DBT ETL: Learn How It Works for Building Data Pipelines

CEO, Portable

What is DBT (data build tool)?

Data engineers and analysts may construct, manage, and maintain data pipelines in a version-controlled and collaborative environment by utilizing DBT, an open-source data transformation and modeling tool.

It is made for modern data warehouses and gives a structured and scalable way to transform and evaluate data in SQL-based data warehouses like Snowflake, BigQuery, AWS Redshift, and others.

DBT is a powerful command line tool for data engineering and data analytics workflows because it lets data teams build scalable data pipelines and data models that are easy to update and test.

What is DBT used for? Why use DBT?

In data engineering workflows, DBT is used for tasks like transforming data and making models of it. Some of the most popular ways to use DBT are:

Validating data: 

Data engineers may verify the accuracy and security of data as part of the data transformation process thanks to built-in facilities for data validation in DBT. This aids in ensuring the accuracy and consistency of the data in the data pipelines.

Data transformation: 

Data engineers can use DBT to transform unstructured raw data into data that has been cleaned, organized, and validated for use in downstream analytics and reporting. It has strong SQL-based transformation capabilities that enable sophisticated data aggregations, filtering, and validation.

Data modeling: 

DBT enables data engineers to build data models that incorporate intricate data transformations and calculations, giving data analysts and business users a semantic layer to work with while analyzing data. Since DBT defines data models as code, version control, testing, and documentation are made simple.


DBT enables an agile method for the building of data pipelines by providing a collaborative environment for data engineers and data analysts to work together. Version control, documentation, and testing are all feasible, which makes it easier for team fellows to collaborate and work together.

Data integration: 

DBT is used to assemble data from several sources and convert it to a single format for analysis. Data denormalization, data enrichment, and other difficult data integration scenarios can all be handled by it.

Several factors support the adoption of DBT:

Version control: 

Data pipelines using DBT may be managed with version control, making it simple to interact with other team members and keep track of changes.

Modularity and reuse: 

DBT enables data engineers to build reusable SQL-based models that are simple to share and use across many projects and data pipelines, resulting in quicker development and simpler maintenance.

Testing and documentation: 

Data teams can assess data quality, record data transformations, and guarantee data accuracy and consistency thanks to DBT's built-in testing and documentation tools.


DBT is appropriate for processing big data in contemporary data warehouses because it is built to handle large-scale data transformation and modeling operations.


DBT enables a fluid process for the building of data pipelines by providing a collaborative environment for data engineers and analysts to work together.

DBT can assist data teams in creating reliable, scalable, and maintainable data pipelines for effective data transformation and modeling jobs by utilizing these characteristics.

What makes DBT different from other tools?

dbt's major features distinguish it from other data transformation tools:

Focus on SQL-based transformations: 

dbt employs SQL to define data transformations, making it familiar to SQL-savvy data analysts and engineers. This helps teams integrate dbt into their data transformation workflows by leveraging their SQL skills.

Modularity and reusability: 

dbt uses "macros" and "models" for data transformations. Macros are SQL code snippets that can be reused across transformations, while models define transformation logic and data table relationships. This streamlines data pipeline creation and team communication.

Version control and collaboration: 

dbt works with version control systems like Git, allowing data teams to cooperate on data transformation projects in an organized manner. This improves team cooperation, versioning, change tracking, and data pipeline change management.

Documentation as code: 

dbt makes data pipeline documentation easier by writing data transformations as code. This documentation-as-code approach offers version-controlled documentation, automatic generation, and greater code-documentation alignment.

Testing and validation: 

dbt allows data teams to test and validate data transformations. This helps identify data quality issues early in the pipeline, lowering the chance of inaccurate results or insights from defective data.

Community-driven and extensible: 

dbt is constantly improving thanks to its active user and contributor community. dbt can also be extended with custom macros, models, and plugins to meet users' data transformation needs.

Data teams seeking a scalable and collaborative data transformation solution like dbt's SQL-based approach, modularity, version control integration, documentation-as-code, testing and validation tools, community-driven nature, and extensibility.

What are common use cases for dbt?

