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Two-Class Boosted Decision Tree


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Creates a binary classifier using a boosted decision tree algorithm

Category: Machine Learning / Initialize Model / Classification


Applies to: Machine Learning Studio (classic) only

Similar drag-and-drop modules are available in Azure Machine Learning designer.

Module overview

This article describes how to use the Two-Class Boosted Decision Tree module in Machine Learning Studio (classic), to create a machine learning model that is based on the boosted decision trees algorithm.

A boosted decision tree is an ensemble learning method in which the second tree corrects for the errors of the first tree, the third tree corrects for the errors of the first and second trees, and so forth. Predictions are based on the entire ensemble of trees together that makes the prediction. For further technical details, see the Research section of this article.

Generally, when properly configured, boosted decision trees are the easiest methods with which to get top performance on a wide variety of machine learning tasks. However, they are also one of the more memory-intensive learners, and the current implementation holds everything in memory. Therefore, a boosted decision tree model might not be able to process the very large datasets that some linear learners can handle.

How to configure Two-Class Boosted Decision Tree

This module creates an untrained classification model. Because classification is a supervised learning method, to train the model, you need a tagged dataset that includes a label column with a value for all rows.

You can train this type of model by using either the Train Model or Tune Model Hyperparameters modules.

  1. In Machine Learning Studio (classic), add the Boosted Decision Tree module to your experiment.

  2. Specify how you want the model to be trained, by setting the Create trainer mode option.

    • Single Parameter: If you know how you want to configure the model, you can provide a specific set of values as arguments.

    • Parameter Range: If you are not sure of the best parameters, you can find the optimal parameters by using the Tune Model Hyperparameters module. You provide some range of values, and the trainer iterates over multiple combinations of the settings to determine the combination of values that produces the best result.

  3. For Maximum number of leaves per tree, indicate the maximum number of terminal nodes (leaves) that can be created in any tree.

    By increasing this value, you potentially increase the size of the tree and get better precision, at the risk of overfitting and longer training time.

  4. For Minimum number of samples per leaf node, indicate the number of cases required to create any terminal node (leaf) in a tree.

    By increasing this value, you increase the threshold for creating new rules. For example, with the default value of 1, even a single case can cause a new rule to be created. If you increase the value to 5, the training data would have to contain at least 5 cases that meet the same conditions.

  5. For Learning rate, type a number between 0 and 1 that defines the step size while learning.

    The learning rate determines how fast or slow the learner converges on the optimal solution. If the step size is too big, you might overshoot the optimal solution. If the step size is too small, training takes longer to converge on the best solution.

  6. For Number of trees constructed, indicate the total number of decision trees to create in the ensemble. By creating more decision trees, you can potentially get better coverage, but training time will increase.

    This value also controls the number of trees displayed when visualizing the trained model. if you want to see or print a single tree, set the value to 1. However, when you do so, only one tree is produced (the tree with the initial set of parameters) and no further iterations are performed.

  7. For Random number seed, optionally type a non-negative integer to use as the random seed value. Specifying a seed ensures reproducibility across runs that have the same data and parameters.

    The random seed is set by default to 0, which means the initial seed value is obtained from the system clock. Successive runs using a random seed can have different results.

  8. Select Allow unknown categorical levels option to create a group for unknown values in the training and validation sets.

    If you deselect this option, the model can accept only the values that are contained in the training data.

    If you allow unknown values, the model might be less precise for known values, but likely can provide better predictions for new (unknown) values.

  9. Train the model.

    • If you set Create trainer mode to Single Parameter, connect a tagged dataset and the Train Model module.

    • If you set Create trainer mode to Parameter Range, connect a tagged dataset and train the model by using Tune Model Hyperparameters.


    If you pass a parameter range to Train Model, it uses only the first value in the parameter range list.

    If you pass a single set of parameter values to the Tune Model Hyperparameters module, when it expects a range of settings for each parameter, it ignores the values, and uses the default values for the learner.

    If you select the Parameter Range option and enter a single value for any parameter, that single value you specified is used throughout the sweep, even if other parameters change across a range of values.


