to display the training and testing error for each round.

**Step 5: Use the Model to Make Predictions**

Lastly, we can use the final boosted model to make predictions about the median house value of Boston homes in the testing set.

We will then calculate the following accuracy measures for the model:

**MSE:**Mean Squared Error**MAE:**Mean Absolute Error**RMSE:**Root Mean Squared Error

mean((test_y - pred_y)^2) #mse caret::MAE(test_y, pred_y) #mae caret::RMSE(test_y, pred_y) #rmse [1] 13.50164 [1] 2.409426 [1] 3.674457

The root mean squared error turns out to be **3.674457**. This represents the average difference between the prediction made for the median house values and the actual observed house values in the test set.

If we want, we could compare this RMSE to other models like multiple linear regression, ridge regression, principal components regression, etc. to see which model produces the most accurate predictions.

You can find the complete R code used in this example here.