DBT is used in data engineering and analytics across many industries. Real-world DBT uses include:

Data warehouse automation: 

DBT automates data transformation and loading into data warehouses like Snowflake, BigQuery, Redshift, and others. Data engineers can use DBT to acquire data from source systems, validate and clean it, and load it into a data warehouse for study and reporting.

Data pipeline optimization: 

DBT can optimize data pipelines by processing incremental data changes rather than the entire dataset. Data engineers can use DBT to implement incremental data loading methods like CDC (Change Data Capture) or delta processing to process massive volumes of data rapidly and efficiently.

Data modeling and aggregation: 

DBT can develop data models with complex data transformations and aggregations, allowing data analysts and business users a semantic layer to analyze data. Data engineers can use DBT to model financial reporting, product performance, and consumer segmentation.

Data validation and quality management: 

DBT's built-in data validation tools let data engineers check data quality and integrity throughout data transformation. DBT can profile data, validate data against business standards, and check data consistency and completeness.

Data consolidation and integration: 

DBT can aggregate and format data from multiple sources for analysis. Data engineers can use DBT to merge data from several sources, enrich data, or denormalize data for reporting.

Data lineage and cataloging: 

DBT can trace data lineage, record data transformations, and catalog metadata to simplify complex data pipelines. DBT can track data model changes, provide a data catalog for data discovery and governance, and document data transformations.

Collaboration and version control: 

DBT allows data engineers and analysts to work together to construct data pipelines. DBT can help data engineers and analysts collaborate on data models, version control data pipelines, and approve modifications.

These are only some DBT applications. Data engineering and analytics roles in banking, e-commerce, healthcare, marketing, and more use DBT. It's flexible and versatile.

What are DBT models, and how can they optimize ETL data pipelines?

In the DBT (Data Build Tool), DBT models define the transformations and aggregations needed to turn raw data into analytics-ready data. DBT projects use modular, reusable SQL queries to define DBT models.

DBT models optimize ETL data pipelines in numerous ways:

Incremental processing: 

DBT models can process data incrementally rather than the complete dataset. Only updated data needs to be processed, which reduces data transformation time and resources.

Data engineers can employ DBT models to develop CDC (Change Data Capture) or delta processing strategies, which optimize the ETL pipeline by processing only data changes since the last processing run.

Reusability and modularity: 

Data engineers can describe common data transformations and aggregations as reusable building pieces in DBT models. This encourages code reuse and lowers effort, making data pipeline maintenance easier. 

Data lineage and impact analysis: 

DBT models record data transformations and aggregations. This shows data flow across the ETL pipeline and lets you analyze data model changes.

Data engineers and analysts can use DBT models to track data lineage, evaluate model relationships, and determine how changes affect downstream data pipelines, optimizing the ETL process for data governance and lineage documentation.

Version control and collaboration: 

Data engineers and analysts can collaborate on DBT models using version control systems like Git. Version management allows data model tracking, rollback to earlier versions, and team cooperation throughout data pipeline development and deployment.

Data teams can use version control with DBT models to manage changes, cooperate on data pipeline creation, and assure ETL process consistency and repeatability across environments, improving the ETL process for team collaboration and version management.

Testing and validation: 

DBT allows data engineers to test and validate data during the ETL process. DBT models might include data validation rules and tests to verify data quality during data transformation. Data engineers can optimize ETL data quality management by using DBT models to validate data completeness, accuracy, and consistency.

DBT models enable data engineers to create effective and scalable data transformation processes that provide analytics-ready data for data analysis and reporting by defining, managing, and optimizing ETL data pipelines.

What are some important DBT automation features?

DBT's automation tools streamline and optimize data pipeline development:

Incremental builds: 

DBT only processes and transforms changed data since the last run. This reduces ETL pipeline overhead and speeds up data processing for high volumes.

Version control: 

DBT supports Git for collaborative data pipeline code development. This streamlines data pipeline development by tracking changes, collaborating, and managing history.


DBT provides SQL code parameterization and dynamic generation. Reusable and parameterized SQL code simplifies complex data transformation logic with templating.


DBT can automatically test data quality, consistency, and correctness. This ensures data transformation accuracy and reduces downstream data errors and inconsistencies.

