Skip to main content


What is a model?

A model is a select statement. Models are defined in .sql files and each .sql file contains one model/select statement. The term ‘model’ is almost synonymous with ‘table’ and for the most part can be used interchangeably and thought of the same thing. The term ‘model’ is used because a model can be materialised in different ways; it can be ephemeral, a view, or indeed a table. More on materialisations later. From here on the term ‘model’ will be used instead of ‘table’.

Model properties

Resources in your project — models, seeds, tests, and the rest — can have a number of declared properties. Resources can also define configurations, which are a special kind of property that bring extra abilities. What’s the distinction?

  • Properties are declared for resources one-by-one in .yaml files. Configs can be defined there, nested under a config property. They can also be set one-by-one via a config() macro directly in model (.sql) files, and for many resources at once in dbt_project.yml.
  • Because configs can be set in multiple places, they are also applied hierarchically. An individual resource might inherit or override configs set elsewhere.
  • A rule of thumb: properties declare things about your project resources; configs go the extra step of telling dbt how to build those resources in Athena. This is generally true, but not always, so it’s always good to check!

For example, you can use resource properties to:

  • Describe models, snapshots, seed files, and their columns
  • Assert “truths” about a model, in the form of tests, e.g. “this id column is unique”
  • Define pointers to existing tables that contain raw data, in the form of sources, and assert the expected “freshness” of this raw data
  • Define official downstream uses of your data models, in the form of exposures

Whereas you can use configurations to:

  • Change how a model will be materialised (table, view, incremental, etc)
  • Overwrite where model or seed data will be written to
  • Declare whether a resource should persist its descriptions as comments in the database
  • Apply tags and “meta” properties

Where can I define configs?

Configure a whole directory of models, seeds, tests, etc. from the dbt_project.yml file, under the corresponding resource key (models:, seeds:, tests:, etc). In the example below the materialized: table configuration has been applied to the entire mojap_derived_tables project. The sentences/ and question_answers/ directories have schedule tags configured for all models in those respective directories. ⚠️ Only add configurations to your own work! ⚠️

    +materialized: table

        +tags: monthly

        +tags: weekly

Configure an individual model, seed, or test using a config property in a .yaml property file. This is the preferred method for applying configurations because it groups the configurations with defined properties for a given model, etc. and provides good visibility of what’s being applied. The below example applies the incremental materialisation and partitioned by configuration to the question_answer_fct model.

version: 2

models: - name: prison_safety_and_security__question_answer_fct description: The question and answer fact table. config: materialized: incremental incremental_strategy: append partitioned_by: ['snapshot_date'] +column_types: column_1: varchar(5) column_2: int

If for some reason it is not possible or reasonable to apply a configuration in a property file, you can use a config() Jinja macro within a model or test SQL file. The following example shows how the same configuration above can be applied in a model or test file.


Config inheritance

Configurations are prioritised in order of specificity, which is generally the inverse of the order above: an in-file config() block takes precedence over properties defied in a .yaml property file, which takes precedence over a configuration defined in the dbt_project.yml file. (Note that generic tests work a little differently when it comes to specificity. See dbt’s documentation on test configs.)


Materialisations are strategies for persisting dbt models in a warehouse. There are four types of materializations built into dbt. They are:

This page was last reviewed on 7 August 2023. It needs to be reviewed again on 7 August 2024 by the page owner #ask-data-modelling .
This page was set to be reviewed before 7 August 2024 by the page owner #ask-data-modelling. This might mean the content is out of date.