How to setup dbt DataOps with GitLab CI/CD for a Snowflake cloud data warehouse

Posted on Fri 05 June 2020 in Tools • 4 min read

If you are working with databases, you probably also work with SQL. Although SQL is simple to learn, you might already have asked yourself whether it wasn't possible to write object-oriented SQL...

There is: using dbt!

The data build tool (dbt) is "the T in ELT" - hence the "transform" in Extract Load Transform. If you are new to cloud data warehouses, ELT etc. you might want to read the article USING DBT TO EXECUTE ELT PIPELINES IN SNOWFLAKE.

However, to get up and running within 15 min with a simple dbt example and GitLab CI configuration, I invite you to read this article.

Local installation

First of all, create a new virtual environment of your choice to install dbt, for example using conda:

conda create -n dbt_test python=3.8

Then, install dbt using pip:

pip install dbt

When completed, you can create an example project:

dbt init dbt_test

BigQuery or snowflake config

If you do not yet have a cloud data warehouse I invite you to follow the official dbt tutorial to get started in which you will setup BigQuery. If you already have a cloud data warehouse, check out the supported databases.

Check out dbt's documentation on how to configure dbt profiles for snowflake.

It basically comes down to creating a ~/.dbt/profiles.yml with the following content:

  target: dev
      type: snowflake
      account: [account id]

      # User/password auth
      user: [username]
      password: [password]

      role: [user role]
      database: [database name]
      warehouse: [warehouse name]
      schema: [dbt schema]
      threads: [1 or more]
      client_session_keep_alive: False

This profile must be chosen in the dbt_project.yml:

# Name your project! Project names should contain only lowercase characters
# and underscores. A good package name should reflect your organization's
# name or the intended use of these models
name: 'snowflake_dbt_test'
version: '1.0.0'

# This setting configures which "profile" dbt uses for this project.
profile: 'my-snowflake-db'

# These configurations specify where dbt should look for different types of files.
# The `source-paths` config, for example, states that models in this project can be
# found in the "models/" directory. You probably won't need to change these!
source-paths: ["models"]
analysis-paths: ["analysis"]
test-paths: ["tests"]
data-paths: ["data"]
macro-paths: ["macros"]
snapshot-paths: ["snapshots"]

target-path: "target"  # directory which will store compiled SQL files
clean-targets:         # directories to be removed by `dbt clean`
    - "target"
    - "dbt_modules"

# Configuring models
# Full documentation:

# In this example config, we tell dbt to build all models in the example/ directory
# as tables. These settings can be overridden in the individual model files
# using the `{{ config(...) }}` macro.
      # Applies to all files under models/example/
          materialized: view

Write your first dbt models

Now that dbt is installed and you have configured it to use your cloud data warehouse credentials, let's build our first model.

Open the package dbt_test that you have previously created using dbt init.

Under models/example delete the existing sql files and instead create a simple.sql with a content similar to the following:


This query would be executed on the database that you configured in ~/.dbt/profiles.yml, thus creating a view called snowflake_dbt_test in the database.

Execute the dbt models locally

How to execute dbt and create this view in the database?

Well, activate your virtual environment (e.g. using conda activate dbt-test) and run the following command in your dbt package folder (.../dbt_test/):

dbt run

The command should run through without errors and you can check the given schema of the database for the newly created view snowflake_dbt_test.

GitLab CI/CD pipeline

You might want your dbt code to be run automatically in a CI/CD pipeline as part of DataOps.

First, create a repository on your GitLab instance and push your local code to it. Then, add your snowflake environment variables under Settings -> CI/CD -> Variables (Expand) by clicking on Add Variable:

GitLab CI/CD Snowflake environment variables

To load these environment variables into the pipeline, create the file profile/profiles.yml with the following content (inspired by GitLab's profiles.yml):

  target: dev
      type: snowflake
      threads: 1
      account: "{{ env_var('SNOWFLAKE_ACCOUNT') }}"
      user: "{{ env_var('SNOWFLAKE_USER') }}"
      password: "{{ env_var('SNOWFLAKE_PASSWORD') }}"
      database: "{{ env_var('SNOWFLAKE_TRANSFORM_DATABASE') }}"
      role: "{{ env_var('SNOWFLAKE_TRANSFORM_ROLE') }}"
      warehouse: "{{ env_var('SNOWFLAKE_TRANSFORM_WAREHOUSE') }}"
      schema: "{{ env_var('SNOWFLAKE_TRANSFORM_SCHEMA') }}"
      client_session_keep_alive: False

Now, add the following .gitlab-ci.yml within your GitLab repository:

image: python:latest


    - .cache/pip
    - venv/

  - python -V  # Print out python version for debugging
  - pip install virtualenv
  - virtualenv venv
  - source venv/bin/activate
  - pip install dbt
  - export CI_PROFILE_TARGET="--profiles-dir profile --target dev"

     dbt run $CI_PROFILE_TARGET 

When committing this change, the CI/CD pipeline should be automatically triggered. If all environment variables are set correctly and the dbt models worked locally, the pipeline should also succeed. Congratulations!


dbt stands for "data build tool" and can be described as "the T in ELT". It's a tool that is used by a growing community to write DRY SQL, create dbt packages and add DataOps to it.

With this article, you have locally installed it, built your own simple dbt model and connected and tested it on snowflake (or BigQuery).

Finally, you have set up a CI/CD pipeline on GitLab to complete the DataOps setup.

Now, if dbt rose your interest, join the dbt slack channel, the dbt discours or check out the information on how the GitLab Data Team leverages dbt for more detailed insights in how dbt can be used.

See you in the community!