After training is complete:

  • To see the tree that was created on each iteration, right-click Train Model module and select Trained model to visualize. If you use Tune Model Hyperparameters, right click the module and select Trained best model to visualize the best model.

    Click each tree to drill down into the splits and see the rules for each node.

  • To use the model for scoring, connect it to Score Model, to predict values for new input examples.


For examples of how boosted decision trees are used in machine learning, see the Azure AI Gallery:

  • Direct marketing: Uses the Two-Class Boosted Decision Tree algorithm to predict customer appetency.

  • Flight delay prediction: This sample uses the Two-Class Boosted Decision Tree algorithm to determine whether a flight is likely to be delayed.

  • Credit card risk: This sample uses the Two-Class Boosted Decision Tree algorithm to predict risk.

Technical notes

This section contains implementation details and frequently asked questions.

Usage tips

  • To train a boosted decision tree model, you must provide multiple data instances. An error is generated during the training process if the dataset contains too few rows.

  • If your data has missing values, you must add indicators for the features.

  • In general, boosted decision trees yield better results when features are somewhat related. If features have a large degree of entropy (that is, they are not related), they share little or no mutual information, and ordering them in a tree does not yield a lot of predictive significance. If this is not the case, you might try a random forests model.

    Boosting also works well when you have many more examples than features because the model is prone to overfitting.

  • Do not normalize the dataset. Because the treatment of features is a simple, non-parametric, less-than or greater-than comparison, normalization or any form of non-monotonic transformation function might have little effect.

  • Features are discretized and binned prior to training, so only a relatively small set of threshold candidates are considered, even for continuous features.

Implementation details

For detailed information about the boosted decision tree algorithm, see Greedy Function Approximation: A Gradient Boosting Machines.

The boosted decision tree algorithm in Machine Learning uses the following boosting method:

  1. Start with an empty ensemble of weak learners.

  2. For each training example, get the current output of the ensemble. This is the sum of the outputs of all weak learners in the ensemble.

  3. Calculate the gradient of the loss function for each example.

    This depends on whether the task is a binary classification problem or a regression problem.

    • In a binary classification model, the log-loss is used, much like in logistic regression.

    • In a regression model, the squared loss is used, and the gradient is the current output, minus the target).

  4. Use the examples to fit a weak learner, using the gradient just defined as the target function.

  5. Add that weak learner to the ensemble with a strength indicated by the learning rate, and if desired, go to Step 2.

    In this implementation, the weak learners are the least-squares regression trees, based on the gradients calculated in Step 3. The trees are subject to the following restrictions:

    • They are trained up to a maximum number of leaves.

    • Each leaf has a minimum number of examples to guard against overfitting.

    • Each decision node is a single feature that is compared against some threshold. If that feature is less than or equal to the threshold, it goes down one path, and if it is greater than the threshold, it goes down the other path.

    • Each leaf node is a constant value.

  6. The tree-building algorithm greedily selects the feature and threshold for which a split minimizes the squared loss with regard to the gradient calculated in Step 3. The selection of the split is subject to a minimum number of training examples per leaf.

    The algorithm repeatedly splits until it reaches the maximum number of leaves, or until no valid split is available.

Module parameters

Name Range Type Default Description
Maximum number of leaves per tree >=1 Integer 20 Specify the maximum number of leaves allowed per tree
Minimum number of samples per leaf node >=1 Integer 10 Specify the minimum number of cases required to form a leaf
Learning rate [double.Epsilon;1.0] Float 0.2 Specify the initial learning rate
Number of trees constructed >=1 Integer 100 Specify the maximum number of trees that can be created during training
Random number seed Any Integer Type a value to seed the random number generator that is used by the model. Leave it blank for the default.
Allow unknown categorical levels Any Boolean True If True, an additional level is created for each categorical column. Any levels in the test dataset that are not available in the training dataset are mapped to this additional level.


Name Type Description
Untrained model ILearner interface An untrained binary classification model

See also

Boosted Decision Tree Regression
A-Z Module List