Random Subspace Method for high-dimensional regression with the R package regRSM


Model selection and variable importance assessment in high-dimensional regression are among the most important tasks in contemporary applied statistics. In our procedure, implemented in the package regRSM, the Random Subspace Method (RSM) is used to construct a variable importance measure. The variables are ordered with respect to the measures computed in the first step using the RSM and then, from the hierarchical list of models given by the ordering, the final subset of variables is chosen using information criteria or validation set. Modifications of the original method such as the weighted Random Subspace Method and the version with initial screening of redundant variables are discussed. We developed parallel implementations which enable to reduce the computation time significantly. In this paper, we give a brief overview of the methodology, demonstrate the package’s functionality and present a comparative study of the proposed algorithm and the competitive methods like lasso or CAR scores. In the performance tests the computational times for parallel implementations are compared.



In recent years considerable attention has been devoted to model selection and variable importance assessment in high-dimensional statistical learning. This is due to ubiquity of data with a large number of variables in a wide range of research fields. Moreover, nowadays there is a strong need to discover functional relationships in the data and to build predictive models. In many applications the number of variables significantly exceeds the number of observations (“small n large p problem”). However, very often functional relationships are sparse in the sense that among thousands of available variables only a few of them are informative and it is crucial to identify them correctly. Examples include microarray data containing genes activities, Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) data, drug design data, high-resolution images, high-frequency financial data and text data among others (see e.g. Donoho 2000 for an extensive list of references). In such situations the standard methods like ordinary least squares cannot be applied directly. In view of this a variety of dimension reduction techniques and regression methods tailored to the high-dimensional framework have been developed recently.

Related work

There are two mainstream methodologies for the dimension reduction in regression: variable extraction methods and variable selection methods. The aim of variable extraction methods is to identify functions of variables that can replace the original ones. Examples include Principal Component Regression (see e.g. Jolliffe 1982) and Partial Least Squares Regression (see e.g. Martens 2001; Wold 2001). In contrast, variable selection methods identify an active set of original variables which affect the response. A significant number of such methods used for high-dimensional data consists of two steps: in the first step the variables are ordered using some forms of regularization or variable importance measures (see below for examples). In the next step the final model is chosen from the hierarchical list of models given by the ordering. Usually in the second step cross-validation, thresholding or information criteria are used to determine the active set.

An important and intensively studied line of research is devoted to regularization methods like lasso, SCAD and MCP (see e.g. Tibshirani 1996; Zou and Hastie 2005; Zhang and Zhang 2012). They perform estimation of parameters and variable selection simultaneously. The final model depends on the regularization parameter which is usually tuned using cross-validation (Friedman et al. 2010). Many algorithms for computing the entire regularization path efficiently have been developed (see e.g. Friedman et al. 2010 for references).

An alternative direction employs ordering of variables based on their appropriately defined importance. Many variable importance measures have been proposed. The R package relaimpo (RELAtive IMPOrtance of regressors in linear models) implements different metrics for assessing relative importance of variables in the linear models (Grömping 2006). Unfortunately, some of them, e.g. pmvd (Proportional Marginal Variance Decomposition, Feldman 1999) and lmg (Latent Model Growth, Lindemann et al. 1980) require a substantial computational effort and usually cannot be applied in the high-dimensional setting. Package relaimpo does not provide functions to select the final subset of variables based on their ordering. Another R package caret (Classification And REgression Training) presented in Kuhn (2008) is convenient for computing the variable importance metrics based on the popular methods like Random Forests (Breiman 2001) or Multivariate Adaptive Regression Splines (Friedman 1991). It also contains several functions that can be used to assess the performance of classification models and choose the final subset of variables. We also mention CAR scores (Correlation-Adjusted coRrelation) proposed in Zuber and Strimmer (2011) and implemented in R package care. Zuber and Strimmer (2011) proposed to use information criteria to select the final subset of variables.


Recently a novel approach based on the Random Subspace Method (RSM) has been developed in Mielniczuk and Teisseyre (2014). Originally, the RSM was proposed by Ho (1998) for classification purposes and independently by Breiman (2001) for the case when a considered prediction method is either a classification or a regression tree. In our algorithm the ranking of variables is based on fitting linear models on small randomly chosen subsets of variables. The method does not impose any conditions on the number of candidate variables.

The aims of this paper are to present novel variants of the RSM (the weighted Random Subspace Method and the version with initial screening of the redundant variables), describe their implementations and discuss the results of extensive experiments on real and artificial data. We also present a new way of choosing the final model, which is based on Generalized Information Criterion (GIC) and does not require an additional validation set as originally proposed in Mielniczuk and Teisseyre (2014). We show that this step can be performed very fast using properties of QR decomposition of the design matrix.

For discussion of the theoretical properties of the original RSM we refer to Mielniczuk and Teisseyre (2014). The package regRSM, containing an implementation of the discussed procedure, is available from the Comprehensive R Archive Network at http://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/regRSM/index.html.

This paper is organized as follows. In Sect. 2 we describe briefly the methodology and present new variants of the original algorithm and in Sect. 3 we present the implementation and the package functionality. In Sect. 4 the efficacy experiments are discussed and Sect. 5 contains the analysis of the experiments on artificial and real datasets obtained using package regRSM.


We consider the usual setup for linear regression. We have n observations and p explanatory variables which serve a complete feature space and are used to predict a response. The model can be written in matrix notation

$$\begin{aligned} Y=X\beta +\varepsilon , \end{aligned}$$

where Y is \(n\times 1\) response vector, X is \(n\times p\) design matrix whose rows describe objects corresponding to the observations and \(\varepsilon \) is \(n\times 1\) vector of zero mean independent errors with unknown variance \(\sigma ^2\). We allow that \(p\ge n\). \(X_m\) will denote submatrix of X with columns corresponding to variable set \(m\subset \{1,\ldots ,p\}\) of cardinality |m|. In the RSM for regression a random subset of variables \(X_m\) with a number of variables \(|m|<\min (n,p)\) is chosen. Then, the corresponding model is build based on variables \(X_m\). Selected variables are assigned weights describing their relevance in the considered submodel. In order to cover the large portion of variables in the dataset, the selection is repeated B times and the cumulative weights (called final scores) are computed. The results of all iterations are combined in a list of p variables ordered according to their final scores. The final model is constructed based on selection method applied to the nested list of models, consisting of less than p variables, given by the ordering. We stress that since ranking of variables in the RSM is based on fitting small linear models, the method does not impose any conditions on the number of candidate variables p. Below, the pseudo code of the procedure is outlined.

