RecursiveFeatureAddition implements recursive feature addition. Recursive feature addition (RFA) is a forward feature selection process.

This technique begins by building a model on the entire set of variables and computing an importance score for each variable. Features are ranked by the model’s coef_ or feature_importances_ attributes.

In the next step, it trains a model only using the feature with the highest importance and stores the model performance.

Then, it adds the second most important, trains a new model and determines a new performance metric. If the performance increases beyond the threshold, compared to the previous model, then that feature is important and will be kept. Otherwise, that feature is removed.

It proceeds to evaluate the next most important feature, and so on, until all features are evaluated.

Note that feature importance is used just to rank features and thus determine the order in which the features will be added. But whether to retain a feature is determined based on the increase in the performance of the model after the feature addition.


Feature-engine’s RFA has 2 parameters that need to be determined somewhat arbitrarily by the user: the first one is the machine learning model which performance will be evaluated. The second is the threshold in the performance increase that needs to occur, to keep a feature.

RFA is not machine learning model agnostic, this means that the feature selection depends on the model, and different models may have different subsets of optimal features. Thus, it is recommended that you use the machine learning model that you finally intend to build.

Regarding the threshold, this parameter needs a bit of hand tuning. Higher thresholds will of course return fewer features.


Let’s see how to use this transformer with the diabetes dataset that comes in Scikit-learn. First, we load the data:

import pandas as pd
from sklearn.datasets import load_diabetes
from sklearn.linear_model import LinearRegression
from feature_engine.selection import RecursiveFeatureAddition

# load dataset
diabetes_X, diabetes_y = load_diabetes(return_X_y=True)
X = pd.DataFrame(diabetes_X)
y = pd.Series(diabetes_y)

Now, we set up RecursiveFeatureAddition to select features based on the r2 returned by a Linear Regression model, using 3 fold cross-validation. In this case, we leave the parameter threshold to the default value which is 0.01.

# initialize linear regresion estimator
linear_model = LinearRegression()

# initialize feature selector
tr = RecursiveFeatureAddition(estimator=linear_model, scoring="r2", cv=3)

With fit() the model finds the most useful features, that is, features that when added cause an increase in model performance bigger than 0.01. With transform(), the transformer removes the features from the dataset.

# fit transformer
Xt = tr.fit_transform(X, y)

RecursiveFeatureAddition stores the performance of the model trained using all the features in its attribute:

# get the initial linear model performance, using all features

RecursiveFeatureAddition also stores the change in the performance caused by adding each feature.

# Get the performance drift of each feature
{4: 0,
 8: 0.28371458794131676,
 2: 0.1377714799388745,
 5: 0.0023327265047610735,
 3: 0.018759914615172735,
 1: 0.0027996354657459643,
 7: 0.002695149440021638,
 6: 0.002683934134630306,
 9: 0.000304067408860742,
 0: -0.007387230783454768}

RecursiveFeatureAddition also stores the features that will be dropped based n the given threshold.

# the features to drop
[0, 1, 5, 6, 7, 9]

If we now print the transformed data, we see that the features above were removed.

          2         3         4         8
0  0.061696  0.021872 -0.044223  0.019907
1 -0.051474 -0.026328 -0.008449 -0.068332
2  0.044451 -0.005670 -0.045599  0.002861
3 -0.011595 -0.036656  0.012191  0.022688
4 -0.036385  0.021872  0.003935 -0.031988

Additional resources#

For more details about this and other feature selection methods check out these resources:


Feature Selection for Machine Learning#

Or read our book:


Feature Selection in Machine Learning#

Both our book and course are suitable for beginners and more advanced data scientists alike. By purchasing them you are supporting Sole, the main developer of Feature-engine.