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Upgrading to dbt utils v1.0

For the first time, dbt utils is crossing the major version boundary. From last month’s blog post:

It’s time to formalize what was already unofficial policy: you can rely on dbt utils in the same way as you do dbt Core, with stable interfaces and consistent and intuitive naming.

Just like the switch to dbt Core 1.0 last year, there are some breaking changes as we standardized and prepared for the future. Most changes can be handled with find-and-replace. If you need help, post on the Community Forum or in #package-ecosystem channel on Slack.

New features

  • get_single_value() An easy way to pull a single value from a SQL query, instead of having to access the [0][0]th element of a run_query result.
  • safe_divide() Returns null when the denominator is 0, instead of throwing a divide-by-zero error.
  • New not_empty_string test An easier wrapper than using expression_is_true to check the length of a column.


  • Many tests are more meaningful when you run them against subgroups of a table. For example, you may need to validate that recent data exists for every turnstile instead of a single data source being sufficient. Add the new group_by_columns argument to your tests to do so. Review this article by the test's author for more information.
  • With the addition of an on-by-default quote_identifiers argument in the star() macro, you can now disable quoting if necessary.
  • The recency test now has an optional ignore_time_component argument which can be used when testing against a date column. This prevents the time of day the test runs from causing false negatives/positives.


  • union() now includes/excludes columns case-insensitively
  • slugify() prefixes an underscore when the first char is a digit
  • The expression_is_true test doesn’t output * unless storing failures, a cost improvement for BigQuery.

Breaking Changes

Changes to surrogate_key():

  • surrogate_key() has been replaced by generate_surrogate_key(). The original treated null values and blank strings the same, which could lead to duplicate keys being created. generate_surrogate_key() does not have this flaw. Compare the surrogate keys calculated for these columns:

A table comparing the behavior of surrogate_key and generate_surrogate_key

Changing the calculation method for surrogate keys, even for the better, could have significant consequences in downstream uses (such as snapshots and incremental models which use this column as their unique_key). As a result, it's possible to opt into the legacy behavior by setting the following variable in your dbt project:

surrogate_key_treat_nulls_as_empty_strings: true #turn on legacy behavior

By creating a new macro instead of updating the behavior of the old one, we are requiring all projects who use this macro to make an explicit decision about which approach is better for their context.

Our recommendation is that existing users should opt into the legacy behavior unless you are confident that either:

  • your surrogate keys never contained nulls, or
  • your surrogate keys are not used for incremental models, snapshots or other stateful artifacts and so can be regenerated with new values without issue.
Warning to package maintainers

You can not assume one behavior or the other, as each project can customize its behavior.

Functionality now native to dbt Core:

version: 2

- name: old_syntax
- dbt_utils.expression_is_true:
expression: "col_a + col_b = total"
#replace this...
condition: "created_at > '2018-12-31'"

- name: new_syntax
- dbt_utils.expression_is_true:
expression: "col_a + col_b = total"
# ...with this...
where: "created_at > '2018-12-31'"

Note This may cause some tests to get the same autogenerated names. To resolve this, you can define a custom name for a test.

  • The deprecated unique_where and not_null_where tests have been removed, because where is now available natively to all tests. To migrate, find and replace dbt_utils.unique_where with unique and dbt_utils.not_null_where with not_null.
  • dbt_utils.current_timestamp() is replaced by dbt.current_timestamp().
    • Note that Postgres and Snowflake’s implementation of dbt.current_timestamp() differs from the old dbt_utils one (full details here). If you use Postgres or Snowflake and need identical backwards-compatible behavior, use dbt.current_timestamp_backcompat(). This discrepancy will hopefully be reconciled in a future version of dbt Core.
  • All other cross-db macros have moved to the dbt namespace, with no changes necessary other than replacing dbt_utils. with dbt.. Review the cross database macros documentation for the full list.
    • In your code editor, you can do a global find and replace with regex: \{\{\s*dbt_utils\.(any_value|bool_or|cast_bool_to_text|concat|dateadd|datediff|date_trunc|escape_single_quotes|except|hash|intersect|last_day|length|listagg|position|replace|right|safe_cast|split_part|string_literal|type_bigint|type_float|type_int|type_numeric|type_string|type_timestamp|type_bigint|type_float|type_int|type_numeric|type_string|type_timestamp|except|intersect|concat|hash|length|position|replace|right|split_part|escape_single_quotes|string_literal|any_value|bool_or|listagg|cast_bool_to_text|safe_cast|dateadd|datediff|date_trunc|last_day){{ dbt.$1

Removal of insert_by_period materialization

  • The insert_by_period materialization has been moved to the experimental-features repo. To continue to use it, add the below to your packages.yml file:
- git:
subdirectory: insert_by_period
revision: XXXX #optional but highly recommended. Provide a full git sha hash, e.g. 1c0bfacc49551b2e67d8579cf8ed459d68546e00. If not provided, uses the current HEAD.

Removal of deprecated legacy behavior:

  • safe_add() only works with a list of arguments; use {{ dbt_utils.safe_add(['column_1', 'column_2']) }} instead of varargs {{ dbt_utils.safe_add('column_1', 'column_2') }}.
  • Several long-promised deprecations to deduplicate() have been applied:
    • The group_by argument is replaced by partition_by.
    • relation_alias is removed. If you need an alias, you can pass it directly to the relation argument.
    • order_by is now mandatory. Pass a static value like 1 if you don’t care how they are deduplicated.
  • The deprecated table argument has been removed from unpivot(). Use relation instead.

Resolving error messages

After upgrading, these are common error messages you may encounter, along with their resolutions.

dict object has no attribute MACRO_NAME

Cause: No macro called MACRO_NAME exists. This is most likely because the macro has moved to the dbt namespace (see above). It could also be because you haven't run dbt deps or have misspelled a macro's name.

Resolution: For cross-database macros, change dbt_utils.MACRO_NAME() to dbt.MACRO_NAME().

macro 'dbt_macro__generate_surrogate_key' takes not more than 1 argument(s)

Cause: generate_surrogate_key() requires a single argument containing a list of columns, not a set of varargs.

Resolution: Change to dbt_utils.generate_surrogate_key(['column_1', 'column_2']) - note the square brackets.

The dbt_utils.surrogate_key has been replaced by dbt_utils.generate_surrogate_key

Cause: surrogate_key() has been replaced.


  1. Decide whether you need to enable backwards compatibility as detailed above.
  2. Find and replace dbt_utils.surrogate_key with dbt_utils.generate_surrogate_key.

macro dbt_macro__test_expression_is_true takes no keyword argument condition

Cause: condition has been removed from the expression_is_true test, now that where is available on all tests automatically.

Resolution: Replace condition with where.

No materialization insert_by_period was found for adapter

Cause: insert_by_period has moved to the experimental features repo (see above).

Resolution: Install the package as described above.

dbt found two tests with the name "XXX".

Cause: Changing from condition to where in the expression_is_true test, as configs are not part of a test's unique name.

Resolution: Define a custom name for your test.