Algorithm 1 (RSM procedure)

  1. 1.

    Input: observed data (YX), a number of subset draws B, a size of the subspace \(|m|<\min (p,n)\). Choice of weights \(w_{n}(i,m)\) is described below.

  2. 2.

    Repeat the following procedure for \(k=1,\ldots , B\) starting with the counter \(C_{i,0}=0\) for any variable i.

    • Randomly draw a subset of variables \(m^{*}\) (without replacement) from the original variable space with the same probability for each variable.

    • Fit model to data \((Y,X_{m^*})\) and compute weight \(w(i,m^{*})\ge 0\) for each variable \(i\in m^{*}\). Set \(w(i,m^{*})=0\) if \(i\notin m^{*}\).

    • Update the counter \(C_{i,k}=C_{i,k-1}+I\{i\in m^{*}\}.\)

  3. 3.

    For each variable i compute the final score \(W_i^{*}\) defined as

    $$\begin{aligned}W_i^{*}=\frac{1}{C_{i,B}}\sum \limits _{m^{*}:i\in m^{*}}w(i,m^{*}).\end{aligned}$$
  4. 4.

    Sort the list of variables according to scores \(W_i^{*}\): \(W_{i_1}^{*}\ge W_{i_2}^{*}\cdots \ge W_{i_{p}}^{*}\).

  5. 5.

    Output: Ordered list of variables \(\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{p}\}\).

The performance of the above procedure crucially depends on a choice of weights \(w(i,m^{*})\). It is intuitively clear that the weight \(w(i,m^{*})\) should reflect the importance of the variable i in the randomly chosen model \(m^*\) and the goodness of fit of a model \(m^*\) should be also taken into account. In the following we will justify our choice of weights. Let

$$\begin{aligned} T_{i,m}=\hat{\beta }_{i,m}[\hat{\sigma }_m^2(X_m^\top X_m)^{-1}_{i,i}]^{-1/2}, \quad i\in m \end{aligned}$$

be the t-statistic corresponding to the variable i when the model m is fitted to the data. In the above formula \(\hat{\beta }_{i,m}\) is the ith coordinate of least squares estimator \(\hat{\beta }_m\) based on model m and \(\hat{\sigma }^{2}_m\) is noise variance estimator based on model m. It is argued in Mielniczuk and Teisseyre (2014) that \(w(i,m^{*})=T^{2}_{i,m^*}\) is a reasonable choice. A simple motivation is given by the following formula (see e.g., Section 8.5.1 in Rencher and Schaalje 2008)

$$\begin{aligned} \frac{T^{2}_{i,m}}{n-|m|}=\frac{R^2_m-R^2_{m\setminus \{i\}}}{1-R^2_m}, \end{aligned}$$

where \(R^{2}_m\) is a coefficient of determination for the model m. Namely, it indicates that up to a multiplicative factor, \(T^{2}_{i,m}\) is a decrease in \(R_m^2\) due to leaving out ith variable, multiplied by a measure of goodness-of-fit \((1-R^2_m)^{-1}\) of model m and thus it combines two characteristics: importance of a variable within the model m and the importance of the model itself. It is shown in Mielniczuk and Teisseyre (2014) that \(W_i^{*}\) converges to the relative increase of expected prediction error when variable i is omitted from the model averaged over all models of size |m| containing it. We stress that weights \(W_i^{*}\) are not necessarily contained in the interval (0, 1). In order to compare them with other variable importance measures, simple normalization such as division by their maximal value, is necessary.

Observe that Algorithm 1 is generic in nature, i.e., other choices of weights \(w(i,m^{*})\) are also possible. Two parameters need to be set in the RSM: the number of selections B and the subspace size |m|. The smaller the size of a chosen subspace (i.e., a subset of variables chosen) the larger the chance of missing informative variables or missing dependencies between variables. On the other hand, for large |m| many spurious variables can be included adding noisy dimensions to the subspace. Note that if the choice of the weights \(w(i,m^{*})\) is based on least squares fit then the subspace size is limited by \(\min (n,p)\). In the following the value of parameter |m| is chosen empirically. We concluded from numerical experiments in Mielniczuk and Teisseyre (2014) that the reasonable choice is \(|m|=\min (n,p)/2\).

It follows from the description above that a parallel version of the algorithm is very easy to implement. Two parallel versions are provided in the package (see Sect. 3 for details). Figure 1 shows a block diagram of the algorithm.

In addition to the main algorithm, we consider a weighted version of the RSM (called WRSM). In the WRSM the additional initial step is performed in which we fit univariate linear models for each variable. Based on the univariate models we compute the individual relevance for each of the variables. Then in the main step the variables are drawn to the random subspaces with probabilities proportional to the relevances determined in the initial step. Thus variables whose individual influence on response is more significant, have larger probability of being chosen to any of the random subspaces. WRSM implements the heuristic premise that variables more correlated with the response variable should be chosen to the final model with larger probability. On the other hand, variables, which are weakly correlated with the response but useful when considered jointly with other variables, have still a chance to be drawn. So WRSM can be seen as a milder version of Sure Independence Screening method proposed in Fan and Lv (2008). Since in the WRSM the relevant variables are more likely to be selected, we can limit the number of repetitions B in the main loop and reduce the computational cost of the procedure. The pseudo code of the WRSM is shown below.

Algorithm 2 (WRSM procedure)

  1. 1.

