association rules (in data mining)

Contributor(s): Mark Labbe

Association rules are if-then statements that help to show the probability of relationships between data items within large data sets in various types of databases. Association rule mining has a number of applications and is widely used to help discover sales correlations in transactional data or in medical data sets.

How association rules work

Association rule mining, at a basic level, involves the use of machine learning models to analyze data for patterns, or co-occurrence, in a database. It identifies frequent if-then associations, which are called association rules.

An association rule has two parts: an antecedent (if) and a consequent (then). An antecedent is an item found within the data. A consequent is an item found in combination with the antecedent.

Association rules are created by searching data for frequent if-then patterns and using the criteria support and confidence to identify the most important relationships. Support is an indication of how frequently the items appear in the data. Confidence indicates the number of times the if-then statements are found true. A third metric, called lift, can be used to compare confidence with expected confidence.

Association rules are calculated from itemsets, which are made up of two or more items. If rules are built from analyzing all the possible itemsets, there could be so many rules that the rules hold little meaning. With that, association rules are typically created from rules well-represented in data.

Association rule algorithms

Popular algorithms that use association rules include AIS, SETM, Apriori and variations of the latter.

With the AIS algorithm, itemsets are generated and counted as it scans the data. In transaction data, the AIS algorithm determines which large itemsets contained a transaction, and new candidate itemsets are created by extending the large itemsets with other items in the transaction data.

The SETM algorithm also generates candidate itemsets as it scans a database, but this algorithm accounts for the itemsets at the end of its scan. New candidate itemsets are generated the same way as with the AIS algorithm, but the transaction ID of the generating transaction is saved with the candidate itemset in a sequential structure. At the end of the pass, the support count of candidate itemsets is created by aggregating the sequential structure. The downside of both the AIS and SETM algorithms is that each one can generate and count many small candidate itemsets, according to published materials from Dr. Saed Sayad, author of Real Time Data Mining.

Stanford lecture on frequent itemsets, mining
of massive data sets

With the Apriori algorithm, candidate itemsets are generated using only the large itemsets of the previous pass. The large itemset of the previous pass is joined with itself to generate all itemsets with a size that's larger by one. Each generated itemset with a subset that is not large is then deleted. The remaining itemsets are the candidates. The Apriori algorithm considers any subset of a frequent itemset to also be a frequent itemset. With this approach, the algorithm reduces the number of candidates being considered by only exploring the itemsets whose support count is greater than the minimum support count, according to Sayad.

Uses of association rules in data mining

In data mining, association rules are useful for analyzing and predicting customer behavior. They play an important part in customer analytics, market basket analysis, product clustering, catalog design and store layout.

Programmers use association rules to build programs capable of machine learning. Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that seeks to build programs with the ability to become more efficient without being explicitly programmed.

Examples of association rules in data mining

A classic example of association rule mining refers to a relationship between diapers and beers. The example, which seems to be fictional, claims that men who go to a store to buy diapers are also likely to buy beer. Data that would point to that might look like this:

A supermarket has 200,000 customer transactions. About 4,000 transactions, or about 2% of total transactions, include the purchase of diapers. About 5,500 transactions (2.75%) include the purchase of beer. Of those, about 3,500 transactions, 1.75%, include both the purchase of diapers and beer. Based on the percentages, that number should be much lower. However, the fact that about 87.5% of diaper purchases include the purchase of beer indicates a link between diapers and beer.


While the concepts behind association rules can be traced back earlier, association rule mining was defined in the 1990s, when computer scientists Rakesh Agrawal, Tomasz Imieliński and Arun Swami developed an algorithm-based way to find relationships between items using point-of-sale (POS) systems. Applying the algorithms to supermarkets, the scientists were able to discover links between different items purchased, called association rules, and ultimately use that information to predict the likelihood of different products being purchased together.

For retailers, association rule mining offered a way to better understand customer purchase behaviors. Because of its retail origins, association rule mining is often referred to as market basket analysis.

This was last updated in November 2018

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How does your organization use association rules and association rule mining?
since apriori algorithm needs association rules to be generated once the frequent itemset is found and apriori algorithm helps in data mining, i need to ask or you can say know that whether i can use apriori algorithm in C language to generate a program. Would it be of any use if we use it in C language programing. 
Association rule makes a great difference in data mining process of my organisation.


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