Data Drift vs. Concept Drift: Differences and How to Detect and Address Them

Data Drift vs. Concept Drift: Differences and How to Detect and Address Them

In the rapidly evolving landscape of data-driven applications, maintaining model accuracy and reliability is crucial. However, as data evolves over time, models can suffer from two common challenges: data drift and concept drift. In this article, we will explore the differences between data drift and concept drift and delve into strategies for detecting and addressing these issues.

What is Data and Concept Drift?

Understanding the concepts of data and concept drift is essential for addressing their implications and implementing effective strategies to mitigate their effects on machine learning models.

Data Drift

Data drift refers to the phenomenon where the statistical properties of the input data change over time. It occurs when the distribution of the training data differs from the distribution of the incoming data used for making predictions. Data drift can be caused by various factors, such as changes in the data source, measurement techniques, or data collection processes.

Causes of data drift include:

  • Changes in User Behavior: User preferences and interactions can drive data drift, as shifts in user behavior lead to changes in the collected data patterns and distributions.
  • Shifts in Data Sources: Changes in data sources, such as new sensors or data collection methods, can alter the characteristics of the collected data and introduce data drift.
  • Evolving Data Distributions: Natural factors like seasonal variations, market trends, or economic shifts can cause changes in the underlying data distribution, resulting in data drift.
  • Data Preprocessing Changes: Modifying data preprocessing steps, such as feature engineering or normalization, can impact the data distribution and cause data drift.
  • External Factors and Events: Events like disease outbreaks or policy changes can affect the target variable and introduce data drift.
  • Sample Selection Bias: Biased selection of training data, such as unrepresentative sampling or specific demographic inclusion, can lead to data drift when new data differs from the biased sample.
  • Data Quality Issues: Inadequate data quality, including errors, missing values, or outliers, can distort the statistical properties of the dataset and contribute to data drift.

Concept Drift

Concept drift refers to the situation where the relationship between input features and the target variable changes over time. Unlike data drift, concept drift focuses on the underlying meaning or concept within the data. It occurs when the assumptions made during model training no longer hold true in the deployment phase.

Causes of concept drift include:

  • Evolving User Preferences: Changes in user preferences and behaviors can lead to concept drift, as the relationships between features and user preferences may change over time.
  • Changes in External Factors: External factors and events, such as economic shifts or regulatory changes, can alter the relationships within the data and cause concept drift.
  • Seasonal or Temporal Variations: Seasonal trends and recurring patterns can cause concept drift as the relationships between features and target variables change periodically.
  • Drift in Data Generation Process: Changes in data collection methods or measurement techniques can introduce differences in data patterns and result in concept drift.
  • Shifts in Data Sources: Concept drift can occur when new data sources introduce different perspectives or biases, impacting the relationships between features and the target variable.
  • Covariate Shift: Changes in the distribution of input features while keeping the relationship with the target variable unchanged can lead to concept drift.
  • Concept Drift in Dynamic Systems: Systems with changing dynamics, such as sensor networks or environmental monitoring, can experience concept drift as the relationships between features and target variables evolve.

Impact of Data and Concept Drift

Impacts of data drift and concept drift include:

  • Decreased Model Performance: When the statistical properties of the data change (data drift), the model may struggle to generalize to new patterns, resulting in reduced accuracy and predictive power. Similarly, when the underlying relationships between features and target variables change (concept drift), the model’s predictions may become less reliable, leading to decreased performance.
  • Reduced Model Robustness: Models that are sensitive to changes in the data distribution or the relationships between features and target variables are more likely to be affected. If the model lacks the ability to adapt to new patterns, even slight shifts can cause significant degradation in performance and robustness.
  • Increased False Positives or False Negatives: As the data distribution or relationships change, the model’s decision boundaries may no longer align with the new patterns. This can result in an increase in false positives or false negatives, depending on the nature of the problem.
  • Bias and Fairness Concerns: If the changes in the data or relationships disproportionately affect certain groups or introduce imbalances in the data, the model’s predictions may become biased. This can lead to unfair outcomes and discriminatory practices.
  • Increased Operational Costs: Adapting the model to changing data distributions or relationships often requires retraining, recalibration, or updating the model. This process can be computationally expensive and time-consuming, especially for large-scale models and datasets.
  • Decreased User Trust and Satisfaction: Users may lose confidence in the model’s predictions if they consistently encounter inaccurate results due to changing data patterns or relationships.
  • Inefficient Decision-Making: When the model fails to adapt to new data patterns or relationships, valuable insights and trends may go unnoticed. This can result in suboptimal decision-making and missed chances to leverage new information for improved outcomes.

