Introduction to the DataRobot R Package

Ron Pearson, Peter Hurford, Matt Harris


The name DataRobot refers to three things: a Boston-based software company, the massively parallel modeling engine developed by the DataRobot company, and an open-source R package that allows interactive R users to connect to this modeling engine. This vignette provides a brief introduction to the datarobot R package, highlighting the following key details of its use:

To illustrate how the datarobot package is used, it is applied here to the Ames dataframe from the AmesHousing package, providing simple demonstrations of all of the above steps.


The DataRobot modeling engine

The DataRobot modeling engine is a commercial product that supports massively parallel modeling applications, building and optimizing models of many different types, and evaluating and ranking their relative performance. This modeling engine exists in a variety of implementations, some cloud-based, accessed via the Internet, and others residing in customer-specific on-premises computing environments. The datarobot R package described here allows anyone with access to one of these implementations to interact with it from an interactive R session. Connection between the R session and the modeling engine is accomplished via HTTP requests, with an initial connection established in one of two ways described in the next section.

The DataRobot modeling engine is organized around modeling projects, each based on a single data source, a single target variable to be predicted, and a single metric to be optimized in fitting and ranking project models. This information is sufficient to create a project, identified by a unique alphanumeric projectId label, and start the DataRobot Autopilot, which builds, evaluates, and summarizes a collection of models. While the Autopilot is running, intermediate results are saved in a list that is updated until the project completes. The last stage of the modeling process constructs blender models, ensemble models that combine two or more of the best-performing individual models in various different ways. These models are ranked in the same way as the individual models and are included in the final project list. When the project is complete, the essential information about all project models may be obtained with the ListModels function described later in this note. This function returns an S3 object of class ‘listOfModels’, which is a list with one element for each project model. A plot method has been defined for this object class, providing a convenient way to visualize the relative performance of these project models.

Connecting to DataRobot

To access the DataRobot modeling engine, it is necessary to establish an authenticated connection, which can be done in one of two ways. In both cases, the necessary information is an endpoint - the URL address of the specific DataRobot server being used - and a token, a previously validated access token.

token is unique for each DataRobot modeling engine account and can be accessed using the DataRobot webapp in the account profile section. It looks like a string of letters and numbers.

endpoint depends on DataRobot modeling engine installation (cloud-based, on-prem…) you are using. Contact your DataRobot admin for endpoint to use. The endpoint for DataRobot cloud accounts is

The first access method uses a YAML configuration file with these two elements - labeled token and endpoint - located at $HOME/.config/datarobot/drconfig.yaml. If this file exists when the datarobot package is loaded, a connection to the DataRobot modeling engine is automatically established. It is also possible to establish a connection using this YAML file via the ConnectToDataRobot function, by specifying the configPath parameter.

The second method of establishing a connection to the DataRobot modeling engine is to call the function ConnectToDataRobot with the endpoint and token parameters.

ConnectToDataRobot(endpoint = "YOUR-ENDPOINT-HERE", token = "YOUR-API_TOKEN-HERE")

DataRobot API can work behind a non-transparent HTTP proxy server. Please set environment variable http_proxy containing proxy URL to route all the DataRobot traffic through that proxy server, e.g. http_proxy="http://my-proxy.local:3128" R -f my_datarobot_script.r.

Creating a new project

One of the most common and important uses of the datarobot R package is the creation of a new modeling project. This task is supported by the following three functions:

The first step in creating a new DataRobot modeling project uses the StartProject function, which has one required parameter, dataSource, that can be a dataframe, an object whose class inherits from dataframe (e.g., a data.table), or a CSV file. Although it is not required, the optional parameter projectName can be extremely useful in managing projects, especially as their number grows; in particular, while every project has a unique alphanumeric identifier projectId associated with it, this string is not easy to remember. Another optional parameter is maxWait, which specifies the maximum time in seconds before the project creation task aborts; increasing this parameter from its default value can be useful when working with large datasets.

StartProject also starts the model-building process by specifying a target, a character string that names the response variable to be predicted by all models in the project. Of the optional parameters for the StartProjct function, the only one discussed here is metric, a character string that specifies the measure to be optimized in fitting project models. Admissible values for this parameter are determined by the DataRobot modeling engine based on the nature of the target variable. A list of these values can be obtained using the function GetValidMetrics. The required parameters for this function are project and target, but here there are no optional parameters. The default value for the optional metric parameter in the StartProject function call is NULL, which causes the default metric recommended by the DataRobot modeling engine to be adopted. For a complete discussion of the other optional parameters for the StartProject function, refer to the help files.


DataRobot also supports using an offset parameter in StartProject. Offsets are commonly used in insurance modeling to include effects that are outside of the training data due to regulatory compliance or constraints. You can specify the names of several columns in the project dataset to be used as the offset columns.


