Recursive Feature Elimination: Working, Advantages & Examples

avcontentteam 18 May, 2023 • 5 min read

How can we sift through many variables to identify the most influential factors for accurate predictions in machine learning? Recursive Feature Elimination offers a compelling solution, and RFE iteratively removes less important features, creating a subset that maximizes predictive accuracy. By leveraging a machine learning algorithm and an importance-ranking metric, RFE evaluates each feature’s impact on model performance. Join us on this enlightening journey into Recursive Feature Elimination and unlock the potential to unleash accurate and robust predictive models.

What is Recursive Feature Elimination?

Recursive Feature Elimination is a feature selection method to identify a dataset’s key features. The process involves developing a model with the remaining features after repeatedly removing the least significant parts until the desired number of features is obtained. Although RFE can be used with any supervised learning method, Support Vector Machines (SVM) are the most popular pairing.

How Recursive Feature Elimination Works?

RFE Steps

Recursive Feature Elimination algorithm works in the following steps:

  1. Rank the importance of all features using the chosen RFE machine learning algorithm.
  2. Eliminate the least important feature.
  3. Build a model using the remaining features.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until the desired number of features is reached.

Comparison of RFE With Other Feature Selection Methods

Compared to other feature selection methods, RFE has the advantage of considering interactions between features and is suitable for complex datasets.

Many methods are available for RFE feature selection, each with its own pros and cons. It’s important to understand the benefits and downsides of each method and choose the one that quality addresses the issue.

Few Other Feature Selection Methods:

Filtering Method

A common method of Recursive feature selection is the filtering method. This method evaluates each feature individually and selects the most meaningful features based on statistical measures such as correlation and mutual information. Filtering techniques are quick and easy to implement but may not consider interactions between features and may not be effective with high-dimensional datasets.

Wrapper Method

Another common method is a wrapper method that uses a learning algorithm that evaluates the usefulness of each subset of functions. Wrapper methods are more computationally expensive than filter methods but can consider the interactions between features and may be more effective in high-dimensional datasets. However, they are more prone to overfitting and may be sensitive to the choice of learning algorithm.

Also Read: Feature Selection using Wrapper methods in Python

Principal Component Analysis (PCA)

Another method often compared to Recursive Feature Elimination is principal component analysis (PCA). It transforms features into a low-dimensional space that captures the most important information. PCA is an effective way to reduce the dimensionality of datasets and remove redundant features. Still, it may not preserve the interpretability of the original features and may not be suitable for non-linear relationships between features. There is nature.

Compared to filter and wrapper methods, RFE has the advantage of considering both features’ relevance, redundancy, and interactions. By recursively removing the least important features, RFE can effectively reduce the dimensionality of the dataset while preserving the most informative features. However, RFE can be computationally intensive and unsuitable for large datasets.

Therefore, the choice of feature selection method depends on the dataset’s specific properties and the analysis’s goals. Recursive Feature Elimination is a powerful and versatile method that effectively handles high-dimensional datasets and interactions between features. However, it is only suitable for some datasets.

Implementation of Recursive Feature Elimination

To implement RFE, we need to prepare the data by scaling and normalising it. Then, we can use sci-kit-learn’s RFE or RFECV (recursive feature elimination with cross-validation) classes to select the features. Here are some examples of using RFE Python with scikit-learn, caret, and other libraries:

Using scikit-learn’s RFE:

from sklearn.feature_selection import RFE

from sklearn.svm import SVR

from sklearn.datasets import fetch_california_housing

data = fetch_california_housing()

X, y =,

estimator = SVR(kernel="linear")

selector = RFE(estimator, n_features_to_select=5, step=1), y)



Best Practices for RFE

For best results with Recursive Feature Elimination, you should consider the following best practices:

Choose the Appropriate Number of Features

It helps to balance model power and complexity by choosing an appropriate number of features. Try different numbers of features and evaluate the model’s performance.  

