Decision Trees vs Random Forests: What’s the difference and when to use each

Decision Trees and Random Forests are two popular machine-learning algorithms used in predictive analytics. Both algorithms are used for classification and regression problems, but they have some key differences that make them more suitable for different types of data and use cases. In this post, we’ll explore the differences between Decision Trees and Random Forests, and when to use each algorithm.

Decision Trees

A Decision Tree is a type of supervised learning algorithm that is used for both classification and regression problems. It works by recursively splitting the data into subsets based on the values of different features. At each split, the algorithm chooses the feature that provides the most information gain, which is a measure of how much the feature reduces the uncertainty of the target variable. The final result is a tree-like structure, where each internal node represents a feature, each branch represents a possible value of the feature, and each leaf represents a predicted class or value.

The main advantage of Decision Trees is their interpretability. The tree-like structure provides a clear and intuitive way to understand the relationships between the features and the target variable. It also allows for easy decision-making, as the path from the root to a leaf represents the sequence of decisions and conditions that lead to a specific prediction.

The main disadvantage of Decision Trees is their tendency to overfit, especially when the tree is deep and has many branches. Overfitting occurs when the tree is too complex and captures noise or random variations in the training data, rather than the underlying patterns. This leads to poor performance on unseen data and a lack of generalization.

Random Forests

A Random Forest is an ensemble learning algorithm that combines multiple Decision Trees to reduce overfitting and improve performance. The idea is to use multiple trees, each trained on a different subset of the data, and then average or vote their predictions. This way, the errors of individual trees are averaged out, and the overall performance is improved.

The main advantage of Random Forests is their robustness and generalization. By averaging multiple trees, the algorithm reduces the variance of the predictions and increases the bias. This leads to better performance on unseen data and a lower risk of overfitting.

The main disadvantage of Random Forests is their interpretability. Unlike Decision Trees, Random Forests provide no clear way to understand the relationships between the features and the target variable. Also, the final prediction is based on the average or vote of multiple trees, making it harder to trace back the decision-making process.

When to use each algorithm

In general, Decision Trees are suitable for small or moderate-sized datasets with few features, and a clear relationship between the features and the target variable. They are also useful for exploratory data analysis and feature selection.

On the other hand, Random Forests are suitable for large or complex datasets with many features, and a weak or non-linear relationship between the features and the target variable. They are also useful for improving the performance and robustness of models.

Here is a sample code for implementing Decision Trees and Random Forest using scikit-learn library in python:

# Importing Libraries
from sklearn import datasets
from sklearn.model_selection import train_test_split
from sklearn.tree import DecisionTreeClassifier
from sklearn.ensemble import RandomForestClassifier
from sklearn.metrics import accuracy_score

# Load the iris dataset as an example
iris = datasets.load_iris()
X =
y =

# Split the data into training and testing sets
X_train, X_test, y_train, y_test = train_test_split(X, y, test_size=0.3, random_state=1)

# Train a Decision Tree classifier
dt = DecisionTreeClassifier(), y_train)

# Make predictions on the test set
y_pred_dt = dt.predict(X_test)

# Train a Random Forest classifier
rf = RandomForestClassifier(n_estimators=100), y_train)

# Make predictions on the test set
y_pred_rf = rf.predict(X_test)

# Compare the accuracy of the two models
acc_dt = accuracy_score(y_test, y_pred_dt)
acc_rf = accuracy_score(y_test, y_pred_rf)
print("Accuracy of Decision Tree: {:.2f}%".format(acc_dt*100))
print("Accuracy of Random Forest: {:.2f}%".format(acc_rf*100))

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