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SQL models

SQL models are the main type of models used by SQLMesh. These models can be defined using either SQL or Python that generates SQL.

SQL-based definition

The SQL-based definition of SQL models is the most common one, and consists of the following sections:

  • The MODEL DDL
  • Optional pre-statements
  • A single query
  • Optional post-statements

These models are designed to look and feel like you're simply using SQL, but they can be customized for advanced use cases.

To create a SQL-based model, add a new file with the .sql suffix into the models/ directory (or a subdirectory of models/) within your SQLMesh project. Although the name of the file doesn't matter, it is customary to use the model's name (without the schema) as the file name. For example, the file containing the model sqlmesh_example.seed_model would be named seed_model.sql.

Example

-- This is the MODEL DDL, where you specify model metadata and configuration information.
MODEL (
  name db.customers,
  kind FULL,
);

/*
  Optional pre-statements that will run before the model's query.
  You should NOT do things that cause side effects that could error out when
  executed concurrently with other statements, such as creating physical tables.
*/
CACHE TABLE countries AS SELECT * FROM raw.countries;

/*
  This is the single query that defines the model's logic.
  Although it is not required, it is considered best practice to explicitly
  specify the type for each one of the model's columns through casting.
*/
SELECT
  r.id::INT,
  r.name::TEXT,
  c.country::TEXT
FROM raw.restaurants AS r
JOIN countries AS c
  ON r.id = c.restaurant_id;

/*
  Optional post-statements that will run after the model's query.
  You should NOT do things that cause side effects that could error out when
  executed concurrently with other statements, such as creating physical tables.
*/
UNCACHE TABLE countries;

MODEL DDL

The MODEL DDL is used to specify metadata about the model such as its name, kind, owner, cron, and others. This should be the first statement in your SQL-based model's file.

Refer to MODEL properties for the full list of allowed properties.

Optional pre/post-statements

Optional pre/post-statements can help prepare the model's query and execute "clean-up" actions after it has successfully executed, respectively. For example, you might create temporary views, set permissions, or evict previously cached tables from memory.

However, be careful not to run any statement that could conflict with the execution of another statement if the models run concurrently, such as creating a physical table.

Pre/post-statements are evaluated twice: when a model's table is created and when its query logic is evaluated. Since executing such statements more than once can have unintended side-effects, it is also possible to conditionally execute them depending on SQLMesh's runtime stage.

The model query

The model must contain a standalone query, which can be a single SELECT expression, or multiple SELECT expressions combined with the UNION, INTERSECT, or EXCEPT operators. The result of this query will be used to populate the model's table or view.

Python-based definition

The Python-based definition of SQL models consists of a single python function, decorated with SQLMesh's @model decorator. The decorator is required to have the is_sql keyword argument set to True to distinguish it from Python models that return DataFrame instances.

This function's return value serves as the model's query, and it must be either a SQL string or a SQLGlot expression. The @model decorator is used to define the model's metadata and, optionally its pre/post-statements that are also in the form of SQL strings or SQLGlot expressions.

Defining a SQL model using Python can be beneficial in cases where its query is too complex to express cleanly in SQL, for example due to having many dynamic components that would require heavy use of macros. Since Python-based models generate SQL, they support the same features as regular SQL models, such as column-level lineage, automatic change categorization, etc.

To create a Python-based model, add a new file with the .py suffix into the models/ directory (or a subdirectory of models/) within your SQLMesh project. The file naming conventions of Python-based models are similar to those of SQL-based models. Inside this file, define a function named entrypoint with a single evaluator argument, as shown in the example below.

Example

The following example demonstrates how the above db.customers model can be defined as a Python-based model using SQLGlot's Expression builder methods:

from sqlglot import exp

from sqlmesh.core.model import model
from sqlmesh.core.macro import MacroEvaluator

@model(
    "db.customers",
    is_sql=True,
    kind="FULL",
    pre_statements=["CACHE TABLE countries AS SELECT * FROM raw.countries"],
    post_statements=["UNCACHE TABLE countries"],
)
def entrypoint(evaluator: MacroEvaluator) -> str | exp.Expression:
    return (
        exp.select("r.id::int", "r.name::text", "c.country::text")
        .from_("raw.restaurants as r")
        .join("countries as c", on="r.id = c.restaurant_id")
    )

One could also define this model by simply returning a string that contained the SQL query of the SQL-based example. Strings used as pre/post-statements or return values in Python-based models will be parsed into SQLGlot expressions, which means that SQLMesh will still be able to understand them semantically and thus provide information such as column-level lineage.

Note: Since python models have access to the macro evaluation context (MacroEvaluator), they can also access model schemas through its columns_to_types method.

@model decorator

The @model decorator is the Python equivalent of the MODEL DDL. In addition to model metadata and configuration information, one can also set the keyword arguments pre_statements and post_statements to a list of SQL strings and/or SQLGlot expressions to define the pre/post-statements of the model, respectively.

Note: All of the metadata field names are the same as those in the MODEL DDL.

Automatic dependencies

SQLMesh parses your SQL, so it understands what the code does and how it relates to other models. There is no need for you to manually specify dependencies to other models with special tags or commands.

For example, consider a model with this query:

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SELECT employees.id
FROM employees
JOIN countries
  ON employees.id = countries.employee_id

SQLMesh will detect that the model depends on both employees and countries. When executing this model, it will ensure that employees and countries are executed first.

External dependencies not defined in SQLMesh are also supported. SQLMesh can either depend on them implicitly through the order in which they are executed, or through signals if you are using Airflow.

Although automatic dependency detection works most of the time, there may be specific cases for which you want to define dependencies manually. You can do so in the MODEL DDL with the dependencies property.

Conventions

SQLMesh encourages explicitly specifying the data types of a model's columns through casting. This allows SQLMesh to understand the data types in your models, and it prevents incorrect type inference. SQLMesh supports the casting format <column name>::<data type> in models of any SQL dialect.

Explicit SELECTs

Although SELECT * is convenient, it is dangerous because a model's results can change due to external factors (e.g., an upstream source adding or removing a column). In general, we encourage listing out every column you need or using create_external_models to capture the schema of an external data source.

If you select from an external source, SELECT * will prevent SQLMesh from performing some optimization steps and from determining upstream column-level lineage. Use an external model kind to enable optimizations and upstream column-level lineage for external sources.

Transpilation

SQLMesh leverages SQLGlot to parse and transpile SQL. Therefore, you can write your SQL in any supported dialect and transpile it into another supported dialect.

You can also use advanced syntax that may not be available in your engine of choice. For example, x::int is equivalent to CAST(x as INT), but is only supported in some dialects. SQLGlot allows you to use this feature regardless of what engine you're using.

Additionally, you won't have to worry about minor formatting differences such as trailing commas, as SQLGlot will remove them at parse time.

Macros

Although standard SQL is very powerful, complex data systems often require running SQL queries with dynamic components such as date filters. For example, you may want to change the date ranges in a between statement so that you can get the latest batch of data. SQLMesh provides these dates automatically through macro variables.

Additionally, large queries can be difficult to read and maintain. In order to make queries more compact, SQLMesh supports a powerful macro syntax as well as Jinja, allowing you to write macros that make your SQL queries easier to manage.