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dbt-athena Upgrade Guidance

We are in the process of migrating from our in-house maintained fork of the dbt-athena adapter to the community maintained fork dbt-athena-community recommended by dbt. The guidance below details how you can test your models using the dbt-athena-community adapter. If you have any issues please get in touch via the #ask-data-modelling channel.

Table of contents

Test set up

We have created a branch called dbt-athena-update which contains all the latest models, sources, seeds, macros from the main branch (that is everything that exists in prod) and all the required upgrades. The main upgrades which you need to be aware of are:

  • dbt-athena-community 1.7.2.
  • dbt-core 1.7.10.
  • macro generate_s3_location.sql to support our S3 file path Hive style naming convention.
  • script scripts/ to insert the required external_location configuration at the top of every model .sql file.
  • running sqlfluff with the --ignore=templating option.
  • seeds S3 location has changed (this does not effect any references to seeds)

To set up for testing you will need to checkout this branch, uninstall the old adapter and rerun the requirements files to update your local venv with the correct versions. In Terminal (with your venv active) in the root directory run the following to pull the latest from main, switch to dbt-athena-update and update your venv:

git switch main
git fetch
git pull
git switch dbt-athena-update

At this point you can refresh the Git tab in the RStudio Environments panel (top right) to check you have switched to this branch. Next uninstall the old adapter:

pip install --upgrade pip
pip uninstall dbt-athena-adapter

Here you will be asked to type “Y” to proceed with the uninstall; do so and continue to install requirements:

pip install -r requirements.txt
pip install -r requirements-lint.txt

To check you have the correct set up list your local environment packages with

pip list --local

and check the list output for dbt-core 1.7.10, dbt-athena-community 1.7.2 and not dbt-athena-adapter 1.0.1 (or any other version of it). If you still have the latter try to uninstall it again; if both old and new adapters are installed there will be conflicts.

Full evironment set up guidance here.

Test prod models

To test your prod models you need to create your own branch off the dbt-athena-update branch, deploy your models in dev, run your dbt tests and lint. You can also manually run equality tests in Athena to compare tables from prod created using the old dbt-athena adapter to the tables you have just created in dev using dbt-athena-community adapter.

To explicitly create a new branch off dbt-athena-update run the following:

git checkout -b <new-branch-name> dbt-athena-update

All your prod models have the external_location parameter inserted into a config block at the top of each .sql file (see the Insert external_location section for more details).

As a consequence all prod models are already deployed into dev by the deploy-dev workflow. However, for robustness, we would still like you to test your prod models by deploying them yourselves; cd into the mojap_derived_tables directory to run dbt commands as usual.

If you have any issues due to redeploying please delete your dev models and try again, see Delete dev models instructions.

Once you have deployed your models please run your tests and lint.

⚠️ See the section below on SQLFluff linting changes ⚠️

Please keep us up to date with your progress in the #ask-data-modelling channel. When all users are happy that prod models are deploying as expected using the upgrades we will merge the branch dbt-athena-update into main.

 Test dev models

Once you have completed testing of your prod models you may wish to continue testing with your dev models. To do this you will need to create another branch off dbt-athena-update (see instructions above) and then merge into this from your feature branch. For example, I have some dev models on a branch called my-feature-branch so:

git checkout -b new-test-branch dbt-athena-update
git fetch origin my-feature-branch
git pull origin my-feature-branch
git merge origin/my-feature-branch

This creates a new branch new-test-branch off dbt-athena-update branch and then collects the changes from my-feature-branch and merges these in to new-test-branch. After the first command check you are on the new-test-branch before proceeding.


Your dev models will not have the external_location parameter set, which is required to store the output model in the correct location. See instructions in the Insert external_location section to insert the external_location and then cd into the mojap_derived_tables directory to run dbt commands as usual. Once you have deployed your models run tests and lint. See the section below on SQLFluff linting changes.

 Insert external_location

The external_location parameter is set by the macro generate_s3_location which is invoked at run time. This combines information from the schema name with the names from the repo directory structure to create the desired S3 location in the form:


To make this as painless as possible we have prepared a script which you can run locally to automatically insert the required line or full config into your .sql files. The script must be run from the root directory and requires user input to determine the path to the files that you wish to run it on.

In Terminal, in the root directory run

python scripts/

You will be prompted to enter the path to the directory containing the files you wish to apply the script to. Type your input starting with the domain directory name and continuing to whichever subdirectory you require (note there is no tab auto complete available) and hit Enter:

Enter path to directory, starting with domain directory: <domain_name>/<database_name>

If you are copy/pasting be careful not to introduce leading or trailing spaces.

