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XGBoost Best Feature Importance Score

Feature importance is a crucial concept in machine learning that helps us understand which features have the most significant impact on a model’s predictions.

XGBoost, a powerful gradient boosting library, provides several built-in feature importance metrics that can offer insights into the relative importance of features in a trained model. Understanding these metrics is essential for tasks such as feature selection, model interpretation, and data filtering.

XGBoost offers five main feature importance metrics: Weight, Gain, Cover, Total Gain, and Total Cover. Each metric provides a different perspective on the importance of features.

In this example, we’ll explore these metrics using a synthetic dataset and demonstrate how to calculate and visualize them.

Let’s generate a synthetic dataset with features of varying importance, then calculate and visualize the different feature importance metrics:

import numpy as np
import xgboost as xgb
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

# Generate synthetic data
n_samples = 1000
n_features = 10

X = np.random.rand(n_samples, n_features)
y = (
    2 * X[:, 0] +
    1.5 * X[:, 1] +
    1 * X[:, 2] +
    0.5 * X[:, 3] +
    0.2 * X[:, 4] +

# Create DMatrix
dtrain = xgb.DMatrix(X, label=y)

# Train XGBoost model
params = {
    'objective': 'reg:squarederror',
    'max_depth': 3,
    'learning_rate': 0.1,
    'subsample': 0.8,
    'colsample_bytree': 0.8,
model = xgb.train(params, dtrain, num_boost_round=100)

# Get feature importance
importance_types = ['weight', 'gain', 'cover', 'total_gain', 'total_cover']
for importance_type in importance_types:
    fig, ax = plt.subplots(figsize=(10, 6))
    xgb.plot_importance(model, ax=ax, importance_type=importance_type,
                        max_num_features=n_features, grid=False, show_values=False)
    plt.title(f'Feature Importance ({importance_type})')

Weight importance

The Weight importance represents the number of times a feature is used to split data across all trees. Features with higher weights are used more frequently in the model and can be considered important. Weight importance is useful for feature selection, as you can eliminate features with low weights to reduce dimensionality.

Gain importance

Gain importance measures the average gain of splits that use a particular feature. It indicates how much the feature contributes to the model’s performance. Features with higher gain importance are more valuable for making accurate predictions. Gain importance is useful for identifying the most influential features in the model.

Cover importance

Cover importance measures the average coverage of splits that use a particular feature. It represents the number of samples affected by splits using the feature. The interpretation and use case for Cover importance are less clear and may require further research or domain knowledge.

Total Gain importance

Total Gain importance is the sum of the gain importance of a feature across all splits in the ensemble. It provides an overall measure of a feature’s importance considering its cumulative contribution. Total Gain importance is useful for understanding the global importance of features across the entire model.

Total Cover importance

Total Cover importance is the sum of the cover importance of a feature across all splits in the ensemble. Similar to Cover importance, the specific use case for Total Cover importance is not well-established and may depend on the problem domain.


Understanding these feature importance metrics can guide various aspects of the machine learning workflow.

For feature selection, you can focus on features with high Weight or Gain importance and eliminate those with low importance. This can help reduce dimensionality and improve model efficiency.

For model interpretation, Gain and Total Gain importance provide insights into which features drive the model’s predictions, aiding in understanding and explaining the model’s behavior.

In data filtering or preprocessing, you can prioritize features with high importance scores to ensure the most relevant information is captured.


When choosing a feature importance metric, consider your specific goals and the characteristics of your problem.

Weight importance is useful for feature selection, while Gain and Total Gain importance are more suited for understanding feature contributions to the model’s performance.

Cover and Total Cover importance may require further investigation to determine their applicability in your context.

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