Documentation generation: 

DBT automatically develops data model descriptions, column information, and relationships. This simplifies and documents data pipeline logic, enhancing data lineage, governance, and understanding.

DAG (Directed Acyclic Graph) Visualization: 

DBT displays data pipeline dependencies as a DAG, helping users comprehend data flow and model dependencies. This aids in debugging, performance improvement, and data pipeline management.

Task Orchestrators Integration: 

DBT can be connected with task orchestrators like Apache Airflow to automate data pipeline job scheduling, monitoring, and problem management. End-to-end data pipeline orchestration and management simplify complex data workflow automation.


DBT can be customized through plugins and macros. DBT can be tailored to data pipeline needs and integrated with other data ecosystem technologies.

DBT's automation capabilities boost data pipeline productivity, dependability, and maintainability, letting data engineers focus on data transformation logic and data quality rather than repetitive chores or manual operations.

How can data engineers get started with DBT?

Data engineers can start dbt with these steps:

Install and set up DBT: 

Install dbt on your computer or server. dbt's installation and setup documentation covers dependencies, configuration, and data warehouse or database connection.

DBT basics: 

Dbt fundamentals include macros, models, and projects. Discover how dbt integrates with Git and employs SQL to describe data transformations. Dbt documentation and tutorials (The "Getting Started Tutorial" from dbt Labs) describe the program's primary features and functions.

Create a DBT project: 

Create a dbt project by initializing a repository with the dbt init command. This generates the setup, sample model, and documentation files for a dbt project.

Define data models: 

Define SQL data models in your dbt project's models/ directory. dbt data models represent SQL transformations like aggregations, joins, and filters. Utilize macros, which are reusable SQL code snippets, to develop modular and reusable transformations.

Configure and run DBT: 

Specify database connections, data warehouse configurations, and other project-specific settings in the dbt_project.yml file. Use dbt run to execute your data models and apply transformations. To comprehend the documentation-as-code technique in dbt, examine the generated documentation.

Test and validate data: 

Validate data transformations with dbt's built-in testing and validation tools. Using dbt's testing macros, define tests in your data models and use the test command to verify data transformation.

Collaborate and iterate: 

Work with your team to interact and iterate using dbt's version control and collaboration features. Use Git to version control your project with the documentation-as-code, change management, and team collaboration capabilities from dbt.

Investigate advanced features: 

After learning the basics of dbt, investigate advanced capabilities like custom macros, models, and plugins to customize it for your data engineering needs.

Join the active DBT community: 

Use the dbt Slack channel, GitHub repository, and other community resources to learn, ask questions, and share experiences.

Data engineers may design scalable and maintainable data pipelines with dbt by following these steps.

What are the benefits of using DBT for data pipeline development?

Data pipeline construction with dbt has many advantages:


dbt lets you define data models and transformations as modular, reusable code. This encourages code reuse, avoids duplication, and simplifies data pipeline maintenance and evolution.

SQL-based Transformations: 

Data engineers and analysts are familiar with SQL, which dbt employs to define data transformations. This makes dbt data pipeline development and maintenance easy with SQL abilities.

Version Control Integration: 

dbt interacts effortlessly with version control systems (VCS) like Git, making data pipeline code management collaborative and versioned. Teams may collaborate, log changes, and roll back to prior versions, assuring code integrity and repeatability.


dbt lets you document data models, transformations, and pipelines using Markdown or other documentation languages.

This makes it easy to maintain up-to-date documentation with your code, fostering good documentation standards and helping team members understand and use data pipelines.

Testing and Validation: 

dbt's testing macros let you validate data pipelines and discover mistakes early in development. This improves data quality, integrity, and production difficulties.

dbt encourages teamwork. Code review, shared models, and documentation make it easier for team members to collaborate, evaluate code changes, and share knowledge, improving team productivity.

Community and Ecosystem: 

The dbt community actively develops, supports, and shares knowledge. This community-driven method improves and updates dbt and provides data pipeline development resources, tools, and best practices.


dbt supports massive data pipelines and complicated data operations. Incremental processing materialized views, and parallelization enables efficient and scalable data pipeline construction.

