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Project variables

dbt provides a mechanism, variables, to provide data to models for compilation. Variables can be used to configure timezones, avoid hardcoding table names or otherwise provide data to models to configure how they are compiled.

To use a variable in a model, hook, or macro, use the {{ var('...') }} function. More information on the var function can be found here.

Variables can be defined in two ways:

  1. In the dbt_project.yml file
  2. On the command line

Defining variables in dbt_project.yml


Jinja is not supported within the vars config, and all values will be interpreted literally.

To define variables in a dbt project, add a vars config to your dbt_project.yml file. These vars can be scoped globally, or to a specific package imported in your project.

name: my_dbt_project
version: 1.0.0

config-version: 2

# The `start_date` variable will be accessible in all resources
start_date: '2016-06-01'

# The `platforms` variable is only accessible to resources in the my_dbt_project project
platforms: ['web', 'mobile']

# The `app_ids` variable is only accessible to resources in the snowplow package
app_ids: ['marketing', 'app', 'landing-page']


Defining variables on the command line

The dbt_project.yml file is a great place to define variables that rarely change. Other types of variables, like date ranges, will change frequently. To define (or override) variables for a run of dbt, use the --vars command line option. In practice, this looks like:

$ dbt run --vars '{"key": "value"}'

The --vars argument accepts a YAML dictionary as a string on the command line. YAML is convenient because it does not require strict quoting as with JSON.

Both of the following are valid and equivalent:

$ dbt run --vars '{"key": "value", "date": 20180101}'
$ dbt run --vars '{key: value, date: 20180101}'

If only one variable is being set, the brackets are optional, eg:

$ dbt run --vars 'key: value'

You can find more information on defining dictionaries with YAML here.

Variable precedence

Variables defined with the --vars command line argument override variables defined in the dbt_project.yml file. They are globally scoped and accessible to the root project and all installed packages.

The order of precedence for variable declaration is as follows (highest priority first):

If dbt is unable to find a definition for a variable after checking all possible variable declaration places, then a compilation error will be raised.

Note: Variable scope is based on the node ultimately using that variable. Imagine the case where a model defined in the root project is calling a macro defined in an installed package. That macro, in turn, uses the value of a variable. The variable will be resolved based on the root project's scope, rather than the package's scope.

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