Sets the Number of Cross-Validation Folds

Cross-validation helps reduce overfitting and improve model generalisation. You should set the number of cross-validation folds based on the size of your dataset and the number of features.

High Dimensional Processing

Recursive Feature Elimination can handle high-dimensional datasets but can be computationally expensive. Dimensionality reduction techniques such as PCA and LDA can be used before applying RFE.

Dealing with Multicollinearity

RFE can handle multicollinearity but may not be the best approach. Other techniques, such as PCA and regularisation, can also deal with multicollinearity. 

Avoid Overfitting or Underfitting

RFE can reduce the risk of overfitting by choosing the most important features. However, removing important features can also lead to underfitting. Evaluate the overall performance of the models inside the holdout set to ensure that the models are well-rested and well-fitted.

Advantages and Limitations of RFE

RFE has several advantages over other feature selection methods:

  • Can handle high-dimensional datasets and identify the most important features.
  • Can handle interactions between features and is suitable for complex datasets.
  • Can be used with any supervised learning algorithm.

However, RFE also has some limitations:

  • Can be computationally expensive for large datasets.
  • May not be the best approach for datasets with many correlated features.
  • May not work well with noisy or irrelevant features.

Therefore, evaluating the dataset and selecting an appropriate feature selection method based on the dataset’s characteristics is important.

Real-World Applications of Recursive Feature Elimination

Recursive Feature Elimination success stories and use cases demonstrate the effectiveness and efficiency of RFE in solving real-world problems. For example:

  • Bioinformatics: RFE selects genes for cancer diagnosis and prognosis. By choosing the most meaningful genes, RFE can help improve the accuracy of cancer diagnosis and provide patients with personalised treatment plans. 
  • Image Processing: RFE has been used to select image classification and recognition features. By choosing the most informative features, RFE can help improve the accuracy of image classification and recognition systems in various applications, such as autonomous driving and security systems.
  • Finance: RFE has been used in finance to select credit scoring and fraud detection features. By selecting the most relevant features, RFE can help improve the accuracy of credit scoring models and detect fraudulent activities in financial transactions.
  • Marketing: RFE has been used to select customer segmentation and recommendation system features. By selecting the most relevant features, RFE can help identify customer segments and provide personalised recommendations, improving customer satisfaction and increasing sales.


Recursive feature elimination is a powerful function selection method that could perceive a data set’s most crucial capabilities. Recursively put off much less crucial functions and use the final capabilities to construct the model until you reach the desired variety of functions. It is possible to use a supervised learning algorithm with SVM. To get the best results with RFE, we need to follow best practices and consider the dataset’s characteristics. RFE has been used in various industries and domains and has demonstrated its effectiveness in solving real-world problems.

To deepen your understanding of RFE and other advanced techniques in data analysis, consider enrolling in our BlackBelt Program. This comprehensive program provides in-depth training, hands-on experience, and practical knowledge to sharpen your skills and become a proficient data scientist. Sign-up today!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is recursive feature elimination in R?

A. Recursive Feature Elimination (RFE) in R is a feature selection technique that iteratively eliminates less important features based on an algorithm and importance-ranking metric to identify the most relevant subset of features.

Q2. What is recursive feature elimination in logistic regression?

A. Recursive Feature Elimination in logistic regression selects the most significant features for the logistic regression model, improving interpretability and predictive accuracy.

Q3. What is the RFE method used for?

RFE is used for feature selection to improve model performance, reduce dimensionality, and enhance interpretability in various machine learning algorithms.

Q4. What is recursive feature elimination for classification in Python?

Recursive Feature Elimination for classification in Python iteratively removes less relevant features to improve accuracy, reduce overfitting, and enhance interpretability in classification tasks using algorithms like logistic regression, decision trees, random forests, and support vector machines.

avcontentteam 18 May 2023

Frequently Asked Questions

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Responses From Readers


Junaid Malik
Junaid Malik 16 Feb, 2024

Thank you so much for the nice explanation

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