DataRobot also supports using an exposure parameter in StartProject. Exposure is often used to model insurance premiums where strict proportionality of premiums to duration is required. You can specify the name of the column in the project dataset to be used as an exposure column.

The Ames housing dataframe

To provide a specific illustration of how a new DataRobot project is created, the following discussion shows the creation of a project based on the Ames dataframe from the AmesHousing package. This dataframe characterizes housing prices in Ames, Iowa from 2006 to 2010 with 2930 observations and a large number of explanatory variables (23 nominal, 23 ordinal, 14 discrete, and 20 continuous) involved in assessing home values. For this vignette, only the numeric variables are used (DataRobot can handle non-numeric, text, image and geospatial variables). See DeCock (2011) “Ames, Iowa: Alternative to the Boston Housing Data as an End of Semester Regression Project” Journal of Statistics Education, vol. 19, no. 3, 2011). The dataframe is described in more detail in the associated help file from the AmesHousing package, but the head function shows its basic structure:

## # A tibble: 6 × 35
##   Lot_Frontage Lot_Area Year_Built Year_Remod_Add Mas_Vnr_Area BsmtFin_SF_1
##          <dbl>    <int>      <int>          <int>        <dbl>        <dbl>
## 1          141    31770       1960           1960          112            2
## 2           80    11622       1961           1961            0            6
## 3           81    14267       1958           1958          108            1
## 4           93    11160       1968           1968            0            1
## 5           74    13830       1997           1998            0            3
## 6           78     9978       1998           1998           20            3
## # ℹ 29 more variables: BsmtFin_SF_2 <dbl>, Bsmt_Unf_SF <dbl>,
## #   Total_Bsmt_SF <dbl>, First_Flr_SF <int>, Second_Flr_SF <int>,
## #   Low_Qual_Fin_SF <int>, Gr_Liv_Area <int>, Bsmt_Full_Bath <dbl>,
## #   Bsmt_Half_Bath <dbl>, Full_Bath <int>, Half_Bath <int>,
## #   Bedroom_AbvGr <int>, Kitchen_AbvGr <int>, TotRms_AbvGrd <int>,
## #   Fireplaces <int>, Garage_Cars <dbl>, Garage_Area <dbl>, Wood_Deck_SF <int>,
## #   Open_Porch_SF <int>, Enclosed_Porch <int>, Three_season_porch <int>, …

To create the modeling project for this dataframe, we first use the StartProject function:

project <- StartProject(dataSource = Ames,
                        projectName = "AmesVignetteProject",
                        target = "Sale_Price",
                        wait = TRUE)

dataSource defines the data used for predictions, projectName defines the name of the project, target defines what to predict, and wait = TRUE tells the function to wait until all modeling is complete before executing other computations.

The list returned by this function gives the project name, the project identifier (projectId), the name of the temporary CSV file used to save and upload the Ames dataframe, and the time and date the project was created. Here, we specify Sale_Price (sale price of the home) as the response variable and we elect to use the default metric value chosen by the DataRobot modeling engine:

## $projectName
## [1] "AmesVignetteProject"
## $projectId
## [1] "62dd89feb85947ad980ba5f0"
## $fileName
## [1] "file14bfb1c4da321_autoSavedDF.csv"
## $created
## [1] "2022-07-24T18:06:13.420660Z"
## attr(,"class")
## [1] "dataRobotProject"

Retrieving project results

The DataRobot project created by the command described above fits 13 models to the Ames dataframe. Detailed information about all of these models can be obtained with the ListModels function, invoked with the project list returned by the StartProject function.

listOfAmesModels <- ListModels(project)

The ListModels function returns an S3 object of class ‘listOfModels’, with one element for each model in the project. A summary method has been implemented for this object class, and it provides the following view of the contents of this list:

