Building Snowflake CI/CD Pipelines with Azure DevOps and snowchange

Introduction

In this blog post I will provide step-by-step instructions for how to build a simple CI/CD pipeline for Snowflake with Azure DevOps. My hope is that this will provide you with enough details to get you started on your DevOps journey with Snowflake.

DevOps is concerned with automating the development, release and maintenance of software applications. As such, DevOps is very broad and covers the entire Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). The landscape of software tools used to manage the entire SDLC is complex since there are many different required capabilities/tools, including:

  • Requirements management
  • Project management (Waterfall, Agile/Scrum)
  • Source code management (Version Control)
  • Build management (CI/CD)
  • Test management (CI/CD)
  • Release management (CI/CD)

For this post I will focus primarily on automated release management for Snowflake by leveraging the Azure Pipelines service from Azure DevOps. Additionally, in order to manage the database objects/changes in Snowflake I will use the snowchange Database Change Management (DCM) tool.

Let’s begin with a brief overview of Azure DevOps and snowchange.

Azure DevOps Overview

“Azure DevOps provides developer services for support teams to plan work, collaborate on code development, and build and deploy applications. Developers can work in the cloud using Azure DevOps Services or on-premises using Azure DevOps Server.” (from Microsoft’s What is Azure DevOps?)

Azure DevOps provides a complete, end-to-end set of software development tools to manage the SDLC. In particular Azure DevOps provides the following services (from Microsoft’s What is Azure DevOps?):

  • Azure Repos provides Git repositories or Team Foundation Version Control (TFVC) for source control of your code
  • Azure Pipelines provides build and release services to support continuous integration and delivery of your apps
  • Azure Boards delivers a suite of Agile tools to support planning and tracking work, code defects, and issues using Kanban and Scrum methods
  • Azure Test Plans provides several tools to test your apps, including manual/exploratory testing and continuous testing
  • Azure Artifacts allows teams to share packages such as Maven, npm, NuGet and more from public and private sources and integrate package sharing into your CI/CD pipelines

If you’ve worked with Microsoft products for a while you will know that over time product names evolve. The first version of what is today called Azure DevOps was released on March 17, 2006 as a component of the Visual Studio 2005 Team System under the name Team Foundation Server (TFS). Over the years it has been known by various names including Team Foundation Server (TFS), Visual Studio Online (VSO), Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS), and Azure DevOps. For fun, here is the history of product names from Wikipedia’s Azure DevOps Server page:

As I mentioned in the introduction, for this blog post I will be focused on the Azure Pipelines service.

snowchange Overview

Database Change Management (DCM) refers to a set of processes and tools which are used to manage the objects within a database. It’s beyond the scope of this post to provide details around the challenges with and approaches to automating the management of your database objects. If you’re interested in more details, please see my blog post Embracing Agile Software Delivery and DevOps with Snowflake.

snowchange is a lightweight Python-based tool to manage all your Snowflake objects. It follows an imperative-style approach to database change management (DCM) and was inspired by the Flyway database migration tool. When snowchange is combined with a version control tool and a CI/CD tool, database changes can be approved and deployed through a pipeline using modern software delivery practices. For more information on snowchange, please see my blog post snowchange, a Database Change Management Tool.

Step-By-Step Guide

Alright, now for what you’ve been waiting for. I will now provide the step-by-step details for building your first Snowflake CI/CD pipeline in Azure DevOps. In particular, we are going to build an automated deployment pipeline with Azure Pipelines which will deploy database changes to Snowflake using the snowchange DCM tool.

The Azure DevOps Services can be found online at https://dev.azure.com/.

This post assumes that you have a basic working knowledge of Git repositories. You will need the following things before beginning:

  1. A Snowflake Account.
  2. A Snowflake Database named DEMO_DB.
  3. A Snowflake User created with appropriate permissions. This user will need permission to create objects in the DEMO_DB database.
  4. An Azure DevOps Services Account. If you don’t already have an Azure DevOps Services account you can create a Basic Plan for free. Click on the “Start free” button on the Azure DevOps Overview page.
  5. An Azure DevOps Organization. If you don’t already have an Organization created, log in to Azure DevOps and click on the “New organization” link in the left navigation bar.
  6. An Azure DevOps Project. If you don’t already have a Project created, log in to Azure DevOps, make sure the correct Organization is selected in the left navigation bar, and click on the “+ New project” button near the top right of the window. Keep the default setting for a Private project with Git version control.
  7. An Azure DevOps Git Repository. A Git repository should have automatically been created in your Project when the Project was created (and by default has the same name as the Project). If you don’t have one, or would like to create a new one, open the Project, click on “Repos” in the left navigation bar, click on the drop down arrow next to the current repository name in the top navigation bar breadcrumbs and click on “+ New repository”.
  8. Your favorite IDE with Git integration. If you don’t already have a favorite IDE that integrates with Git I would recommend the great, free, open-source Visual Studio Code.
  9. Your project repository cloned to your computer. For connection details about the Git repository in your project, open the Project and click on the “Repos” icon in the left navigation bar. If your repository is empty you will see the options for cloning to your computer. If your repository has files in it already you will see a “Clone” button near the top right of the window which will give you the options.