Detecting Drift

Data Drift Detection

Detecting data drift is an important step in monitoring the performance of machine learning models and identifying when the statistical properties of the input data have changed. By detecting data drift, organizations can take appropriate actions to adapt their models and ensure reliable predictions.

Statistical Measures

One approach to detecting data drift is by comparing statistical measures of the current data distribution with the historical distribution used for training. Common statistical measures include mean, variance, and correlation. Significant deviations in these measures may indicate data drift.

Here’s an example of using statistical measures for data drift detection:

import numpy as np

# Calculate statistical measures for current data
current_mean = np.mean(current_data, axis=0)
current_variance = np.var(current_data, axis=0)
current_correlation = np.corrcoef(current_data, rowvar=False)

# Calculate statistical measures for historical data
historical_mean = np.mean(historical_data, axis=0)
historical_variance = np.var(historical_data, axis=0)
historical_correlation = np.corrcoef(historical_data, rowvar=False)

# Compare the measures to detect data drift
mean_drift = np.abs(current_mean - historical_mean) > threshold_mean
variance_drift = np.abs(current_variance - historical_variance) > threshold_variance
correlation_drift = np.abs(current_correlation - historical_correlation) > threshold_correlation

Hypothesis Testing:

Hypothesis testing can be employed to determine if there is a significant difference between current and historical data. Statistical tests such as the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, t-test, or chi-square test can be used to assess the similarity between two distributions.

Here’s an example using the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test:

from scipy.stats import ks_2samp

# Perform Kolmogorov-Smirnov test between current and historical data
ks_stat, p_value = ks_2samp(current_data, historical_data)

# Check if the p-value is below a certain threshold to detect data drift
if p_value < threshold:
    data_drift_detected = True

Machine Learning Drift Detectors

There are also specialized algorithms designed to detect data drift using machine learning techniques. These algorithms analyze the differences in model predictions or feature distributions between the current and historical data. Popular drift detection algorithms include the Drift Detection Method (DDM), Page-Hinkley Test, and the Adaptive Windowing Approach (ADWIN).

Here’s an example for the Kolmogorov-Smirnov (KS) test for drift detection, which is a statistical test that can be used to detect differences between two probability distributions:

import numpy as np
from scipy.stats import ks_2samp

class DriftDetector:
    def __init__(self, significance_level=0.05):
        self.significance_level = significance_level
        self.reference_data = None
    def fit(self, reference_data):
        self.reference_data = reference_data
    def detect_drift(self, new_data):
        if self.reference_data is None:
            raise ValueError("Reference data is not set. Call 'fit' method first.")
        # Perform the KS test between reference data and new data
        stat, p_value = ks_2samp(self.reference_data, new_data)
        # Compare the p-value with the significance level
        if p_value < self.significance_level:
            return True  # Drift detected
            return False  # No drift detected

# Example usage
# Generate reference data and new data
reference_data = np.random.normal(loc=0, scale=1, size=1000)
new_data = np.random.normal(loc=0.2, scale=1, size=1000)

# Initialize the drift detector and fit the reference data
drift_detector = DriftDetector(significance_level=0.05)

# Detect drift in the new data
is_drift_detected = drift_detector.detect_drift(new_data)
print("Drift detected:", is_drift_detected)

Concept Drift Detection

Concept drift detection is crucial for identifying changes in the underlying relationships between features and target variables over time. While some techniques for concept drift detection overlap with data drift detection, there are specific approaches tailored to capturing shifts in the concept space.

Supervised Learning

Supervised learning for concept drift detection involves training a binary classifier using labeled data to distinguish between instances from the current concept and instances affected by concept drift. The classifier learns a decision boundary that separates the two concepts, allowing it to classify new instances and detect changes in the underlying concept. By evaluating the classifier’s performance on a validation set, metrics such as accuracy, precision, recall, and F1-score can be computed to assess its effectiveness. Subsequently, the trained classifier can be applied to new instances to detect concept drift by identifying misclassifications.

from sklearn.model_selection import train_test_split
from sklearn.linear_model import LogisticRegression
from sklearn.metrics import accuracy_score

# Split historical data into training and validation sets
X_train, X_val, y_train, y_val = train_test_split(historical_data, historical_labels, test_size=0.2)

