Creating an ERD for your dbt project

While the auto-generated documentation for your dbt project ships with a DAG view, sometimes, you really want to see an Entity Relation Diagram (ERD) of your project instead.

DAG of project:
The DAG shows the lineage of data.

ERD of project
An ERD shows how the tables relate to each other

At present, there’s no built-in way to do this in dbt, but we have an open issue here for the feature request.

So, how can you create an ERD outside of dbt?

Code libraries:

  • SchemaSpy: “Tangentially related for transactional DBs — highly recommend this project for Postgres, MySQL, and other relational DBs to auto generate navigable ERDs to a static website. I run this once a quarter on our Postgres DB and publish to an S3 bucket.” — Sean McIntyre
  • ERAlchemy (thanks @abelsonlive)

SaaS tools:

  • dbdiagram: Write relationships in code, that then get turned into a diagram.
  • SqlDBM: “SqlDBM is excellent and has reverse engineering from numerous databases, including Snowflake” — @gordonwong)

UI SaaS tools (i.e. manually drawing these diagrams)

A few words of warning though:

  1. ERD generators may not work with your analytics database. As @josh explains:

I think a lot of these tools work fairly well if the PK/FK relationships are stated in the database. And in a well-engineered OLTP system this is normally done. It makes a lot less sense to put the relationships in a Snowflake or a Redshift, because for the most part they are not enforced and it is not actually possible to enforce them. So it’s not nearly as common to do so. But the downside of that is that the tools like ERD drawers and BI tools have a lot harder time than deducing the table relationships.

  1. Separating your documentation from your codebase means one will always lag behind the other. As @Andrea writes:

I did make ERDs with Lucidchart for the data mart - didn’t add it to dbt but to the self-service how-to documentation I created in the BI tool we were using. I only did it for 5 rock solid essential time tested star schema tables that I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about editing a lot. Everything people are saying about maintaining documentation divorced from code absolutely applies here - check out this post on Locally Optimistic about “Why you don’t need a data dictionary” - it delves into some of the problems of documenting data.

If you have a tool you use for ERDs, feel free to add it in the comments! I also suspect there’s a way to parse the manifest.json file and use a language like dbdiagram’s database markup language to turn the relationships in your project into entity-relationships!

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