Published on

Time Series Cheat Sheet in R

  • avatar
    Nelson Tang

Getting started using the forecast package for time series data in R, as quickly as possible and no explanations.

Source: Forecasting: Principles and Practice

Data Prep

Coerce your data to ts format:


myts <- ts(df, start = c(1981,1), frequency = 12)

Exploring and Plotting ts Data

  • autoplot(): Useful function to plot data and forecasts


  • ggseasonplot(): Create a seasonal plot
  • ggsubseriesplot(): Create mini plots for each season and show seasonal means

Lags and ACF

  • gglagplot(): Plot the time series against lags of itself
  • ggAcf(): Plot the autocorrelation function (ACF)

White Noise and the Ljung-Box Test

White Noise is another name for a time series of iid data. Purely random. Ideally your model residuals should look like white noise.

You can use the Ljung-Box test to check if a time series is white noise, here's an example with 24 lags:

Box.test(data, lag = 24, type="Lj")

p-value > 0.05 suggests data are not significantly different than white noise

Model Selection

The forecast package includes a few common models out of the box. Fit the model and create a forecast object, and then use the forecast() function on the object and a number of h periods to predict.

Example of the workflow:

train <- window(data, start = 1980)
fit <- naive(train)
pred <- forecast(fit, h=4)
accuracy(pred, data)

Naive Models

Useful to benchmark against naive and seasonal naive models.

  • naive()
  • snaive()


Residuals are the difference between the model's fitted values and the actual data. Residuals should look like white noise and be:

  • Uncorrelated
  • Have mean zero

And ideally have:

  • Constant variance
  • A normal distribution

checkresiduals(): helper function to plot the residuals, plot the ACF and histogram, and do a Ljung-Box test on the residuals.

Evaluating Model Accuracy

Train/Test split with window function:

window(data, start, end): to slice the ts data

Use accuracy() on the model and test set

accuracy(model, testset): Provides accuracy measures like MAE, MSE, MAPE, RMSE etc

Backtesting with one step ahead forecasts, aka "Time series cross validation" can be done with a helper function tsCV().

tsCV(): returns forecast errors given a forecastfunction that returns a forecast object and number of steps ahead h. At h = 1 the forecast errors will just be the model residuals.

Here's an example using the naive() model, forecasting one period ahead:

tsCV(data, forecastfunction = naive, h = 1)

Many Models

Exponential Models

  • ses(): Simple Exponential Smoothing, implement a smoothing parameter alpha on previous data
  • holt(): Holt's linear trend, SES + trend parameter. Use damped=TRUE for damped trending
  • hw(): Holt-Winters method, incorporates linear trend and seasonality. Set seasonal="additive" for additive version or "multiplicative" for multiplicative version

ETS Models

The forecast package includes a function ets() for your exponential smoothing models. ets() estimates parameters using the likelihood of the data arising from the model, and selects the best model using corrected AIC (AICc)

  • Error = {A,M}\{A, M\}
  • Trend = {N,A,Ad}\{N, A, Ad\}
  • Seasonal = {N,A,M}\{N, A, M\}


May need to transform the data if it is non-stationary to improve your model prediction. To deal with non-constant variance, you can use a Box-Cox transformation.

BoxCox(): Box-Cox uses a lambda parameter between -1 and 1 to stabilize the variance. A lambda of 0 performs a natural log, 1/3 does a cube root, etc while 1 does nothing and -1 performs an inverse transformation.

Differencing is another transformation that uses differences between observations to model changes rather than the observations themselves.


Parameters: (p,d,q)(P,D,Q)m(p,d,q)(P,D,Q)m

p# of autoregression lags
d# of lag-1 differences
q# of Moving Average lags
P# of seasonal AR lags
D# of seasonal differences
Q# of seasonal MA lags
m# of observations per year

Arima(): Implementation of the ARIMA function, set include.constant = TRUE to include drift aka the constant

auto.arima(): Automatic implentation of the ARIMA function in forecast. Estimates parameters using maximum likelihood and does a stepwise search between a subset of all possible models. Can take a lambda argument to fit the model to transformed data and the forecasts will be back-transformed onto the original scale. Turn stepwise = FALSE to consider more models at the expense of more time.

Dynamic Regression

Regression model with non-seasonal ARIMA errors, i.e. we allow e_t to be an ARIMA process rather than white noise.

Usage example:

fit <- auto.arima(data, xreg = xreg_data)
pred <- forecast(fit, xreg = newxreg_data)

Dynamic Harmonic Regression

Dynamic Regression with K fourier terms to model seasonality. With higher K the model becomes more flexible.

Pro: Allows for any length seasonality, but assumes seasonal pattern is unchanging. Arima() and auto.arima() may run out of memory at large seasonal periods (i.e. >200).

# Example with K = 1 and predict 4 periods in the future
fit <- auto.arima(data, xreg = fourier(data, K = 1),
                  seasonal = FALSE, lambda = 0)
pred <- forecast(fit, xreg = fourier(data, K = 1, h = 4))


Automated model that combines exponential smoothing, Box-Cox transformations, and Fourier terms. Pro: Automated, allows for complex seasonality that changes over time. Cons: Slow.

  • T: Trigonemtric terms for seasonality
  • B: Box-Cox transformations for heterogeneity
  • A: ARMA errors for short term dynamics
  • T: Trend (possibly damped)
  • S: Seasonal (including multiple and non-integer periods)