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Model access


Models can be grouped under a common designation with a shared owner. For example, you could group together all models owned by a particular team, related to modeling a specific data source (github), or

Why define model groups? There are two reasons:

  • It turns implicit relationships into an explicit grouping, with a defined owner. By thinking about the interface boundaries between groups, you can have a cleaner (less entangled) DAG. In the future, those interface boundaries could be appropriate as the interfaces between separate projects.
  • It enables you to designate certain models as having "private" access—for use exclusively within that group. Other models will be restricted from referencing (taking a dependency on) those models. In the future, they won't be visible to other teams taking a dependency on your project—only "public" models will be.

If you follow our best practices for structuring a dbt project, you're probably already using subdirectories to organize your dbt project. It's easy to apply a group label to an entire subdirectory at once:

+group: customer_success
+group: finance

Each model can only belong to one group, and groups cannot be nested. If you set a different group in that model's YAML or in-file config, it will override the group applied at the project level.

Access modifiers

Some models are implementation details, meant for reference only within their group of related models. Other models should be accessible through the ref function across groups and projects. Models can set an access modifier to indicate their intended level of accessibility.

AccessReferenceable by
privatesame group
protectedsame project (or installed as package)
publicany group, package or project

If you try to reference a model outside of its supported access, you will see an error:

dbt run -s marketing_model
dbt.exceptions.DbtReferenceError: Parsing Error
Node model.jaffle_shop.marketing_model attempted to reference node model.jaffle_shop.finance_model,
which is not allowed because the referenced node is private to the finance group.

By default, all models are protected. This means that other models in the same project can reference them, regardless of their group. This is largely for backwards compatability when assigning groups to an existing set of models, as there may already be existing references across group assignments.

However, it is recommended to set the access modifier of a new model to private to prevent other project resources from taking dependencies on models not intentionally designed for sharing across groups.

# First, define the group and owner
- name: customer_success
name: Customer Success Team

# Then, add 'group' + 'access' modifier to specific models
# This is a public model -- it's a stable & mature interface for other teams/projects
- name: dim_customers
group: customer_success
access: public

# This is a private model -- it's an intermediate transformation intended for use in this context *only*
- name: int_customer_history_rollup
group: customer_success
access: private

# This is a protected model -- it might be useful elsewhere in *this* project,
# but it shouldn't be exposed elsewhere
- name: stg_customer__survey_results
group: customer_success
access: protected


How does model access relate to database permissions?

These are different!

Specifying access: public on a model does not trigger dbt to automagically grant select on that model to every user or role in your data platform when you materialize it. You have complete control over managing database permissions on every model/schema, as makes sense to you & your organization.

Of course, dbt can facilitate this by means of the grants config, and other flexible mechanisms. For example:

  • Grant access to downstream queriers on public models
  • Restrict access to private models, by revoking default/future grants, or by landing them in a different schema

As we continue to develop multi-project collaboration, access: public will mean that other teams are allowed to start taking a dependency on that model. This assumes that they've requested, and you've granted them access, to select from the underlying dataset.

What about referencing models from a package?

For historical reasons, it is possible to ref a protected model from another project, if that protected model is installed as a package. This is useful for packages containing models for a common data source; you can install the package as source code, and run the models as if they were your own.

dbt Core v1.6 will introduce a new kind of project dependency, distinct from a package dependency, defined in dependencies.yml:

- project: jaffle_finance

Unlike installing a package, the models in the jaffle_finance project will not be pulled down as source code, or selected to run during dbt run. Instead, dbt-core will expect stateful input that enables it to resolve references to those public models.

Models referenced from a project-type dependency must use two-argument ref, including the project name. Only public models can be accessed in this way. That holds true even if the jaffle_finance project is also installed as a package (pulled down as source code), such as in a coordinated deployment. If jaffle_finance is listed under the projects in dependencies.yml, dbt will raise an error if a protected model is referenced from outside its project.