Using aliases

Overview

When dbt runs a model, it will generally create a relation (either a table or a view) in the database. By default, dbt uses the filename of the model as the identifier for this relation in the database. This identifier can optionally be overridden using the alias model configuration.

Why alias model names?

The names of schemas and tables are effectively the "user interface" of your data warehouse. Well-named schemas and tables can help provide clarity and direction for consumers of this data. In combination with custom schemas, model aliasing is a powerful mechanism for designing your warehouse.

Usage

The alias config can be used to change the name of a model's identifier in the database. The following table shows examples of database identifiers for models both with, and without, a supplied alias.

ModelConfigDatabase Identifier
ga_sessions.sql<None>"analytics"."ga_sessions"
ga_sessions.sql{{ config(alias='sessions') }}"analytics"."sessions"

To configure an alias for a model, supply a value for the model's alias configuration parameter. For example:

models/google_analytics/ga_sessions.sql
-- This model will be created in the database with the identifier `sessions`
-- Note that in this example, `alias` is used along with a custom schema
{{ config(alias='sessions', schema='google_analytics') }}
select * from ...

When referencing the ga_sessions model above from a different model, use the ref() function with the model's filename as usual. For example:

models/combined_sessions.sql
-- Use the model's filename in ref's, regardless of any aliasing configs
select * from {{ ref('ga_sessions') }}
union all
select * from {{ ref('snowplow_sessions') }}

generate_alias_name

The alias generated for a model is controlled by a macro called generate_alias_name. This macro can be overridden in a dbt project to change how dbt aliases models. This macro works similarly to the generate_schema_name macro.

To override dbt's alias name generation, create a macro named generate_alias_name in your own dbt project. The generate_alias_name macro accepts two arguments:

  1. The custom alias supplied in the model config
  2. The node that a custom alias is being generated for

The default implementation of generate_alias_name simply uses the supplied alias config (if present) as the model alias, otherwise falling back to the model name. This implementation looks like this:

get_custom_alias.sql
{% macro generate_alias_name(custom_alias_name=none, node=none) -%}
{%- if custom_alias_name is none -%}
{{ node.name }}
{%- else -%}
{{ custom_alias_name | trim }}
{%- endif -%}
{%- endmacro %}

Caveats

Ambiguous database identifiers

Using aliases, it's possible to accidentally create models with ambiguous identifiers. Given the following two models, dbt would attempt to create two views with exactly the same names in the database (ie. sessions):

-- models/snowplow_sessions.sql
{{ config(alias='sessions') }}
select * from ...
-- models/sessions.sql
select * from ...

Whichever one of these models runs second would "win", and generally, the output of dbt would not be what you would expect. To avoid this failure mode, dbt will check if your model names and aliases are ambiguous in nature. If they are, you will be presented with an error message like this:

$ dbt compile
Encountered an error:
Compilation Error
dbt found two resources with the database representation "analytics.sessions".
dbt cannot create two resources with identical database representations. To fix this,
change the "schema" or "alias" configuration of one of these resources:
- model.my_project.snowplow_sessions (models/snowplow_sessions.sql)
- model.my_project.sessions (models/sessions.sql)

If these models should indeed have the same database identifier, you can work around this error by configuring a custom schema for one of the models.