## $generalSummary
## [1] "First 6 of 13 models from: listOfAmesModels (S3 object of class listOfModels)"
## $detailedSummary
##                                                                 modelType
## 1                   eXtreme Gradient Boosted Trees Regressor (Gamma Loss)
## 2                                                             AVG Blender
## 3                   eXtreme Gradient Boosted Trees Regressor (Gamma Loss)
## 4                   eXtreme Gradient Boosted Trees Regressor (Gamma Loss)
## 5          Light Gradient Boosting on ElasticNet Predictions (Gamma Loss)
## 6 Light Gradient Boosted Trees Regressor with Early Stopping (Gamma Loss)
##                                                                                                                                                 expandedModel
## 1                                                eXtreme Gradient Boosted Trees Regressor (Gamma Loss)::Geospatial Location Converter::Missing Values Imputed
## 2                                                                                                                                AVG Blender::Average Blender
## 3                                                eXtreme Gradient Boosted Trees Regressor (Gamma Loss)::Geospatial Location Converter::Missing Values Imputed
## 4                                                eXtreme Gradient Boosted Trees Regressor (Gamma Loss)::Geospatial Location Converter::Missing Values Imputed
## 5 Light Gradient Boosting on ElasticNet Predictions (Gamma Loss)::Numeric Data Cleansing::Smooth Ridit Transform::Elastic-Net Regressor (L2 / Gamma Deviance)
## 6                              Light Gradient Boosted Trees Regressor with Early Stopping (Gamma Loss)::Geospatial Location Converter::Missing Values Imputed
##                    modelId                      blueprintId
## 1 62dd8b7b6dcff238c40735cd bda168d7725c76940aaf66a5b87dd936
## 2 62dd8b924e47bc6fed6916c2 00a968c06d6324a9630b1357a0a96748
## 3 62dd8a50748806bd8b60c35d 782081a59965e1cb2c171d21b47505d1
## 4 62dd8b5e7665693929b242b2 782081a59965e1cb2c171d21b47505d1
## 5 62dd8a4f748806bd8b60c35a acd16a05344349c0f17a3c99675ddeb2
## 6 62dd8a4f748806bd8b60c359 6ee066b11e7e618b16ab5f9adf2ec9f8
##         featurelistName            featurelistId samplePct validationMetric
## 1  Informative Features 62dd8a24b4b51b9ba2954729  100.0000          0.01535
## 2 Multiple featurelists Multiple featurelist ids   63.9932          0.01538
## 3  Informative Features 62dd8a24b4b51b9ba2954729   63.9932          0.01539
## 4  Informative Features 62dd8a24b4b51b9ba2954729   80.0000          0.01549
## 5  Informative Features 62dd8a24b4b51b9ba2954729   63.9932          0.01549
## 6  Informative Features 62dd8a24b4b51b9ba2954729   63.9932          0.01572

The first element of this list is generalSummary, which lets us know that the project includes 13 models, and that the second list element describes the first 6 of these models. This number is determined by the optional parameter nList for the summary method, which has the default value 6. The second list element is detailedSummary, which gives the first nList rows of the dataframe created when the method is applied to listOfAmesModels. Methods for the generic function are included in the datarobot package for all four ‘list of’ S3 model object classes: listOfBlueprints, listOfFeaturelists, listOfModels, and projectSummaryList. (Use of this function is illustrated in the following discussion; see the help files for more complete details.) This dataframe has the following eight columns:

  1. modelType: character string; describes the structure of each model
  2. expandedModel: character string; modelType with short descriptions of any preprocessing steps appended
  3. modelId: unique alphanumeric model identifier
  4. blueprintId: unique alphanumeric identifier for the blueprint used to fit the model
  5. featurelistName: name of the featurelist defining the modeling variables
  6. featurelistId: unique alphanumeric featurelist identifier
  7. samplePct: fraction of the training dataset used in fitting the model
  8. validationMetric: the value of the metric optimized in fitting the model, evaluated for the validation dataset

It is possible to obtain a more complete dataframe from any object of class ‘listOfModels’ by using the function with the optional parameter simple = FALSE. Besides the eight characteristics listed above, this larger dataframe includes, for every model in the project, additional project information along with validation, cross-validation, and holdout values for all of the available metrics for the project. For the project considered in this note, the result is a dataframe with 13 rows and 51 columns.

In addition to the summary method, a plot method has also been provided for objects of class ‘listOfModels’:

plot(listOfAmesModels, orderDecreasing = TRUE)

Horizontal barplot of modelType and validation set Gamma Deviance values for all project models

This function generates a horizontal barplot that lists the name of each model (i.e., modelType) in the center of each bar, with the bar length corresponding to the value of the model fitting metric, evaluated for the validation dataset (i.e., the validationMetric value). The only required parameter for this function is the ‘listOfModels’ class S3 object to be plotted, but there are a number of optional parameters that allow the plot to be customized. In the plot shown above, the logical parameter orderDecreasing has been set to TRUE so that the plot - generated from the bottom up - shows the models in decreasing order of validationMetric. For a complete list of optional parameters for this function, refer to the help files.

Since smaller values of Gamma Deviance.validation are better, this plot shows the worst model at the bottom and the best model at the top. The identities of these models are most conveniently obtained by first converting listOfAmesModels into a dataframe, using the generic function mentioned above:

You can also coerce the list of models to a data.frame, which may make it easier to see specific things (such as model metrics):

modelFrame <-
head(modelFrame[, c("modelType", "validationMetric")])
##                                                                 modelType
## 1                   eXtreme Gradient Boosted Trees Regressor (Gamma Loss)
## 2                                                             AVG Blender
## 3                   eXtreme Gradient Boosted Trees Regressor (Gamma Loss)
## 4                   eXtreme Gradient Boosted Trees Regressor (Gamma Loss)
## 5          Light Gradient Boosting on ElasticNet Predictions (Gamma Loss)
## 6 Light Gradient Boosted Trees Regressor with Early Stopping (Gamma Loss)
##   validationMetric
## 1          0.01535
## 2          0.01538
## 3          0.01539
## 4          0.01549
## 5          0.01549
## 6          0.01572

