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The most important function in dbt is ref(); it's impossible to build even moderately complex models without it. ref() is how you reference one model within another. This is a very common behavior, as typically models are built to be "stacked" on top of one another. Here is how this looks in practice:

select *
from public.raw_data
select *
from {{ref('model_a')}}

ref() is, under the hood, actually doing two important things. First, it is interpolating the schema into your model file to allow you to change your deployment schema via configuration. Second, it is using these references between models to automatically build the dependency graph. This will enable dbt to deploy models in the correct order when using dbt run.

New in 0.9.0

The {{ ref }} function returns a Relation object that has the same table, schema, and name attributes at the {{ this }} variable.

Advanced ref usage

Two-argument variant

There is also a two-argument variant of the ref function. With this variant, you can pass both a package name and model name to ref to avoid ambiguity. This functionality is not commonly required for typical dbt usage.

select * from {{ ref('package_name', 'model_name') }}

Note: The package_name should only include the name of the package, not the maintainer. For example, if you use the fivetran/stripe package, type stripe in that argument, and not fivetran/stripe.

Forcing Dependencies

In normal usage, dbt knows the proper order to run all models based on the usage of the ref function. There are cases though where dbt doesn't know when a model should be run. An example of this is when a model only references a macro. In that case, dbt thinks the model can run first because no explicit references are made at compilation time. To address this, you can use a SQL comment along with the ref function — dbt will understand the dependency, and the compiled query will still be valid:

 -- depends_on: {{ ref('upstream_parent_model') }}

{{ your_macro('variable') }}

dbt will see the ref and build this model after the specified reference.