The next prompt shows the full file path you have selected and asks you to confirm by typing “Y” (any other input will exit the program):

Path selected: 'mojap_derived_tables/models/<domain_name>/<database_name>'

Continue with selected path? Enter Y/n: Y

The final prompt shows the number of files selected and their paths and asks you to confirm by typing “Y”:

Files selected: 



Number of files selected: 3 Continue with selected files? Enter Y/n: Y

Upon entering “Y” the script starts to scan the files and make the required changes. There are three possibilities:

Scanning files...

Config block exists but no external location set for file: mojap_derived_tables/models/<domain_name>/<database_name>/<database_name__table_name_0>.sql Inserting external_location line into existing config block...

External location not set and no config block for file: mojap_derived_tables/models/<domain_name>/<database_name>/<database_name__table_name_1>.sql Inserting config block...

External location set correctly in config block - nothing to do for file: mojap_derived_tables/models/<domain_name>/<database_name>/<database_name__table_name_3>.sql

Once inserted the config block will look similar to this, but may include additional parameters that you have set previously:

{{ config(
) }}

Note that if there was no existing config block it is inserted at the top of the file, displacing (but not overwriting) any existing comments or code. Files are automatically saved once the changes are applied.

SQLFluff linting changes

As you may be aware we have had issues with SQLFluff being unable to cope with complex Jinja templating mostly in macros. The new generate_s3_location.sql macro is no exception and is added to the sqlfluffignore file so that it is skipped during linting. However, since all models now reference this macro SQLfluff throws the Undefined jinja template variable error. We cannot add all models to sqlfluffignore, hence to circumvent the perceived error please use the --ignore=templating option when running SQLFluff lint or fix, thus:

sqlfluff lint --ignore=templating path/to/files/to/lint

sqlfluff fix --ignore=templating path/to/files/to/lint/and/fix

Update your branch with the dbt-athena upgrade

As mentioned above we have created a branch containing all the upgrades called dbt-athena-update. While we are testing we may make changes to the dbt-athena-update branch which you will then need to merge into your branches. Whilst on the branch you want to update with the latest from dbt-athena-update run:

git fetch origin dbt-athena-update
git pull origin dbt-athena-update
git merge origin/dbt-athena-update

At this point you may have merge conflicts that need to be resolved; please see GitHub resolve merge conflicts. If required, ask for help on the #ask-data-modelling slack channel.

S3 location change for seeds

Previously the seed S3 location was split between the dev and prod environments and followed the same Hive style path naming convention as for models. It was not straightforward to preserve this feature with the dbt-athena-community adapter and since seeds change little it was not a priority.

The old directory structure for the mojap-derived-tables bucket is as below, with the seed directory appearing under both prod and dev directories. Note the database name is suffixed with _dev_dbt under the dev directory:

├── mojap_derived_tables
  ├── dev/
      ├── models/
      ├── run_artefacts/
      └── seeds/
          ├── domain_name=domain_one/
              ├── database_name=db_one_dev_dbt/
                  ├── table_name=tb_one
  ├── prod/
      ├── models/
      ├── run_artefacts/
      └── seeds/
          ├── domain_name=domain_one/
              ├── database_name=db_one/
                  ├── table_name=tb_one

The new directory structure has a single seeds directory at the same level as the prod and dev directories. A seed created on a dev run will appear under its database name suffixed with _dev_dbt, as before, but the Hive path naming convention is not upheld. Instead we use the naming option schema_table provided by dbt-athena-community which is simply <database_name>/<table_name>

├── mojap_derived_tables
  ├── dev/
  ├── prod/
  └── seeds/
      ├── database_one_dev_dbt/
          ├── table_one/
      ├── database_one/
          ├── table_one/

The changes to the S3 location should not have any impact on users, unless they have specifically referenced a seed by its S3 location. References in create-a-derived-table using the ref function will be unaffected as this uses Athena to reference the Glue Catalogue Registration, in the form <database_name.table_name>. The catalogue registrations will be updated with the new S3 locations automatically.


Unless stated otherwise, the codebase is released under the MIT License. This covers both the codebase and any sample code in the documentation.

The documentation is © Crown copyright and available under the terms of the Open Government 3.0 licence.

This page was last reviewed on 13 June 2023. It needs to be reviewed again on 13 June 2024 by the page owner #ask-data-modelling .
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