It is interesting to note that this single best model, which is fairly complex in structure, actually outperforms the blender model (the second model in the barplot above), formed by averaging the best individual project models. This behavior is unusual, since the blender models usually achieve at least a small performance advantage over the component models on which they are based. In fact, since the individual component models may be regarded as constrained versions of the blender models (e.g., as a weighted average with all of the weight concentrated on one component), the training set performance can never be worse for a blender than it is for its components, but this need not be true of validation set performance, as this example demonstrates.

Or you can see the worst models:

tail(modelFrame[, c("modelType", "validationMetric")])
##                                                                                   modelType
## 8                                     eXtreme Gradient Boosted Trees Regressor (Gamma Loss)
## 9                                                                    RandomForest Regressor
## 10                                                 Generalized Additive2 Model (Gamma Loss)
## 11                                              Elastic-Net Regressor (L2 / Gamma Deviance)
## 12                                Elastic-Net Regressor (mixing alpha=0.5 / Gamma Deviance)
## 13 Keras Slim Residual Neural Network Regressor using Training Schedule (1 Layer: 64 Units)
##    validationMetric
## 8           0.01669
## 9           0.01772
## 10          0.01885
## 11          0.02282
## 12          0.02338
## 13          0.03272

It is also important to note that several of the models appear to be identical, based on their modelType values, but they exhibit different performances. This is most obvious from the four models labelled “eXtreme Gradient Boosted” but it is also true of six other modelType values, each of which appears two or three times in the plot, generally with different values for Gamma Deviance.validation. In fact, these models are not identical, but differ in the preprocessing applied to them, or in other details.

In most cases, these differences may be seen by examining the expandedModel values from modelFrame. For example, lets get all the different models that use the Elastic-Net Regressor:

Filter(function(m) grepl("Elastic-Net", m), modelFrame$expandedModel)
## [1] "Light Gradient Boosting on ElasticNet Predictions (Gamma Loss)::Numeric Data Cleansing::Smooth Ridit Transform::Elastic-Net Regressor (L2 / Gamma Deviance)"
## [2] "Elastic-Net Regressor (L2 / Gamma Deviance)::Geospatial Location Converter::Smooth Ridit Transform::Numeric Data Cleansing"                                 
## [3] "Elastic-Net Regressor (mixing alpha=0.5 / Gamma Deviance)::Geospatial Location Converter::Smooth Ridit Transform::Missing Values Imputed"

In particular, note that the modelType value appears at the beginning of the expandedModel character string, which is then followed by any pre-processing applied in fitting the model. Thus, comparing elements from this list (see below), we can see that they differ in their preprocessing steps and primary ML model. In the case of the Light Gradient Boosting, the difference is that Elastic-Net model is a pre-processing step that is fed into a different model.

Generating model predictions

The generation of model predictions uses Predict:

bestModel <- GetRecommendedModel(project,
                                 type = RecommendedModelType$RecommendedForDeployment)
bestPredictions <- Predict(bestModel, Ames)

GetRecommendedModel gives us the best model without having to go through the metrics manually. We can see in this case what the model is:

## [1] "eXtreme Gradient Boosted Trees Regressor (Gamma Loss)"

How good are our predictions? The plot below shows predicted versus observed Sale_Price values for this model. If the predictions were perfect, all of these points would lie on the dashed red equality line. The relatively narrow scatter of most points around this reference line suggests that this model is performing reasonably well for most of the dataset, with a few significant exceptions.

Feature Impact

But which features most drive our predictions? Which features are most important to the model? For this, we turn to feature impact.

impact <- GetFeatureImpact(bestModel)
##      featureName impactNormalized impactUnnormalized redundantWith
## 1    Gr_Liv_Area        1.0000000        0.010288891            NA
## 2     Year_Built        0.9732372        0.010013532            NA
## 3  Total_Bsmt_SF        0.9005380        0.009265537            NA
## 4 Year_Remod_Add        0.7162664        0.007369587            NA
## 5       geometry        0.5108179        0.005255749            NA
## 6    Garage_Cars        0.3961717        0.004076167            NA

We can now see that Gr_Liv_Area (above grade living area) and Year_Built (the year of construction) are the two best predictors of our target Sale_Price (most recent home sale price). Normalized impact gives us a ratio of the impact of the feature relative to the top feature, whereas unnormalized impact is the actual impact statistic.


This note has presented a general introduction to the datarobot R package, describing and illustrating its most important functions. To keep this summary to a manageable length, no attempt has been made to describe all of the package’s capabilities; for a more detailed discussion, refer to the help files.