Open up your cloned repository in your favorite IDE and create a folder named “migrations”. In that new folder create a script named “V1.1.1__initial_objects.sql” (make sure there are two underscores after the version number) with the following contents:

Then commit the new script and push the changes to your Azure DevOps repository. Assuming you started from an empty repository, initialized with only a README.md file, your repository should look like this:

Libraries in the Azure Pipelines service are used to securely store variables and files which will be used in your CI/CD pipelines. In this step we will create a variable group to store all the parameters used by snowchange.

In the left navigation bar, click on “Pipelines” and then “Library”. On the Library page, the Variable groups tab should be selected. Click on the “+ Variable group” button. Name your variable group “demo-variables” and add the following variables to the group (adjusting the values as appropriate):

When you’re finished adding all the variables, don’t forget to click the “Save” icon below the name of the variable group. And for more details on how to structure the account name in SF_ACCOUNT, see the account name discussion in the Snowflake Python Connector install guide. Your variable group should look like this:

Note: For an even better solution to managing your secrets, you can leverage Azure Key Vault. See Link secrets from an Azure key vault for the details.

Pipelines in the Azure Pipelines service represent any automated pipeline, which includes both build and release pipelines. In this step we will create a deployment pipeline which will run snowchange and deploy changes to our Snowflake database.

In the left navigation bar, click on “Pipelines” and then “Pipelines”. Click on the “Create Pipeline” button (or “New pipeline” in the upper right if you already have another pipeline defined). On the first “Where is your code?” screen click on “Azure Repos Git”, then select your repository on the next screen. On the “Configure your pipeline” page select “Starter pipeline”. And on the final “Review your pipeline YAML page” copy and paste the following YAML pipeline definition (overwriting the sample pipeline code):

Finally, click on the “Save and run” near the top right of the window (and on the “Save and run” button in the pop up window). On the pipeline run overview page click on the “Job” job to see the output of each step in the pipeline. In particular, look through the “Bash” step logs to see the output from snowchange.

A few things to point out from the YAML pipeline definition:

  • The YAML pipeline definition is saved as a file in your repository. The default name is “azure-pipelines.yml” but that can (and should) be changed when you have multiple pipelines.
  • The trigger definition configures the pipeline to automatically run when a change is committed anywhere in the “migrations” folder on the “main” branch of the repository. So any change committed outside of that folder or in a different branch will not automatically trigger the pipeline to run.
  • Please note that if you are re-using an existing Azure DevOps Account and Organization your new Project Repository might retain the old “master” branch naming. If so, please update the YAML above (see the “trigger” section).
  • We’re using the default Microsoft-hosted Linux agent pool to execute the pipeline.
  • The “env” section of the Bash task allows us to set environment variables which will be available to the Bash script. In particular, this allows us to securely pass secret values (like the Snowflake password) to applications/scripts running in the pipeline like snowchange.

Note: Under Pipelines in the left navigation bar you will see both “Pipelines” and “Releases”. In earlier versions of the service build and release pipelines were separate and were created graphically using a UI. While these classic release pipelines can still be used, Azure DevOps is moving to a single pipeline definition using YAML.

Open up your cloned repository in your favorite IDE and create a script named “V1.1.2__updated_objects.sql” (make sure there are two underscores after the version number) in the same “migrations” folder with the following contents:

Then commit the new script and push the changes to your Azure DevOps repository. Because of the continuous integration trigger we created in the YAML definition, your pipeline should have automatically started a new run. Open up the pipeline, click on the newest run, then click on the “Job” job to see the output.

Next Steps

So now that you’ve got your first Snowflake CI/CD pipeline set up, what’s next? The software development life cycle, including CI/CD pipelines, gets much more complicated in the real-world. Best practices include adopting a branching strategy, pushing changes through a series of environments, and incorporating a comprehensive testing strategy, to name a few.

Branching strategies can be complex, but there are a few popular ones out there that can help get you started. To begin with I would recommend keeping it simple with GitHub flow (and see also an explanation of GitHub flow by Scott Chacon in 2011). Another simple framework to consider is GitLab flow.

In the real-world you will have multiple stages in your build and release pipelines. A simple, helpful way to think about stages in a deployment pipeline is to think about them as environments, such as dev, test, and prod. Your Azure Pipelines YAML definition file can be extended to include a stage for each of your environments. For more details around how to define stages, please refer to Azure DevOp’s Add stages, dependencies, & conditions page.

Testing is an important part of any software development process, and is absolutely critical when it comes to automated software delivery. But testing for databases and data pipelines is complicated and there are many approaches, frameworks, and tools out there. In my opinion, the simplest way to get started testing data pipelines is with dbt and the dbt Test features. Another popular Python-based testing tool to consider is Great Expectations.

With that you should now have a working CI/CD pipeline in Azure DevOps and some helpful ideas for next steps on your DevOps journey with Snowflake. Good luck!

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Jeremiah Hansen

Jeremiah Hansen

I’m currently a Senior Sales Engineer at Snowflake. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not represent the views or opinions of my employer.