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Ranking with XGBoost Models

Vespa supports importing Gradient Boosting Decision Tree (GBDT) models trained with XGBoost.

Exporting models from XGBoost

Vespa supports importing XGBoost’s JSON model dump, e.g. Python API (xgboost.Booster.dump_model. When dumping the trained model, XGBoost allows users to set the dump_format to json, and users can specify the feature names to be used in fmap.

Here is an example of an XGBoost JSON model dump with 2 trees and maximum depth 1:

  { "nodeid": 0, "depth": 0, "split": "fieldMatch(title).completeness", "split_condition": 0.772132337, "yes": 1, "no": 2, "missing": 1, "children": [
    { "nodeid": 1, "leaf": 0.673938096 },
    { "nodeid": 2, "leaf": 0.791884363 }
  { "nodeid": 0, "depth": 0, "split": "fieldMatch(title).importance", "split_condition": 0.606320798, "yes": 1, "no": 2, "missing": 1, "children": [
    { "nodeid": 1, "leaf": 0.469432801 },
    { "nodeid": 2, "leaf": 0.55586201 }

Notice the ‘split’ attribute which represents the feature name. The above model was produced using the XGBoost python api:

import xgboost as xgb

dtrain = xgb.DMatrix('training-vectors.txt')
param = {'base_score':0, 'max_depth':1,'objective':'reg:squarederror'}
bst = xgb.train(param, dtrain, 2)
bst.dump_model("trained-model.json",fmap='feature-map.txt', with_stats=False, dump_format='json')

The training data is represented using LibSVM text format.

Feature mappings from XGBoost to Vespa

XGBoost is trained on array or array like data structures where features are named based on the index in the array as in the example above. To convert the XGBoost features we need to map feature indexes to actual Vespa features (native features or custom defined features):

$ cat feature-map.txt |egrep "fieldMatch\(title\).completeness|fieldMatch\(title\).importance"
36  fieldMatch(title).completeness q
39  fieldMatch(title).importance q

In the feature mapping example, feature at index 36 maps to fieldMatch(title).completeness and index 39 maps to fieldMatch(title).importance. The feature mapping format is not well described in the XGBoost documentation, but the sample demo for binary classification writes:

Format of feature-map.txt: <featureid> <featurename> <q or i or int>\n:

  • “Feature id” must be from 0 to number of features, in sorted order.
  • “i” means this feature is binary indicator feature
  • “q” means this feature is a quantitative value, such as age, time, can be missing
  • “int” means this feature is integer value (when int is hinted, the decision boundary will be integer)

When using pandas with DataFrame with columns names, one does not feature mappings.

See also a complete example of how to train a ranking function, using learning to rank with ranking losses, in this notebook.

Importing XGBoost models

To import the XGBoost model to Vespa, add the directory containing the model to your application package under a specific directory named models. For instance, if you would like to call the model above as my_model, you would add it to the application package resulting in a directory structure like this:

├── models
│   └── my_model.json
├── schemas
│   └── main.sd
└── services.xml

An application package can have multiple models.

To download models during deployment, see deploying remote models.

Ranking with XGBoost models

Vespa has a special ranking feature called xgboost. This ranking feature specifies the model to use in a ranking expression. Consider the following example:

schema xgboost {
    rank-profile prediction inherits default {
        first-phase {
            expression: xgboost("my_model.json")

Here, we specify that the model my_model.json is applied to all documents matching a query which uses rank-profile prediction. One can also use Phased ranking to control number of data points/documents which is ranked with the model. Generally the run time complexity is determined by

  • The number of documents evaluated per thread / number of nodes and the query filter
  • The feature complexity (Features which are repeated over multiple trees/branches are not re-computed)
  • The number of trees and the maximum depth per tree

XGBoost models

There are three objective types that Vespa supports:

  • Regression reg:squarederror / reg:logistic
  • Classification binary:logistic
  • Ranking rank:pairwise, rank:ndcg and rank:map

For reg:logistic and binary:logistic the raw margin tree sum (Sum of all trees) needs to be passed through the sigmoid function to represent the probability of class 1. F or regular regression the model can be directly imported but the base_score should be set 0 as the base_score used during the training phase is not dumped with the model.

An example model using the sklearn toy datasets is given below:

from sklearn import datasets
import xgboost as xgb
breast_cancer = datasets.load_breast_cancer()
c = xgb.XGBClassifier(n_estimators=20, objective='binary:logistic')
c.get_booster().dump_model("binary_breast_cancer.json", fmap='feature-map.txt', dump_format='json')

To represent the predict_proba function of XGBoost for the binary classifier in Vespa, we need to use the sigmoid function:

schema xgboost {
    rank-profile prediction-binary inherits default {
        first-phase {
            expression: sigmoid(xgboost("binary_breast_cancer.json"))

Known issues

  • When dumping XGBoost models to a JSON representation some of the model information is lost (e.g. the base_score or the optimal number of trees if trained with early stopping). XGBoost also has different predict functions (e.g. predict/predict_proba). The following XGBoost System Test demonstrates how to represent different type of XGBoost models in Vespa.