I made a ML model, trained and tested it with my data containing categorical variables.
To create dummy variables I used pd.get_dummies() before the split.
I now want to use my model on previously unseen data where, of course, I need to re create my dummies. Should I do it still with pd.get_dummies()? In this way isn't the encoding lost? Any suggestion on how to do it?


1 Answer 1


Yes, the encoding would be lost. You should instead use sklearn OneHotEncoder and save the corresponding encoder instance so that you can re-load it on unseen data.

One can do something along these lines:

import pandas as pd
import pickle
from sklearn.preprocessing import OneHotEncoder

def get_encoder_inst(feature_col):
    returns: an instance of sklearn OneHotEncoder fit against a (training) column feature;
    such instance is saved and can then be loaded to transform unseen data
    assert isinstance(feature_col, pd.Series)
    feature_vec = feature_col.sort_values().values.reshape(-1, 1)
    enc = OneHotEncoder(handle_unknown='ignore')
    with open(file_name, 'wb') as output_file:
            pickle.dump(enc, output_file)
    return enc 

which can then be loaded and applied as

def get_one_hot_enc(feature_col, enc):
    maps an unseen column feature using one-hot-encoding previously fit against training data 
    returns: a pd.DataFrame of newly one-hot-encoded feature
    assert isinstance(feature_col, pd.Series)
    assert isinstance(enc, OneHotEncoder)
    unseen_vec = feature_col.values.reshape(-1, 1)
    encoded_vec = enc.transform(unseen_vec).toarray()
    encoded_df = pd.DataFrame(encoded_vec)
    return encoded_df

where the argument enc in the latter function is an instance of OneHotEncoder that you load through pickle.load. Of course the above is just a pseudo-code example, take care that all the objects that you are using keep the initial shapes and so on.

The problem with using pd.get_dummies is that it has no memory of the previously mapped encoding: it basically turns a column into factors, whereas OneHotEncoder actually maps categorical variables to a fixed-length vector representation that is stored and kept.


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