    Input: observed data (YX), number of subset draws B, size of the subspace \(|m|<\min (p,n)\). Choice of initial weights \(w^{0}(i)\) is described below.

  2. 2.

    For each variable i fit the univariate regression model and compute a weight of ith variable \(w^{0}(i)\ge 0\).

  3. 3.

    For each variable i compute \(\pi _{i}=w^{0}(i)/\sum _{l=1}^{p}w^{0}(l)\).

  4. 4.

    Perform the RSM procedure in such a way that probability of choosing the ith variable to the random subspace is equal \(\pi _i\).

  5. 5.

    Output: Ordered list of variables \(\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{p}\}\).

Observe that when drawing model \(m^*\), probabilities \(\pi _i\) are applied sequentially, that is the probability of choosing the next variable is proportional to the probabilities amongst variables not chosen till that moment. The natural choice of initial weights (used in our package) is \(w^{0}(i)=T^{2}_{i,\{i\}}\) (i.e., squared t-statistic based on univariate model), however other choices (e.g., mutual information) are also possible. Figure 2 shows a block diagram of the algorithm.

The package also allows for an initial screening of variables. Namely, in the first step, we fit univariate linear models for each variable. Based on the univariate models we compute the individual relevance for each of the variables (\(T^{2}_{i,\{i\}}\) can be used again here). Then the least relevant variables are discarded and the RSM (or WRSM) procedure is performed on the remaining ones. This approach is similar to Sure Independence Screening (SIS) proposed in Fan and Lv (2008) and enable to reduce data dimensionality by filtering out the most spurious variables. This version is particularly recommended for datasets with thousands of variables.

Fig. 1

Block diagram of the RSM procedure

Fig. 2

Block diagram of the WRSM procedure

The procedures described above give as an output the ordered list of variables \(\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{p}\}\). They also provide importance measures for all variables. In the second step one would like to select the final model from the nested list of models

$$\begin{aligned} \{\emptyset ,\{i_1\},\{i_1,i_2\}\ldots ,\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{p}\}\} \end{aligned}$$

given by the ordering. The list should be cut off at some level \(h\le \min (n,p)\) in order to avoid fitting models with more parameters than observations. Thus we select the final set of variables from

$$\begin{aligned} \mathscr {L}_h:=\{\emptyset ,\{i_1\},\{i_1,i_2\}\ldots ,\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{h}\}\}. \end{aligned}$$

We use two methods of final model selection. The first one is based on supplied validation set \((Y^v,X^v)\). Namely, from family \(\mathscr {L}_h\) we select the model m for which the prediction error on validation set \(||Y^v-X^v\hat{\beta }_m||\) is minimal (\(\hat{\beta }_m\) is the least squares estimator for model m computed on the training set). The drawback of this approach is the need to split data into training and validation sets (it can be a serious problem when the number of available observations is small). The second variant, which does not require splitting the data, is based on information criteria. From \(\mathscr {L}_h\) we select model m which minimizes the GIC

$$\begin{aligned} \text {GIC}(m)\,{:=}\,-2l(\hat{\beta }_m)+|m|a_n, \end{aligned}$$

where \(l(\hat{\beta }_m)\) is log-likehood function at \(\hat{\beta }_m\), |m| is the number of parameters in model m and \(a_n\) is penalty. For example \(a_n=\log (n)\) corresponds to the Bayesian Information Criterion (BIC) and \(a_n=2\) to the Akaike Information Criterion (AIC). When the normal distribution of errors is assumed, GIC can be written as

$$\begin{aligned} \text {GIC}(m):=n\log (RSS(m))+|m|a_n, \end{aligned}$$

where \(RSS(m)=||Y-X_m\hat{\beta }_m||^{2}\) is the residual sum of squares for the model m. Obviously other criteria are also possible. The drawback of information criteria is that they can fail when models having number of parameters close to n are fitted. In such situations GIC usually selects models which are close to the saturated one. Thus when using information criteria in the second step, the parameter h should be significantly smaller than n. For example in the simulation experiments, in which p was much larger than n, we set \(h=n/2\).

It is crucial for the computational cost that in the second step of the procedure fitting all h nested models from \(\mathscr {L}_h\) is not necessary. It suffices to fit the largest one, which makes the second step computationally fast. This follows from the following fact. Let \(i_1,\ldots ,i_h\) be the ordering of variables (cut off at level h) given by the RSM procedure. Let \(X_{\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{h}\}}\) be a matrix consisting of the h columns of the design matrix X, ordered according to \(i_1,\ldots ,i_h\). In the following QR decomposition (see e.g., Gentle 2007, p. 182) of matrix \(X_{\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{h}\}}\) is used. Let

$$\begin{aligned} X_{\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{h}\}}=Q_{\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{h}\}} R_{\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{h}\}}, \end{aligned}$$

where \(Q_{\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{h}\}}\) (\(n\times h\)) is orthogonal matrix, \(Q_{\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{h}\}}^\top Q_{\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{h}\}}=I\) (I is identity matrix) and \(R_{\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{h}\}}\) (\(h\times h\)) is upper triangular matrix. The following equality holds for \(k\in \{1,\ldots ,h-1\}\)

$$\begin{aligned} RSS(\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{h-k}\})=RSS(\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{h}\})+ \sum _{l=0}^{k-1}(Q_{h-l}^\top Y)^2. \end{aligned}$$

Observe that in the second step of the procedure it suffices to fit the full model once and than compute the values of RSS for all models from the nested list using (4). Note that QR decomposition requires \(nh^{2}\) operations (see e.g. Hastie et al. 2009, p. 93).

Finally let us discuss the computational complexity of the whole RSM procedure. The cost of the first step is \(Bn|m|^2\) as we fit B linear models with |m| parameters each. The cost of the second step is \(nh^2\) as was discussed above. To reduce the computational cost of the procedure the execution of the first step is parallelized (see Sect. 3 for details).