# Train a binary classifier (e.g., Logistic Regression) on the training set
classifier = LogisticRegression(), y_train)

# Make predictions on the validation set
val_predictions = classifier.predict(X_val)

# Evaluate performance using accuracy
accuracy = accuracy_score(y_val, val_predictions)

# Detect concept drift on new instances
new_instances_predictions = classifier.predict(new_instances)
concept_drift_detected = any(new_instance_prediction != current_concept_label for new_instance_prediction in new_instances_predictions)

Unsupervised Learning

Unsupervised learning for concept drift detection involves leveraging the inherent patterns and structures within the data to identify changes indicative of concept drift without relying on labeled data. Clustering algorithms and density-based approaches are commonly used in unsupervised learning for concept drift detection. These methods aim to detect shifts in the distribution or density of the data. By monitoring changes in cluster assignments or identifying anomalies, unsupervised learning techniques can provide insights into concept drift.

Here’s an example of using unsupervised learning, specifically the K-means clustering algorithm, for concept drift detection in Python:

from sklearn.cluster import KMeans
from sklearn.metrics import silhouette_score

# Fit the K-means clustering algorithm on the historical data
kmeans = KMeans(n_clusters=num_clusters)

# Assign cluster labels to historical instances
historical_labels = kmeans.predict(historical_data)

# Compute the silhouette score as a measure of cluster compactness
silhouette_score_historical = silhouette_score(historical_data, historical_labels)

# Apply K-means clustering to new instances
new_instance_labels = kmeans.predict(new_instances)

# Compute the silhouette score for the new instances
silhouette_score_new_instances = silhouette_score(new_instances, new_instance_labels)

# Detect concept drift based on the silhouette score difference
silhouette_score_difference = silhouette_score_new_instances - silhouette_score_historical
concept_drift_detected = silhouette_score_difference < threshold

The silhouette score is a metric used to assess the quality of clustering results. In the provided code snippet, the silhouette score is computed for the historical data and the new instances using the K-means clustering algorithm. The silhouette score measures how similar an instance is to its own cluster compared to other clusters. It ranges from -1 to 1, where a higher value indicates that an instance is well-clustered, and a lower value indicates that it might be assigned to the wrong cluster. The concept drift is detected by calculating the difference between the silhouette scores of the new instances and the historical data. If this difference falls below a predefined threshold, it suggests the presence of concept drift, indicating a shift in the underlying data distribution.

Ensemble Methods

Ensemble methods involve training multiple models or using multiple classifiers to detect concept drift. By comparing the predictions of different models or classifiers, changes in the underlying concepts can be identified. One popular ensemble method for concept drift detection is the Hoeffding Tree-based method. Here’s an example using the Hoeffding Tree algorithm:

from skmultiflow.trees import HoeffdingTree
from skmultiflow.meta import AdaptiveRandomForest

# Initialize the Hoeffding Tree classifier
hoeffding_tree = HoeffdingTree()

# Train the model on the current data
hoeffding_tree.partial_fit(current_data, current_labels)

# Make predictions on the historical data
historical_predictions = hoeffding_tree.predict(historical_data)

# Train the Adaptive Random Forest on the current data
arf = AdaptiveRandomForest()
arf.partial_fit(current_data, current_labels)

# Make predictions using the Adaptive Random Forest on the historical data
arf_historical_predictions = arf.predict(historical_data)

# Compare the predictions to detect concept drift
if historical_predictions != arf_historical_predictions:
    concept_drift_detected = True

Addressing Data and Concept Drift

Coresets can be valuable for addressing concept drift and data drift in machine-learning models. A coreset is a small, weighted subset of the original dataset that captures the essential information necessary to train a model with the same parameters as using the entire dataset. This property makes coresets effective for addressing drift scenarios where computational resources and time are limited.

        1. Addressing Data Drift: When dealing with data drift, coresets can be used to adapt the model to changes in the data distribution by updating the coreset in near real-time with negligible server cost due to storage efficiency. As new data becomes available, the coreset can be expanded or modified to incorporate the new instances. This allows the model to learn from the most recent and relevant data, capturing the evolving patterns and mitigating the impact of data drift. By retraining the model on the updated coreset, it can adjust its parameters and maintain its performance on the changing data distribution.
        2. Addressing Concept Drift: Coresets are also valuable for addressing concept drift, where the underlying concept or relationship between features and labels changes over time. As the model encounters new concepts, the coreset can be adapted to reflect the updated data distribution. By identifying the important samples that impact the model the most in the current concept, the coreset can be updated accordingly. This ensures that the model focuses on the critical instances that represent the current concept, allowing it to adapt and generalize to the changing relationships in the data. By retraining the model on the updated coreset, it can effectively address concept drift and maintain its accuracy.