Data pipelines developed using dbt are more efficient, manageable, collaborative, scalable, well-documented, and high-quality, improving data operations and analytics.

What are the drawbacks of using DBT for data integration?

DBT has several data integration benefits, but it also has drawbacks:

Limited data source support: 

DBT's SQL-based data transformations may not work with all data sources. DBT may require unique integrations or other tools to extract and preprocess data from non-SQL sources like NoSQL databases, APIs, or flat files.

Learning curve: 

For data engineers experienced with SQL, DBT has a modest learning curve, but for individuals unfamiliar with SQL or data modeling concepts, it may take time to learn and adopt. DBT for data integration may require training and onboarding.

Limited data orchestration capabilities: 

Data pipeline scheduling, monitoring, and error handling are not included in DBT, which focuses on data transformation and modeling. This may require extra tools or data platforms for end-to-end data pipeline orchestration, which might complicate data integration procedures.


DBT is efficient for smaller to medium-sized data pipelines, but it may have scalability issues for very big data integration apps. Performance and scalability may suffer as data volumes and transformation complexity increase, requiring optimization and tuning.

Lack of real-time processing:  

DBT is built for batch data processing; hence, it may not be suited for real-time data integration scenarios that demand near real-time or streaming data processing. Real-time data integration and processing may require special tools or technology.

Reliance on SQL: 

DBT uses SQL-flavored syntax for data transformations, which may not be suited for all data engineers or businesses that prefer other programming languages or data modeling methodologies.

DBT may not be the optimal data integration tool if your staff is unfamiliar with SQL or prefers other programming languages.

Dependencies on external systems: 

DBT stores and processes data in data warehouses or lakes. This means that external system limits or difficulties can affect DBT data pipeline performance and reliability.

Before choosing DBT as your data integration solution, thoroughly assess your data integration tasks' requirements and limits and determine if it meets your needs and resources.


Is DBT a data transformation tool?

Data analytics and data engineering use dbt, an open-source data transformation tool. It leverages SQL for data conversions and has modularity, version control integration, documentation-as-code, testing and validation, and a vibrant community.

Data engineers can create data models, conduct SQL-based transformations, validate data, communicate, and use version control to scale and maintain data pipelines using dbt. Dbt (data build tool) turns data analysts become engineers and gives them control over the analytics engineering cycle.

Is DBT considered an ETL tool?

DBT is an ETL tool. DBT is optimized for ETL data transformation and modeling activities. DBT extracts data from multiple sources, transforms it using SQL-based transformations, and loads it into target destinations for analysis or storage.

DBT supports ETL procedures with data modeling, validation, version control integration, automation, and documentation. DBT is used with other ETL tools or data integration platforms to expedite data processing and preparation during the ETL process.

Is DBT better for ETL or ELT?

DBT is better for ELT workflows, where data is extracted from source systems, put into a target data store, and converted into the desired format for analysis and reporting.

DBT can be used in ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) workflows, but its main focus is data transformation and modeling, making it more suited for ELT workflows where data transformation is a crucial stage in data integration. ETL or ELT depends on your data integration workflow's requirements, architecture, and DBT's role.

Is DBT open source?

dbt, an open-source data transformation tool, is used in data analytics and data engineering. Its open-source Apache 2.0 license allows for free use, modification, and distribution.

Because dbt is open source, a vibrant community of users and contributors participates actively in its development, support, and knowledge exchange. This allows dbt to adapt to data engineering demands and promotes data engineering innovation and collaboration.

Is DBT cloud-based?

DBT is not necessarily cloud-based. It is open-source software that may be installed on local development environments or cloud-based virtual machines or containers.

dbt Cloud is a cloud-based platform that hosts, manages, and fully features dbt projects. Fishtown Analytics offers a paid service with a web-based interface, version control integration, scheduling, and automation, logging and monitoring, and collaboration features.

How much does DBT cost?

DBT is a completely free and open-source utility. DBT may need cloud computing or server hosting charges to host and operate its infrastructure, depending on your environment.

Third-party plugins and services operated with DBT may incur additional costs. DBT is free, but deployment setup and plugins may be charged.