Package functionality

The main function regRSM constructs a linear regression model for possibly heavily unbalanced data sets where p may be much larger than n. It uses methodology outlined in the previous section, allowing to apply the RSM method (Algorithm 1), WRSM method (Algorithm 2) and the version with initial screening. It is controlled by the following parameters:

  • y (the response vector of length n),

  • x (the input matrix with n rows and p columns),

  • yval (the optional response vector from validation set),

  • xval (the optional input matrix from validation set),

  • m (the size of the random subspace, defaulted to \(\min (n,p)/2\)),

  • B (the number of repetitions in the RSM procedure),

  • parallel (the choice of parallelization method),

  • nslaves (the number of slaves),

  • store_data (to be set to TRUE when function validate.regRSM is used subsequently),

  • screening (percentage of variables to be discarded in the screening procedure),

  • initial_weights (whether or not WRSM should be used),

  • useGIC (indicates whether GIC should be used in the final model selection),

  • thrs [the cut-off level h, see (1)],

  • penalty (the penalty in GIC).

The function returns a list containing the following elements:

  • scores (RSM final scores),

  • model (the final model chosen from the list given by the ordering of variables according to the RSM scores),

  • time (computational time),

  • data_transfer (data transfer time),

  • coefficients (coefficients in the selected linear model),

  • input_data (input data x and y. These objects are stored only if store_data=TRUE),

  • control (list containing information about input parameters),

  • informationCriterion (values of GIC calculated for all models from the nested list given by the ordering),

  • predError (prediction errors on validation set calculated for all models from the nested list given by the ordering).

When screening and weighted version are used together, screening is performed first and then the weighted version (WRSM) is used on the remaining variables. The final model is chosen based on the validation set or the GIC (as indicated by useGIC parameter, in conjunction with yval and xval). For this purpose the variables are ordered with respect to the final scores. From the nested list of models, given by the ordering, the final model is selected (the list is truncated at the level thrs). By default the model that minimizes the GIC is chosen. If ties occur the model containing the minimal number of variables is selected. If the validation set is supplied (yval and xval) and useGIC=FALSE then the final model that minimizes the prediction error on validation set is selected. Missing values are not allowed in regRSM function. If there are some missing values in matrix X, the function signals an error and returns indices of cases with missing values. In the case of multicollinearity, we determine the set of linearly independent variables \(\mathscr {A}\) (using QR decomposition) and estimate parameters only for variables in \(\mathscr {A}\).

The package contains also the number of auxiliary functions:

  • validate—This function selects the final model for another, user provided validation set based on the original RSM final scores. To use the function, the argument store_data in the ‘regRSM’ object must be TRUE. The function uses final scores from ‘regRSM’ object to create a ranking of variables. Then the final model which minimizes the prediction error on specified validation set is chosen. Object of class ‘regRSM’ is returned. The final scores in the original ‘regRSM’ object and in the new one coincide. However the final models can be different as they are based on different validation sets.

  • plot—This function produces a plot showing the values of the GIC (or prediction errors on validation set) against the number of variables included in the model.

  • ImpPlot—This function produces a dot plot showing final scores from the RSM procedure. Final scores describe importances of explanatory variables.

  • predict—This function makes a prediction for new observations. Prediction is based on a final model which is chosen using validation set or GIC.

  • roc—This function produces ROC-type curve for ordering and computes the corresponding area under the curve (AUC) parameter. Let \(i_1,\ldots ,i_p\) be the ordering of variables given by the RSM procedure. Let t be the set of relevant variables (i.e., variables whose corresponding coefficients are nonzero), |t| its cardinality and \(t^c\) its complement. ROC-type curve for the ordering is defined as:

    $$\begin{aligned} \text {ROC}(s):=(FPR(s),TPR(s)),\quad s\in \{1,\ldots ,p\}, \end{aligned}$$


    $$\begin{aligned} FPR(s):=\frac{|\hat{t}(s)\setminus t|}{|t^{c}|}, \end{aligned}$$
    $$\begin{aligned} TPR(s):=\frac{|\hat{t}(s)\cap t|}{|t|} \end{aligned}$$

    and \(\hat{t}(s):=\{i_1,\ldots ,i_s\}\). This function is useful for the evaluation of the ranking produced by the RSM procedure when the set of significant variables t is known (e.g., in the simulation experiments on artificial datasets). When AUC is equal one it means that all significant variables, supplied by the user in argument truemodel, are placed ahead of the spurious ones on the ranking list. A similar idea of ranking evaluation is described in Cheng et al. (2014, Section 4).

  • print, summary—These functions print out information about the selection method, screening, initial weights, version (sequential or parallel), size of the random subspace, number of simulations.

Package demonstration

In this section we illustrate the usage of regRSM package step by step using popular real dataset Boston Housing (Lichman 2013), containing 505 observations and 14 variables, including response variable MEDV, which denotes median value of owner-occupied homes given in 1000$’s. The goal is to predict MEDV based on some variables describing houses. The detailed description of the dataset can be found at http://archive.ics.uci.edu/ml/datasets/Housing. To make the task more challenging, we add 100 additional noise variables drawn from standard normal distribution, which are not correlated with the response variable:


Then we split date into training (400 observations) and validation (105 observations) sets:


Now we can use RSM procedure on training data:


By default the final model is chosen using GIC. To see the final scores, please type


and to get basic information about the procedure type


It is seen that the number of repetitions B is set to 1000. Use a predict method to obtain predictions on independent validation set:


We can plot the values of GIC as a function of the number of variables by using the plot method:


The curve generated by the plot is given in Fig. 3a. The final model contains 12 variables:


Alternatively, the final model can be chosen using validation set, which should be provided as an additional argument in regRSM function:


In this case the final model contains 15 variables:


When the final scores are already computed, we can also use validate function to select the final subset of variables without recomputing the scores, which is obviously much faster:


For model2, the plot method gives prediction error on validation set as a function of the number of variables (see Fig. 3b). The weighted version of RSM (WRSM) is called when init_weights=TRUE:


Finally, we can visualize final scores corresponding to RSM (model1) and WRSM (model3) by using ImpPlot method:


The resulting charts (shown for the selected variables) given in Fig. 4a, b indicate that LSTAT variable (% lower status of the population) is recognized as the most significant one by both variants (this variable has also the highest absolute value of the t-statistic when standard linear regression model is fitted on data without additional noise variables). On the other hand, the orderings of the remaining variables are slightly different for these two variants of RSM.

