Using custom schemas

What is a custom schema?

By default, all dbt models are built in the schema specified in your target. In dbt projects with lots of models, it may be useful to instead build some models in schemas other than your target schema – this can help logically group models together.

For example, you may wish to:

  • Group models based on the business unit using the model, creating schemas such as core, marketing, finance and support; or,
  • Hide intermediate models in a staging schema, and only present models that should be queried by an end user in an analytics schema.

You can use custom schemas in dbt to build models in a schema other than your target schema. It's important to note that by default, dbt will generate the schema name for a model by concatenating the custom schema to the target schema, as in: <target_schema>_<custom_schema>;.

Target schemaCustom schemaResulting schema

How do I use custom schemas?

Use the schema configuration key to specify a custom schema for a model. As with any configuration, you can either:

  • apply this configuration to a specific model by using a config block within a model, or
  • apply it to a subdirectory of models by specifying it in your dbt_project.yml file
{{ config(schema='marketing') }}
select ...
# models in `models/marketing/ will be rendered to the "*_marketing" schema
+schema: marketing

Understanding custom schemas

Why does dbt concatenate the custom schema to the target schema?

When first using custom schemas, it's common to assume that a model will be built in schema that matches the schema configuration exactly, for example, a model that has the configuration schema: marketing, would be built in the marketing schema. However, dbt instead creates it in a schema like <target_schema>_marketing by default – there's good reason for this!

In a typical setup of dbt, each dbt user will use a separate target schema (see Managing Environments). If dbt created models in a schema that matches a model's custom schema exactly, every dbt user would create models in the same schema.

Further, the schema that your development models are built in would be the same schema that your production models are built in! Instead, concatenating the custom schema to the target schema helps create distinct schema names, reducing naming conflicts.

If you prefer to use different logic for generating a schema name, you can change the way dbt generates a schema name (see below).

How does dbt generate a model's schema name?

Under the hood, dbt uses a macro called generate_schema_name to determine the name of the schema that a model should be built in. The code for the macro that expresses the current logic follows:

{% macro generate_schema_name(custom_schema_name, node) -%}
{%- set default_schema = target.schema -%}
{%- if custom_schema_name is none -%}
{{ default_schema }}
{%- else -%}
{{ default_schema }}_{{ custom_schema_name | trim }}
{%- endif -%}
{%- endmacro %}

Advanced custom schema configuration

Changing the way dbt generates a schema name

If your dbt project includes a macro that is also named generate_schema_name, dbt will always use the macro in your dbt project instead of the default macro.

Therefore, to change the way dbt generates a schema name, you should add a macro named generate_schema_name to your project, where you can then define your own logic.

Note: dbt ignores any custom generate_schema_name macros that are part of a package installed in your project.

An alternative pattern for generating schema names

A frequently used pattern for generating schema names is to change the behavior based on dbt's environment, such that:

  • In prod:

    • If a custom schema is provided, a model's schema name should match the custom schema, rather than being concatenated to the target schema.
    • If no custom schema is provided, a model's schema name should match the target schema.
  • In other environments (e.g. dev or qa):

    • Build all models in the target schema, as in, ignore custom schema configurations.

dbt ships with a global macro that contains this logic – generate_schema_name_for_env.

If you want to use this pattern, you'll need a generate_schema_name macro in your project that points to this logic. You can do this by creating a file in your macros directory (we normally call it get_custom_schema.sql), and pasting in the following:

-- put this in macros/get_custom_schema.sql
{% macro generate_schema_name(custom_schema_name, node) -%}
{{ generate_schema_name_for_env(custom_schema_name, node) }}
{%- endmacro %}

generate_schema_name arguments

custom_schema_nameThe configured value of schema in the specified node, or none if a value is not suppliedmarketing
nodeThe node that is currently being processed by dbt{"name": "my_model", "resource_type": "model",...}

Jinja context available in generate_schema_name

If you choose to write custom logic to generate a schema name, it's worth noting that not all variables and methods are available to you when defining this logic. In other words: the generate_schema_name macro is compiled with a limited Jinja context.

The following context methods are available in the generate_schema_name macro:

Jinja contextTypeAvailable
varVariableLimited, see below
Other macros in your projectMacro
Other macros in your packagesMacro

Which vars are available in generate_schema_name?


Globally-scoped variables and variables defined on the command line with --vars are accessible in the generate_schema_name context.

Managing environments

In the generate_schema_name macro examples shown above, the context variable is used to change the schema name that dbt generates for models. If the generate_schema_name macro in your project uses the context variable, you must additionally ensure that your different dbt environments are configured appropriately. While you can use any naming scheme you'd like, we typically recommend:

  • dev: Your local development environment; configured in a profiles.yml file on your computer.
  • ci: A continuous integration environment running on Pull Requests in GitHub, GitLab, etc.
  • prod: The production deployment of your dbt project, eg. in dbt Cloud, Airflow, or similar

If your schema names are being generated incorrectly, double check your target name in the relevant environment.

For more information, consult the Managing environments guide.