What is DBT in software engineering?

DBT (Data Build Tool) transforms and models data for software engineering workflows. DBT's SQL-based approach, modular structure, version control integration, and automation can be used in software engineering projects.

DBT helps software engineers expedite data transformation activities, construct reproducible and version-controlled data pipelines, and cooperate with data engineers, analysts, and other stakeholders in a unified workflow.

Software developers can improve project efficiency, maintainability, and scalability by integrating DBT into their processes for data transformation, version control, documentation, and collaboration.

What is DBT in data warehousing?

For data warehousing, DBT is a potent data transformation and modeling utility. DBT supports Snowflake, BigQuery, AWS Redshift, and other technologies for SQL-based data warehouses.

DBT's modularity, version control integration, and automation allow data warehousing teams to accelerate data transformation, maintain data quality, and develop reproducible data pipelines. DBT helps data warehousing teams handle complicated data transformations, increase performance through incremental builds and caching, and collaborate with other teams in a unified workflow.

DBT improves data pipeline efficiency, maintainability, and scalability in data warehousing environments.

What is DBT in data science?

Data transformation and modeling tool DBT can be used in data science workflows. DBT's SQL-based approach, modular structure, version control integration, and automation can be used in data science projects.

DBT can assist data scientists expedite data pretreatment, develop reproducible and version-controlled data pipelines, and cooperate with data engineers and analysts in a unified workflow.

Data scientists can improve project efficiency and maintainability by integrating DBT into their processes for data transformation, version control, documentation, and collaboration.

Why is DBT valuable for data teams?

DBT (Data Build Tool) makes data pipelines for analytics and reporting easier to construct and manage by automating data transformation and modeling. Data teams may use their SQL abilities and DBT's data lineage, testing, and documentation tools. DBT's modular, version-controlled methodology simplifies teamwork and data quality standards.

Performance can be enhanced and data processing overhead can be decreased in DBT by incremental builds and caching. DBT increases the effectiveness, agility, and collaboration of data pipeline development and data operations processes.

Can DBT be used with SQL?

DBT can model and manipulate data using SQL. DBT allows SQL-based data modeling, transformation, and test definitions. DBT provides advanced SQL capabilities, including Jinja templating for dynamic SQL generation and parameterization, making it a useful tool for SQL-based data warehouse platforms like Snowflake, BigQuery, Redshift, and others.

DBT's SQL-centric approach lets data engineers and analysts use their SQL talents in data modeling and transformation operations.

What are some tooling decisions that should be made when using DBT for ETL?

ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) processes utilizing dbt require numerous toolset decisions. Key choices:

Database or Data Warehouse: 

Select a database or data warehouse to store converted data. dbt works with Snowflake, BigQuery, Redshift, and others. Scalability, performance, cost, and data storage should be considered.

Source Data Integration: 

Determine how to integrate source data with dbt. dbt's built-in data connectors or third-party tools like Singer, Fivetran, or Apache Airflow may extract data from databases, APIs, or files and load it for transformation.

Version Control System: 

Use Git to handle dbt projects. Data pipeline collaboration, change management, and reproducibility require version control. Decide on the proper branching approach, pull request method, and code review workflow that best meets your team's needs.

Dbt project development environment: 

Choose one. dbt can run locally, on a dedicated server, or in a container. Choose a development, security, and scalability environment that fits your team.

IDE or Editor: 

Write and manage dbt code in an IDE or code editor. VSCode, PyCharm, and dbt Cloud offer dbt syntax highlighting code completion, and debugging.

Testing and Validation Tools: 

Choose tools to verify dbt data transformations. dbt has testing macros, but you can also use Great Expectations or custom validation scripts to validate changed data.

Documentation Platform: 

Select a platform for dbt project docs. dbt supports documentation-as-code, letting you use Markdown or other languages to document data models, transformations, and pipelines. GitHub, GitLab, or dbt Cloud can host and manage your dbt docs.

These tooling choices ensure that your dbt-based ETL procedures are efficient, scalable, maintainable, and well-documented, creating robust and dependable data pipelines.

Check out our related ETL resources