Fig. 3

Generalized Information Criterion (a) and prediction error on validation set (b) as functions of number of variables

Fig. 4

Final scores of variables obtained using RSM (a) and WRSM (b)

Parallel implementation

The main function regRSM performs RSM using methodology outlined in the previous section. The default value parallel=NO corresponds to the sequential version. This option is provided because it is very inefficient to use parallelization on a single processor machine with one core. If hardware for a parallel execution is available, one can choose one of the two parallel versions of the algorithm implemented in the package:

  1. (1)

    using MPI framework (based on package Rmpi), option parallel=MPI,

  2. (2)

    using process forking (based on package doParallel), option parallel=POSIX.

The execution of the most time consuming step 2 of the RSM algorithm is parallelized. To use the parallel processing, one needs to set the parameter nslaves (with default value 4) that indicates how many parallel tasks of partial model building are to be executed.

In order to use parallel=MPI option, installation of MPI framework and Rmpi package (Hao 2002) are required. A guideline for installing MPI on multiple machines under Ubuntu is given in the “Appendix”. Rmpi is a wrapper of MPI written in R language. The main advantage of this wrapper is that writing R programs using MPI is much easier and possible even for non-programmers. The optimal value of nslaves under MPI is the number of computing cores of all machines configured in MPI framework. Note that after execution of the regRSM function, it is necessary to close MPI framework by calling mpi.close.Rslaves() function. Function regRSM does not close the MPI framework itself because of efficiency issues as creation of slaves is usually very time consuming. For example if one would like to execute regRSM multiple times in a row (e.g., for different datasets or with different settings), the command mpi.close.Rslaves() should be used after the last execution of regRSM. In this way the process of MPI initialization will be executed only once. Next parallel call will reuse existing slave processes. In order to change the number of slaves, MPI needs to be terminated (using command mpi.close.Rslaves()), and only then one can call function regRSM with new value of the parameter nslaves.

The other parallelization option (parallel=POSIX) does not require any pre-installed software except for the R package doParallel (Revolution Analytics and Weston 2013). The limitation of this parallel mode is that the execution can be performed on one single logical machine only. POSIX uses OpenMP like parallel implementation. The parallel execution is handled by doParallel library. The optimal value of nslaves is the number of processor cores in a machine. In contrast to MPI option, there is no need to shut down the workers (slaves) because the workers will cease to operate if the master R session is completed (or its process dies).

The internal implementations of both parallelization options differ in the way how the parallel processes of variable selection, partial model building and variable evaluation are created and synchronized. The POSIX path delegates the processing of parallelism to the operating system. The MPI path requires elaboration of the proper sequence of messages for starting new slaves, assigning tasks to them, taking over the results and for task reassignment.

In the case of parallel=MPI the Algorithm 1 is replaced by the Algorithm 3 below.

Algorithm 3 (MPI parallelization procedure)

  1. 1.

    Input (for Master): observed data (YX), a number of subset draws B, a size of the subspace \(|m|<\min (p,n)\).

  2. 2.

    Master: send observed data (YX) and parameter |m| to each slave.

  3. 3.

    Master: Compute task_number=B/nslaves.

  4. 4.

    Master: Send task_number to each slave as their \(B^{local}\) except for the last one which gets remaining number of tasks B-task_number*(nslaves-1) as its \(B^{local}\).

  5. 5.

    Slave: Repeat the following procedure for \(k=1,\ldots , B^{local}\) starting with \(C^{local}_{i,0}=0\) for any variable i.

    • Randomly draw a subset of variables \(m^{*}\) (without replacement) from the original variable space with the same probability for each variable.

    • Fit model to data \((Y,X_{m^*})\) and compute weight \(w(i,m^{*})\ge 0\) for each variable \(i\in m^{*}\). Set \(w(i,m^{*})=0\) if \(i\notin m^{*}\).

    • Update the counter \( C^{local}_{i,k}= C^{local} _{i,k-1}+I\{i\in m^{*}\}.\)

  6. 6.

    Slave: For each variable i compute the partial sum

    $$\begin{aligned} S_{i}^{local}=\sum \limits _{m^{*}:i\in m^{*}}w(i,m^{*}). \end{aligned}$$
  7. 7.

    Slave: send vectors \((S_{1}^{local},\ldots ,S_{p}^{local})\) and \((C^{local}_{1,B^{local}},\ldots ,C^{local}_{p,B^{local}})\) to the Master.

  8. 8.

    Master: Compute final scores:

    $$\begin{aligned} W_{i}^{*}=\frac{\sum _{\text {slaves}}S_{i}^{local}}{\sum _{\text {slaves}}C_{i,B^{local}}^{local}}. \end{aligned}$$
  9. 9.

    Master: Sort the list of variables according to scores \(W_i^{*}\): \(W_{i_1}^{*}\ge W_{i_2}^{*}\cdots \ge W_{i_{p}}^{*}\).

  10. 10.

    Output: Ordered list of variables \(\{i_1,\ldots ,i_{p}\}\).

In the case of parallel=POSIX the algorithm is executed in an analogous way with the difference that the observed data (YX), the number of subset draws B, the size of the subspace \(|m|<\min (p,n)\) are shared (in common addressing memory space) by the master (in POSIX language: parent) and slaves (in POSIX language: children). Secondly, in this version there is also no explicit message communication. The above features are two main advantages over MPI version when only one logical machine is available. Experimental results comparing MPI and POSIX versions on single machine are shown in the next section. Figure 5 shows a block diagram of the parallel algorithm.

