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Using dbt with Dagster, part three: Define assets upstream of your dbt models#

This is part three of the Using dbt with Dagster assets tutorial.

By this point, you've set up a dbt project and loaded dbt models into Dagster as assets.

However, the tables at the root of the pipeline are static: they're dbt seeds, CSVs that are hardcoded into the dbt project. In a more realistic data pipeline, these tables would typically be ingested from some external data source, for example by using a tool like Airbyte or Fivetran, or by Python code.

These ingestion steps in the pipeline often don't make sense to define inside dbt, but they often still do make sense to define as Dagster assets. You can think of a Dagster asset definition as a more general version of a dbt model. A dbt model is one kind of asset, but another kind is one that's defined in Python, using Dagster's Python API. The dbt integration reference page includes a section that outlines the parallels between dbt models and Dagster asset definitions.

In this section, you'll replace the raw_customers dbt seed with a Dagster asset that represents it. You'll write Python code that populates this table by fetching data from the web. This will allow you to launch runs that first execute Python code to populate the raw_customers table and then invoke dbt to populate the downstream tables.


Step 1: Install the Pandas and DuckDB Python libraries#

The Dagster asset that you write will fetch data using Pandas and write it out to your DuckDB warehouse using DuckDB's Python API. To use these, you'll need to install them:

pip install pandas duckdb pyarrow

Step 2: Define an upstream Dagster asset#

To fetch the data the dbt models require, we'll write a Dagster asset for raw_customers. We'll put this asset in our file, inside the jaffle_dagster directory. This is the file that contains the code that defines our dbt models, which we reviewed at the end of the last section. Copy and paste this code to overwrite the existing contents of that file:

import os

import duckdb
import pandas as pd
from dagster import AssetExecutionContext, asset
from dagster_dbt import DbtCliResource, dbt_assets

from .constants import dbt_manifest_path, dbt_project_dir

duckdb_database_path = dbt_project_dir.joinpath("tutorial.duckdb")

def raw_customers(context: AssetExecutionContext) -> None:
    data = pd.read_csv("")
    connection = duckdb.connect(os.fspath(duckdb_database_path))
    connection.execute("create schema if not exists jaffle_shop")
        "create or replace table jaffle_shop.raw_customers as select * from data"

    # Log some metadata about the table we just wrote. It will show up in the UI.
    context.add_output_metadata({"num_rows": data.shape[0]})

def jaffle_shop_dbt_assets(context: AssetExecutionContext, dbt: DbtCliResource):
    yield from dbt.cli(["build"], context=context).stream()

Let's review the changes we made:

  1. At the top, we added imports for pandas and duckdb, which we use for fetching data into a DataFrame and writing it to DuckDB.

  2. We added a duckdb_database_path variable, which holds the location of our DuckDB database. Remember that DuckDB databases are just regular files on the local filesystem. The path is the same path that we used when we configured our profiles.yml file. This variable is used in the implementations of the raw_customers asset.

  3. We added a definition for the raw_customers table by writing a function named raw_customers and decorating it with the @asset decorator. We labeled it with compute_kind="python" to indicate in the Dagster UI that this is an asset defined in Python. The implementation inside the function fetches data from the internet and writes it to a table in our DuckDB database. Similar to how running a dbt model executes a select statement, materializing this asset will execute this Python code.

Finally, let's update the assets argument of our Definitions object, in, to include the new asset we just defined:

import os

from dagster import Definitions
from dagster_dbt import DbtCliResource

from .assets import jaffle_shop_dbt_assets, raw_customers
from .constants import dbt_project_dir
from .schedules import schedules

defs = Definitions(
    assets=[raw_customers, jaffle_shop_dbt_assets],
        "dbt": DbtCliResource(project_dir=os.fspath(dbt_project_dir)),

Step 3: In the dbt project, replace a seed with a source#

  1. Because we're replacing it with a Dagster asset, we no longer need the dbt seed for raw_customers, so we can delete it:

    cd ..
    rm seeds/raw_customers.csv
  2. Instead, we want to tell dbt that raw_customers is a table that is defined outside of the dbt project. We can do that by defining it inside a dbt source.

    Create a file called sources.yml inside the models/ directory, and put this inside it:

    version: 2
      - name: jaffle_shop
          - name: raw_customers
                asset_key: ["raw_customers"] # This metadata specifies the corresponding Dagster asset for this dbt source.

This is a standard dbt source definition, with one addition: it includes metadata, under the meta property, that specifies the Dagster asset that it corresponds to. When Dagster reads the contents of the dbt project, it reads this metadata and infers the correspondence. For any dbt model that depends on this dbt source, Dagster then knows that the Dagster asset corresponding to the dbt model should depend on the Dagster asset corresponding to the source.

  1. Then, update the model that depends on the raw_customers seed to instead depend on the source. Replace the contents of model/staging/stg_customers.sql with this:

    with source as (
        Use source instead of seed:
        select * from {{ source('jaffle_shop', 'raw_customers') }}
    renamed as (
            id as customer_id,
        from source
    select * from renamed

Step 4: Materialize the assets using the Dagster UI#

If the Dagster UI is still running from the previous section, click the "Reload Definitions" button in the upper right corner. If you shut it down, then you can launch it again with the same command from the previous section:


Our raw_customers model is now defined as a Python asset. We can also see that assets downstream of this new Python asset, such as stg_customers and customers, are now marked stale because the code definition of raw_customers has changed.

Asset group with dbt models and Python asset

Click the Materialize all button. This will launch a run with two steps:

  • Run the raw_customers Python function to fetch data and write the raw_customers table to DuckDB.
  • Run all the dbt models using dbt build, like in the last section.

If you click to view the run, you can see a graphical representation of these steps, along with logs.

Run page for run with dbt models and Python asset

What's next?#

At this point, you've built and materialized an upstream Dagster asset, providing source data to your dbt models. In the last section of the tutorial, we'll show you how to add a downstream asset to the pipeline.