stackgbm is on CRAN

A group of sheep on Faroe Islands. Photo by Dylan Shaw.
A group of sheep on Faroe Islands. Photo by Dylan Shaw.

I’m happy to announce that stackgbm, a minimalist R package for tree model stacking, is now on CRAN. Model stacking is an ensemble learning method that combines the predictions from multiple base learners to improve overall performance. stackgbm makes it easy to stack gradient boosting decision tree (GBDT) models, which are particularly effective for classification tasks.

You can install stackgbm with:


To install all potential dependencies to maximize stackgbm’s capabilities, see the dependency management guide.

Why tree models and model stacking

Tree-based methods, especially GBDTs, are one of the most successful approaches for modeling tabular data, similar to the transformer architecture’s impact on sequence modeling. Naturally, ensemble tree models are a popular topic in machine learning interviews, where strategies for building tree ensembles are frequently discussed.

Model stacking takes ensemble learning a step further by combining the strengths of multiple (possibly strong & ensemble) base learners, such as GBDTs. This approach was effective in some machine learning competitions on Kaggle and others, making it a worthy strategy to experiment with.

Stacking GBDTs with stackgbm

stackgbm is a weekend project that implements a classic two-layer stacking model. The first layer generates numerical “features” (classification probabilities) using three popular GBDT implementations: xgboost, lightgbm, and catboost. These features are then fed into a logistic regression model in the second layer to produce the final classification probabilities.

stackgbm offers convenient wrappers for the GBDT learners. This makes the entire flow a few consistent, canonical function calls:


params_xgb <- cv_xgboost(x, y)
params_lgb <- cv_lightgbm(x, y)
params_cat <- cv_catboost(x, y)

fit <- stackgbm(x, y, params = list(params_xgb, params_lgb, params_cat))

fit |> predict(newx = x_test)

stackgbm is well-suited for experimentation and research—when you don’t want to be restricted by machine learning frameworks that require pipeline construction in a certain way. Its design allows you to easily customize and integrate into your own workflows, where flexibility and control are critical.

Simplicity in design

Model stacking is not a complicated idea, and I believe we can benefit from keeping the software implementations simple, too. Inspired by projects like nanoGPT and tinygrad, stackgbm focuses on three core abstractions:

  • Base learner wrappers: training and inference interfaces.
  • Hyperparameter tuning: cross-validation over a parameters grid.
  • Stacking algorithm: Fit a two-layer model.

By striking a balance between transparency, flexibility, and performance, I hope stackgbm could provide a useful baseline for tree model stacking, with sensible defaults and minimal indirection.

For suggestions, please create an issue or send a pull request.