Increases the number of low incidence examples in a dataset using synthetic minority oversampling

Category: Data Transformation / Manipulation


Applies to: Machine Learning Studio

This content pertains only to Studio. Similar drag and drop modules have been added to the visual interface in Machine Learning service. Learn more in this article comparing the two versions.

Module overview

This article describes how to use the SMOTE module in Azure Machine Learning Studio to increase the number of underepresented cases in a dataset used for machine learning. SMOTE is a better way of increasing the number of rare cases than simply duplicating existing cases.

You connect the SMOTE module to a dataset that is imbalanced. There are many reasons why a dataset might be imbalanced: the category you are targeting might be very rare in the population, or the data might simply be difficult to collect. Typically, you use SMOTE when the class you want to analyze is under-represented.

The module returns a dataset that contains the original samples, plus an additional number of synthetic minority samples, depending on the percentage you specify.

More about SMOTE

SMOTE stands for Synthetic Minority Oversampling Technique. This is a statistical technique for increasing the number of cases in your dataset in a balanced way. The module works by generating new instances from existing minority cases that you supply as input. This implementation of SMOTE does not change the number of majority cases.

The new instances are not just copies of existing minority cases; instead, the algorithm takes samples of the feature space for each target class and its nearest neighbors, and generates new examples that combine features of the target case with features of its neighbors. This approach increases the features available to each class and makes the samples more general.

SMOTE takes the entire dataset as an input, but it increases the percentage of only the minority cases. For example, suppose you have an imbalanced dataset where just 1% of the cases have the target value A (the minority class), and 99% of the cases have the value B. To increase the percentage of minority cases to twice the previous percentage, you would enter 200 for SMOTE percentage in the module's properties.


We recommend that you try using SMOTE with a small dataset to see how it works. The following example uses the Blood Donation dataset available in Azure Machine Learning Studio.

If you add the dataset to an experiment, and click Visualize on the dataset’s output, you can see that, of the 748 rows or cases in the dataset, there are 570 cases (76%) of Class 0, and 178 cases (24%) of class 1. Although this isn’t terribly imbalanced, Class 1 represents the people who donated blood, and thus these rows contain the feature space that you want to model.

To increase the number of cases, you can set the value of SMOTE percentage, using multiples of 100, as follows:

Class 0 Class 1 total
Original dataset

(equivalent to SMOTE percentage = 0)


SMOTE percentage = 100 570


SMOTE percentage = 200 570


SMOTE percentage = 300 570




Increasing the number of cases using SMOTE is not guaranteed to produce more accurate models. You should try experimenting with different percentages, different feature sets, and different numbers of nearest neighbors to see how adding cases influences your model.

How to configure SMOTE

  1. Add the SMOTE module to your experiment. You can find the module under Data Transformation modules, in the manipulation category.

  2. Connect the dataset you want to boost. If you want to specify the feature space for building the new cases, either by using only specific columns, or by excluding some, use the Select Columns in Dataset module to isolate the columns you want to use before using SMOTE.

    Otherwise, creation of new cases using SMOTE is based on all the columns that you provide as inputs.

  3. Ensure that the column containing the label, or target class, is marked as such.

    If there is no label column, use the Edit Metadata module to select the column that contains the class labels, and select Label from the Fields dropdown list.

  4. The SMOTE module automatically identifies the minority class in the label column, and then gets all examples for the minority class.

  5. In the SMOTE percentage option, type a whole number that indicates the target percentage of minority cases in the output dataset. For example:

    • You type 0 (%). The SMOTE module returns exactly the same dataset that you provided as input, adding no new minority cases. In this dataset, the class proportion has not changed.

    • You type 100 (%). The SMOTE module generates new minority cases, adding the same number of minority cases that were in the original dataset. Because SMOTE does not increase the number of majority cases, the proportion of cases of each class has now changed.

    • You type 200 (%). The module doubles the percentage of minority cases compared to the original dataset. This does not result in having twice as many minority cases as before. Rather, the size of the dataset is increased in such a way that the number of majority cases stays the same, and the number of minority cases is increased till it matches the desired percentage value.


    Use only multiples of 100 for the SMOTE percentage.

  6. Use the Number of nearest neighbors option to determine the size of the feature space that the SMOTE algorithm uses when in building new cases. A nearest neighbor is a row of data (a case) that is very similar to some target case. The distance between any two cases is measured by combining the weighted vectors of all features.

    • By increasing the number of nearest neighbors, you get features from more cases.
    • By keeping the number of nearest neighbors low, you use features that are more like those in the original sample.
  7. Type a value in the Random seed textbox if you want to ensure the same results over runs of the same experiment, with the same data. Otherwise the module generates a random seed based on processor clock values when the experiment is deployed, which can cause slightly different results over runs.

  8. Run the experiment.

    The output of the module is a dataset containing the original rows plus some number of added rows with minority cases.


If you want to figure out which new rows were added, you can use the Apply SQL Transformation or Join Data modules.

Technical notes

  • When publishing a model that uses the SMOTE module, remove SMOTE from the predictive experiment before it is published as a web service. The reason is that SMOTE is intended for improving a model during training, and is not intended for scoring. You might get an error if a published predictive experiment contains the SMOTE module.

  • You can often get better results if you apply missing value cleaning or other transformations to fix data before applying SMOTE.

  • Some researchers have investigated whether SMOTE is effective on high-dimensional or sparse data, such as those used in text classification or genomics datasets. This paper has a good summary of the effects and of the theoretical validity of applying SMOTE in such cases: Blagus and Lusa: SMOTE for high-dimensional class-imbalanced data

    If SMOTE is not effective in your dataset, other approaches that you might consider include various methods for oversampling the minority cases or undersampling the majority cases, as well as ensemble techniques that help the learner directly, by using clustering, bagging, or adaptive boosting.

Expected input

Name Type Description
Samples Data Table A dataset of samples

Module parameters

Name Range Type Default Description
SMOTE percentage >=0 Integer 100 Amount of oversampling in multiples of 100.
Number of nearest neighbors >=1 Integer 1 The number of nearest neighbors from which to draw features for new cases
Random seed Any Integer 0 Seed for the random number generator


Name Type Description
Table Data Table A Data Table containing the original samples plus an additional number of synthetic minority class samples. The number of new samples is (smotePercent/100)*T, where T is the number of minority class samples.

See also

Sample and Split
A-Z Module List