C5.0 can produce two kinds of models. A decision tree is a straightforward description of the splits found by the algorithm. Each terminal (or "leaf") node describes a particular subset of the training data, and each record in the training data belongs to exactly one terminal node in the tree. In other words, exactly one prediction is possible for any particular data record presented to a decision tree.
In contrast, a rule set is a set of rules that tries to make predictions for individual records. Rule sets are derived from decision trees and, in a way, represent a simplified or distilled version of the information found in the decision tree. Rule sets can often retain most of the important information from a full decision tree but with a less complex model. Because of the way rule sets work, they do not have the same properties as decision trees. The most important difference is that with a rule set, more than one rule may apply for any particular record, or no rules at all may apply. If multiple rules apply, each rule gets a weighted "vote" based on the confidence associated with that rule, and the final prediction is decided by combining the weighted votes of the rules that apply to the record in question. If no rule applies, a default prediction is assigned to the record.
C5.0 models are popular for several reasons. They are quite robust in the presence of problems such as missing data and large numbers of input fields. They usually do not require long training times to estimate. In addition, C5.0 models tend to be easier to understand than some other model types, since the rules derived from the model have a very straightforward interpretation. C5.0 also offers the powerful boosting method to increase accuracy of classification.
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