Fig. 5

Block diagram of the parallel version of RSM procedure

When calling regRSM with parallel=MPI or parallel=POSIX options, the software will check for presence of the Rmpi or doParallel packages. If they are not installed, the regRSM will not be executed and an error message will be displayed.


A series of experiments was performed evaluating practical efficiency of the algorithm and its parallelization. The experiments were performed under different parallelization settings: POSIX and MPI for two different hardware settings:

  1. (1)

    one physical computer with 16 cores (4 \(\times \) 4 core processor Intel(R) Xeon(R) CPU X7350 @ 2.93 GHz), 64 GB RAM, Open RTE 1.4.3 mpi, R 3.0.1, Ubuntu 12.04 LTS

  2. (2)

    four physical computers with 4 cores each (4 core processor Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-2600 CPU @ 3.40 GHz), 16 GB RAM (12 GB for VM) each, Open RTE 1.7.3 mpi, R 3.0.2, Ubuntu 12.04 LTS on Oracle VM VirtualBox

In the experiments, the number of slaves varies from 1 to 16. For each number of slaves, computational times are averaged over 5 simulation trials.

In the first experiment, an artificial dataset containing \(n=400\) cases and \(p=1000\) explanatory variables was generated. We set \(|m|=\min (n,p)/2=200\). We investigated how the computational time depends on the number of simulations B. Figures 6 and 7 show the execution times and speedups against \(\log (B)\) for hardware setting (1). Observe that in this case the speedups for POSIX version (Fig. 7b) are larger than for MPI version (Fig. 6b) which makes POSIX version faster. Figure 8 shows the execution times and speedups against \(\log (B)\) for hardware setup (2). Observe that MPI version is faster on hardware setup (2) than on setup (1) and is faster than difference in processor frequencies (3.40 vs 2.93 GHz).

In the second experiment we study how the computational time depends on the data size. We set \(B=p=10{,}000\) and change \(n=100,200,\ldots ,1000\). We set again \(|m|=\min (n,p)/2\). Figures 9 and 10 show the execution times and speedups versus n for hardware setting (1) and (2), respectively. For both settings, we can see a breakdown of performance when \(n>600\). This is caused by specific configurations of memory swapping schedules in operating systems. Swapping schedule for hardware setting (1) is more rigorous than for setting (2). Unfortunately this configuration could not be changed. Hardware setting (2), which is based on several physical machines, was able to recover from this downgrade of performance, even when running on a virtual machine and not on a real physical hardware. Here we can see the main advantage of using MPI on different physical machines instead of the single one, which is not possible with POSIX version. In Figs. 6 and 8 we can also observe a slight decrease of performance for hardware setting (2) and \(n=1000\), whereas the performance for setting (1) is constant (except for 16 slaves). The decrease is again caused by lack of memory for hardware setting (2) due to its more limited memory (\(4\times 12\) GB vs 64 GB).

Fig. 6

Execution time (a) and speedup (b) versus \(\log (B)\) (decimal logarithm) for MPI parallel version and hardware setup (1)

Fig. 7

Execution time (a) and speedup (b) versus \(\log (B)\) (decimal logarithm) for POSIX parallel version and hardware setup (1)

Fig. 8

Execution time (a) and speedup (b) versus \(\log (B)\) (decimal logarithm) for MPI parallel version and hardware setup (2)

Fig. 9

Execution time (a) and speedup (b) versus n for MPI parallel version and hardware setup (1)

Fig. 10

Execution time (a) and speedup (b) versus n for MPI parallel version and hardware setup (2)

The observed effects of parallelization seem to be satisfactory. The speedup is not linear with respect to the number of slaves as for MPI overheads occur due to transfer of the complete data set and MPI-start-ups. Moreover, there are some other tasks which are executed in a sequential way. MPI version on four PC with one processor is faster tan on one server with four processors. This gives us a cheaper solution for speeding up our algorithm.

Application examples

Artificial data example

In this section we study performance of the RSM and the WRSM. We focus on the case \(n<p\). First we present the results of experiments on artificial datasets. Let t be the set of relevant variables (i.e., variables whose corresponding coefficients in the model are nonzero), |t| its cardinality and \(\beta _t\) be a subvector of \(\beta \) corresponding to t. Table 1 shows parameters of the considered models. The majority of models are chosen from the examples available in the literature to represent wide variety of structures. Models (M1)–(M4) are considered in Zheng and Loh (1997), models (M5) and (M6) in Huang et al. (2008), model (M7) in Shao and Deng (2012), and model (M8) in Chen and Chen (2008). The last two examples are included in order to consider models with significantly larger number of relevant variables. The rows of X are generated independently from the standard normal p-dimensional distribution with zero mean and the covariance matrix with (ij)th entry equal \(\rho ^{|i-j|}\). This type of AR(1) dependence, used for models (M1)–(M8) in the original papers, is frequently considered in the literature devoted to model selection in linear models. We set \(\rho =0.5\) which corresponds to moderate dependence between variables. The outcome is \(Y=X_t\beta _t+\varepsilon \), where \(\varepsilon \) has zero-mean normal distribution with covariance matrix \(\sigma ^2 I\). As in the original papers, we set \(\sigma =1\) for all models except models 5 and 6 for which \(\sigma =1.5\). We use the following values of parameters: the number of observations \(n=200\), the number of variables \(p=1000\), the number of repetitions in the RSM \(B=1000\), the subspace size \(|m|=\min (n,p)/2=100\), the cut-off level \(h=\min (n,p)/2=100\). The experiments are repeated \(L=500\) times. In the first step the RSM/WRSM is used to obtain the ranking list of variables, in the second step BIC is used to select the final model as described in Sect. 2. The proposed methods are compared with the lasso (Tibshirani 1996), CAR scores (Zuber and Strimmer 2011) and univariate method. To make the comparison with RSM/WRSM fair, the penalty parameter for lasso is chosen using BIC. This approach was described in Zhang et al. (2012) and Fan and Tang (2013). We also tested cross-validation for choosing penalty parameter in lasso. The results were slightly worse than for BIC and thus they are not presented in the tables. For CAR scores we use BIC to select the model. In the univariate method (UNI, sometimes called marginal regression) the prediction strength of each variables is evaluated individually. Here, for each variable \(i\in \{1,\ldots ,p\}\) we compute squared value of its t-statistic based on a simple univariate regression model. Then the variables are ordered with respect to the squared t-statistics and the same procedure on hierarchical list of models as in the RSM is performed.

