The HPSPLIT Procedure

Overview: HPSPLIT Procedure


The HPSPLIT procedure is a high-performance procedure that builds tree-based statistical models for classification and regression. The procedure produces classification trees, which model a categorical response, and regression trees, which model a continuous response. Both types of trees are referred to as decision trees because the model is expressed as a series of if-then statements.

The predictor variables for tree models can be categorical or continuous. The model is based on a partition of the predictor space into nonoverlapping segments, which correspond to the terminal nodes or leaves of the tree. The partitioning is done recursively, starting with the root node, which contains all the data, and ending with the terminal nodes. At each step of the recursion, the parent node is split into child nodes through selection of a predictor variable and a split value that minimize the variability in the response across the child nodes.

Tree models are built from training data for which the response values are known, and these models are subsequently used to score (classify or predict) response values for new data. For classification trees, the most frequent response level of the training observations in a leaf is used to classify observations in that leaf. For regression trees, the average response of the training observations in a leaf is used to predict the response for observations in that leaf. The splitting rules that define the leaves provide the information that is needed to score new data.

The process of building a decision tree begins with growing a large, full tree. Various measures, such as the Gini index, entropy, and residual sum of squares, are used to assess candidate splits for each node. The full tree can overfit the training data, resulting in a model that does not adequately generalize to new data. To prevent overfitting, the full tree is pruned back to a smaller subtree that balances the goals of fitting training data and predicting new data. Two commonly applied approaches for finding the best subtree are cost-complexity pruning (Breiman et al. 1984) and C4.5 pruning (Quinlan 1993). For more information, see the section Building a Decision Tree.

SAS/STAT software provides many different methods of regression and classification. Compared with other methods, an advantage of tree models is that they are easy to interpret and visualize, especially when the tree is small. Tree-based methods scale well to large data, and they offer various methods of handling missing values, including surrogate splits.

However, tree models have limitations. Regression tree models fit response surfaces that are constant over rectangular regions of the predictor space, and so they often lack the flexibility needed to capture smooth relationships between the predictor variables and the response. Another limitation of tree models is that small changes in the data can lead to very different splits, and this undermines the interpretability of the model (Hastie, Tibshirani, and Friedman 2009; Kuhn and Johnson 2013).

PROC HPSPLIT runs in either single-machine mode or distributed mode.

Note: Distributed mode requires SAS High-Performance Statistics .