The use of coresets offers several advantages in addressing drift scenarios. Firstly, coresets significantly reduce the computational burden and time required for model updates. Instead of retraining the entire model with the complete dataset, the model can be trained on the smaller and weighted coreset, reducing both computational resources and time. This enables more frequent model updates, making it practical to respond to drift events in near real time.

Additionally, by focusing on the important samples that have the most impact on the model, coresets provide a targeted approach to address drift, ensuring that the model adapts to the most relevant aspects of the changing data.

Implementing Coresets

The DataHeroes library can be easily installed in Python using ‘pip install dataheroes’. As an example, to build a Coreset for Logistic Regression, of a dataset with 500K samples and 10 classes stored in a CSV file using the DataHeroes library, we only need a few lines of code:

from dataheroes import CoresetTreeServiceLG
service_obj = CoresetTreeServiceLG(data_params=data_params,

To get the Coreset from your dataset, use the following code.

# Get the top level coreset (~2K samples with weights, in this case)
coreset = service_obj.get_coreset()
indices, X, y = coreset['data']
w = coreset['w']

Finally, you can simply do the following to use this coreset to train a Logistic Regression model.

coreset_model = LogisticRegression().fit(X, y, sample_weight=w)

Learn more about the best practices for model training.

Now, you may want to perform cross-validation with the model to report a more reliable estimate of the model’s performance by recording the metrics across multiple train-test splits. This helps mitigate the impact of variability in a single split and provides a more robust assessment of how the model will perform on unseen data. The following code snippet can be employed to perform cross-validation with the coreset model.

# Perform cross-validation
scores_list, models_list = service_obj.cross_validate(model=coreset_model,

Tuning the hyperparameters of a model is crucial to achieve optimal performance. In the case of using a Coreset, you can apply grid search to the Coreset structure as well. This can be done by utilizing the following code snippet on the previously mentioned Logistic Regression model:

from sklearn.metrics import balanced_accuracy_score, make_scorer
# Set up the parameter grid
param_grid = {'penalty': ['l1', 'l2'],
              'C': [0.1, 1, 10, 100],
              'Solver': ['liblinear','saga']
balanced_accuracy_scoring = make_scorer(balanced_accuracy_score)

# Get the best hyperparameters and the best model
optimal_hyperparameters, trained_model = service_obj.grid_search(param_grid=param_grid, scoring=balanced_accuracy_scoring)

Read more on the 10 Tips for Effective Model Tuning in Machine Learning.

Suppose you have obtained additional analytics post-production and need to update the labels of certain samples. To accomplish this, you can identify the “important” samples within the coreset, i.e., the samples with the greatest impact on the model (for instance, the 50 most important samples from the ‘non_defect’ class). Subsequently, you can modify the labels of these samples (e.g., changing them to the ‘defect’ class) using the following code snippet:

indices, importance = service_obj.get_important_samples(class_size={'non_defect': 50})
service_obj.update_targets(indices, y=['defect'] * len(indices))

If you wish to remove certain samples entirely from the data, you can achieve that using the provided code snippet. Afterward, you can assess the performance of the updated coreset by evaluating the Area Under the Receiver Operating Characteristic (AUROC) metric.

# Removing the samples indices stored in the array `idxes_to_delete` from the Coreset

In addition to facilitating hyperparameter tuning, coresets can also assist in updating labels within the dataset to ensure the training data is accurate. Follow these detailed articles to find and fix labels in image classification, object detection, semantic segmentation, and NLP datasets.

A detailed guide on why and how to implement coresets with a case study is provided in this article on model maintenance.


In the dynamic world of machine learning, data drift and concept drift pose challenges to model accuracy and reliability. Detecting and addressing these drifts are crucial for maintaining optimal model performance. By understanding the differences between data drift and concept drift and utilizing techniques such as statistical methods, supervised and unsupervised learning approaches, and ensemble methods, practitioners can effectively identify and mitigate drift.

Furthermore, incorporating coresets into the workflow offers a practical solution for real-time model updates, reduced computational costs, and enhanced data and concept drift detection and mitigation. By leveraging coresets, machine learning practitioners can adapt their models to changing data patterns, ensuring robust and accurate predictions in the face of evolving datasets.

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