Table 1 Models summary
Table 2 Mean values of \(100\times \hbox {PE}\)/min(PE) based on 500 simulation trials
Table 3 Mean values of true positive rates (TPR) based on 500 simulation trials
Table 4 Mean values of false discovery rates (FDR) based on 500 simulation trials
Table 5 Mean values of model sizes based on 500 simulation trials
Table 6 Ratio of the performance measure for the default subspace size \(|m_{def}|\) to the performance measure corresponding to the optimal subspace size

Let \(\hat{t}\) denote the model selected by a given method. As the measures of performance we use the following indices:

  • true positive rate (TPR): \(|\hat{t}\cap t|/|t|\),

  • false discovery rate (FDR): \(|\hat{t}\setminus t|/|\hat{t}|\),

  • prediction error (PE) equal to root mean squared error computed on independent dataset having the same number of observations as the training set.

The above measures are averaged over \(L=500\) simulations. Observe that TPR calculates a fraction of correctly chosen variables with respect to all significant ones whereas FDR measures a fraction of false positives (selected spurious variables) with respect to all chosen variables. \(\text {TPR}=1\) means that all significant variables are included in the chosen model. \(\text {FDR}=0\) means that no spurious variables are present in the final model.

Table 2 shows values of \(100\times \text {PE}/\min (\text {PE})\) averaged over 500 simulations, where \(\min (\text {PE})\) is the minimal value of prediction error of 5 considered methods. The last column pertains to the method for which PE was minimal. It is seen that for 5 models the WRSM outperforms all other competitors with respect to PE. Table 3 shows values of TPR; the last column pertains to the method for which the maximal TPR is attained. Observe that in the majority of models, TPR for the lasso is close to one, which indicates that lasso selects most relevant variables. However, the differences between the lasso and the WRSM are negligible. Table 4 shows values of FDR; the last column pertains to the method for which the minimal FDR is obtained. Here, the WRSM outperforms other methods in the four out of ten cases. Table 5 contains information about sizes of chosen models: RSM usually selects much smaller models than lasso.

The clear advantage of the WRSM over other methods can be seen for models with large number of relevant variables (e.g., 7, 9, 10). For these models, the significant variables are usually placed on the top of the ranking list when the WRSM is used. It is not necessarily the case for other methods. For example in the case of model 7, the position of the last relevant variable in the ranking list (averaged over simulation trials) is: 20 (lasso), 64.76 (RSM), 20 (WRSM), 124.88 (UNI), 99.68 (CAR). This indicates that for the lasso and the WRSM, all relevant variables are placed ahead of spurious ones in all simulations. On the other hand in some situations (usually for models with small number of significant variables, e.g., 2, 4, 8) the WRSM have quite large FDRs compared to other methods. In these cases, the relevant variables are also placed on the top of the ranking list (TPRs are close to one) but the Bayesian Information Criterion used in the second step selects too many spurious variables to the final model. As this behaviour occurs for small values of |t| the number of false positives is also small in absolute terms, however.

There is also an important difference between the RSM and the WRSM. Consider spurious variables which are strongly correlated with the relevant ones (e.g., variable 1, 3, 6 in model 2). In the case of the RSM, such variables are usually placed right behind relevant ones in the ranking list. The top 10 variables for the RSM and model 2 (determined for one example simulation) are:

$$\begin{aligned} \mathbf{4 }, \mathbf{5 }, \mathbf{2 }, 3, 6, 1, 778, 767, 423, 519 \end{aligned}$$

(the significant variables are in bold). On the other hand, for the WRSM, spurious variables correlated with relevant ones (thus correlated also with the response) are usually drawn together with relevant variables. Therefore they are assigned small weights \(w(i,m^*)\) and consequently have smaller final scores. The top 10 variables for the WRSM and model 2 (determined for one example simulation) are:

$$\begin{aligned} \mathbf{2 }, \mathbf{4 }, \mathbf{5 }, 423, 442, 514, 601, 441, 263, 745 \end{aligned}$$

(the significant variables are in bold).

We also analyse the effect of the subspace size in our method. We run the experiments with different subspace sizes \(|m|\in \{1,5,25,50,75,\ldots ,\min (n,p)-1\}\). Let PE(|m|), TRP(|m|), FDR(|m|) and LEN(|m|) be respectively: the prediction error, the true positive rate, the false discovery rate and the length of the chosen model, for a given subspace size |m|. Let \(|m_{def}|=\min (n,p)/2=100\) be the default subspace size used in all experiments and also recommended in Mielniczuk and Teisseyre (2014). Table 6 shows the ratio of the performance measure for \(|m_{def}|\) to the performance measure corresponding to the optimal subspace size. Value 1 means that the performance measure is optimal for \(|m_{def}|\). Observe that we obtain the smallest prediction errors for \(|m_{def}|\) in the case of 6 models. This additionally confirms the validity of our choice.

Table 7 Results for 3-fold cross-validation
Fig. 11

Prediction errors with respect to the number of variables included in the model (a). Prediction errors with respect to the subspace size |m| for RSM (b)

Real data example

The algorithms are also compared on real high-dimensional dataset described in Hannum et al. (2013). The dataset is available at http://www.ipipan.eu/~teisseyrep/SOFTWARE. In the dataset, there are 657 observations representing individuals, aged 19–101 and 473, 034 variables representing methylation states of CpG markers. Methylation was recorded as a fraction between zero and one, representing the frequency of methylation of a given CpG marker across the population of blood cells taken from a single individual. To estimate the prediction error (PE) we use 3-fold cross-validation. To reduce the dimensionality we select \(15\,\%\) of variables that are most correlated with the response for each cross-validation split. We build models using the remaining 70, 955 variables. As a baseline we use naive method for which the prediction is a sample mean of the response calculated on the training set. For the RSM, the WRSM, CAR and univariate method (UNI), the final model is chosen using BIC or the validation set. In the latter case, the validation set is separated from the training part in such a way that \(50\,\%\) of observations are used to build a model and the remaining \(50\,\%\) for validation. In the case of the lasso, the final model is selected using cross-validation. For the RSM and the WRSM we use the following values of parameters: number of repetitions \(B=2000\), subspace size \(|m|=\min (n,p)/2\), cut-off level \(h=\min (n,p)/2\).

Table 8 Top 50 variables for real dataset

Table 7 shows the prediction errors and the sizes of selected models averaged over 3 cross-validation splits. The value in bold pertains to the minimal value in each column. Observe that for all methods there is a significant improvement over the naive method. Note that for the lasso we obtain larger prediction errors and much larger models than for other considered models. When the final model is chosen using BIC, we get the smallest error for the RSM (see the first column). When the selection is based on validation set, CAR method is a winner (see the third column).

Figure 11a shows prediction errors (averaged over 3 folds) with respect to the number of variables included in the model. Observe that when the number of variables included in the final model is sufficiently large, the prediction errors for the WRSM are smaller than for competitive models. Figure 11b shows prediction errors with respect to the subspace size |m| for RSM. The vertical line corresponds to the default subspace size.

Table 8 shows rankings of top 50 variables obtained using considered methods. As in the original paper (Hannum et al. 2013), lasso was used to assess the relevance of the variables, we compare rankings obtained by RSM, WRSM, CAR and UNI with the one based on lasso. RL in Table 8 denotes a position of the given variable in the ranking based on lasso (empty space means that the given variable is not ranked in top 50 variables by lasso). Note that the rankings, corresponding to considered methods, are not fully concordant, which may be valuable in biological research as some new relevant variables can be potentially discovered. It is seen that 6 variables, recognized as the most significant ones by lasso are also ranked on the top 6 positions by RSM and WRSM. It is interesting that cg08097417 is the second most important variable according to RSM/WRSM (and the most important variable according to CAR), whereas it is placed on 6th position by lasso. Finally, observe that cg14361627 (4th position according to lasso and RSM) is not recognized as very relevant variable by UNI, which may suggest that this variable is relatively weakly correlated with the response but becomes useful when considered jointly with other variables.


In this paper we presented a novel variants of RSM as well as an implementation in R package regRSM. The method does not impose any conditions on the number of candidate variables. The underlying algorithms are discussed. The first step in our procedure is based on fitting linear models on small randomly chosen subsets of variables and thus it allows for parallelization. Two versions of parallel implementation are presented. Moreover other improvements of the original method are introduced, including an initial screening of variables and their weighting in the sampling process. The article presents the empirical evaluation of our implementation including: its efficiency in identifying the significant variables, its prediction power and acceleration of the processing due to parallel implementations. The method and its weighted variant compare well with other methods tailored to the high-dimensional setup (like lasso or CAR scores) and is amenable to parallelization under various hardware settings (single and multiple physical machines) and parallel softwares (MPI, POSIX).


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Research of Paweł Teisseyre and Robert A. Kłopotek was supported by the European Union from resources of the European Social Fund within project ‘Information technologies: research and their interdisciplinary applications’ POKL.04.01.01-00-051/10-00.

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Correspondence to Paweł Teisseyre.



Installing MPI for multiple machines

In the following we give some guidelines how to install and configure MPI framework on multiple machines. MPI configuration on multiple machines is straightforward. Each machine must be connected to the main machine (master). While using Rmpi package we must remember that it works a little bit different than typical C MPI application. Usually master process transfers through MPI the whole application and replicates it on available slots (slaves). Rmpi uses existing R installation, so on each machine all required packages must be installed. Only R source code and data are transferred. We present the required steps under Ubuntu operating system (we use Ubuntu 12.04 LTS version). To install Open MPI on Ubuntu type:


On Ubuntu with installed Open MPI and R one may just run R and type:


Consider a case when we have several (2 or more) machines with Ubuntu 12.04 LTS operating system, R 3.0, Rmpi and regRSM installed and all machines are connected to the same network. Moreover let’s assume we have one network card which is mapped to eth0. With command ifconfig we can check what IP addresses our machines have. For simplicity, to avoid changing the configuration, we assign a static address to each machine. In our network we have 4 PCs with 4 core processor each. We give them the following names and IP addresses:


We create text file with IP and number of slots in each line. Slot is an instance of our application working in a slave mode. For example if we have a line slots=4 then on our machine (localhost) MPI should run up to 4 slave processes. If we request more slaves than slots then there will be oversubscription of the node and the performance can drop. We can limit the number of slots to 4 by changing the line to slots=4 max_slots=4. In this case request on more than 4 processes on this node will result in an error. While setting hard limits one should remember that the total number of processes created by Rmpi package is equal to the number of slaves plus one (master process). For example if we want each computer to run 4 parallel tasks then we assign 4 slots to each machine. Example of our hostfile myhosts:


We run MPI application by executing:


Parameter -n can be misleading when working with Rmpi package. We want to start one R instance on which we run our experiment. Thus this value should be set to 1. To give Rmpi our hostfile just run command: mpiexec -n 1 -hostfile myhosts R - - no-save which means we run one Rscript process with given hostfile for MPI configuration. In R terminal we type:


The above lines indicate that all MPI processes have been launched successfully.

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Teisseyre, P., Kłopotek, R.A. & Mielniczuk, J. Random Subspace Method for high-dimensional regression with the R package regRSM . Comput Stat 31, 943–972 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00180-016-0658-2

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  • Random Subspace Method
  • High-dimensional regression
  • Variable importance measure
  • Generalized Information Criterion
  • MPI
  • R