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A project is a minimally opinionated set of files that describe how to prepare one or more flow deployments. At a high level, a project is a directory with the following key files stored in the root:

  • deployment.yaml: a YAML file describing base settings for a deployment produced from this project
  • prefect.yaml: a YAML file describing procedural steps for preparing a deployment from this project, as well as instructions for preparing the execution environment for a deployment run
  • .prefect/: a hidden directory where Prefect will store workflow metadata

Projects can be initialized by running the CLI command prefect project init in any directory that you consider to be the root of a project.

Project recipes

Prefect ships with many off-the-shelf "recipes" that allow you to get started with more structure within your deployment.yaml and prefect.yaml files; run prefect project recipe ls to see what recipes are available in your installation. You can provide a recipe name in your initialization command with the --recipe flag, otherwise Prefect will attempt to guess an appropriate recipe based on the structure of your project directory (for example if you initialize within a git repository, Prefect will use the git recipe).

The Deployment YAML file

The deployment.yaml file contains default configuration for all deployments created from within this project; all settings within this file can be overridden via the prefect deploy CLI command when creating a deployment.

The base structure for deployment.yaml is as follows:

# base metadata
name: null
version: null
tags: []
description: null
schedule: null

# flow-specific fields
flow_name: null
entrypoint: null
parameters: {}
parameter_openapi_schema: null

# infra-specific fields
  name: null
  work_queue_name: null
  job_variables: {}

You can create deployments via the CLI command prefect deploy without ever needing to alter this file in any way - its sole purpose is for version control and providing base settings in the situation where you are creating many deployments from your project. As described below, when creating a deployment these settings are first loaded from this base file, and then any additional flags provided via prefect deploy are layered on top before registering the deployment with the Prefect API.

Templating Options

Values that you place within your deployment.yaml file can reference dynamic values in two different ways:

  • step outputs: every step of both build and push produce named fields such as image_name; you can reference these fields within deployment.yaml and prefect deploy will populate them with each call. References must be enclosed in double brackets and be of the form "{{ field_name }}"
  • blocks: Prefect blocks can also be referenced with the special syntax {{ prefect.blocks.block_type.block_slug }}; it is highly recommended that you use block references for any sensitive information (such as a GitHub access token or any credentials) to avoid hardcoding these values in plaintext

As an example, consider the following deployment.yaml file:

# base metadata
name: null
version: "{{ image_tag }}"
    - "{{ image_tag }}"
description: null
schedule: null

# flow-specific fields
flow_name: null
entrypoint: null
path: null
parameters: {}
parameter_openapi_schema: null

# infra-specific fields
  name: "my-k8s-work-pool"
  work_queue_name: null
    image: "{{ image_name }}"
    cluster_config: "{{ }}"

So long as our build steps produce fields called image_name and image_tag, every time we deploy a new version of our deployment these fields will be dynamically populated with the relevant values.

Docker step

The most commonly used build step is prefect_docker.projects.steps.build_docker_image which produces both the image_name and image_tag fields. For an example, check out the project tutorial.

The Prefect YAML file

The prefect.yaml file contains instructions for how to build and push any necessary code artifacts (such as Docker images) from this project, as well as instructions for pulling a deployment in remote execution environments (e.g., cloning a GitHub repository).

The base structure for prefect.yaml is as follows:

# generic metadata
prefect-version: null
name: null

# preparation steps
build: null
push: null

# runtime steps
pull: null

The metadata fields are always pre-populated for you and are currently for bookkeeping purposes only. The other sections are pre-populated based on recipe; if no recipe is provided, Prefect will attempt to guess an appropriate one based on local configuration. Each step has the following format:

      requires: "pip-installable-package-spec" # optional
      kwarg1: value
      kwarg2: more-values

Every step can optionally provide a requires field that Prefect will use to auto-install in the event that the step cannot be found in the current environment. The additional fields map directly onto Python keyword arguments to the step function. Within a given section, steps always run in the order that they are provided within the prefect.yaml file.

Step templating

Just as in deployment.yaml, step inputs can be templated with the outputs of prior steps or with block references.

For more information on the mechanics of steps, see below.

The Build Section

The build section of prefect.yaml is where any necessary side effects for running your deployments are built - the most common type of side effect produced here is a Docker image. If you initialize with the docker recipe, you will be prompted to provide required information, such as image name and tag:

$ prefect project init --recipe docker
>> image_name: < insert image name here >
>> tag: < insert image tag here >

Use --field to avoid the interactive experience

We recommend that you only initialize a recipe when you begin a project, and afterwards store your configuration files within version control; however, sometimes you may need to initialize programmatically and avoid the interactive prompts. To do so, provide all required fields for your recipe using the --field flag:

$ prefect project init --recipe docker \
    --field image_name=my-repo/my-image \
    --field tag=my-tag

- prefect_docker.projects.steps.build_docker_image:
    requires: prefect-docker>=0.2.0
    image_name: my-repo/my-image
    tag: my-tag
    dockerfile: auto

Once you've confirmed that these fields are set to their desired values, this step will automatically build a Docker image with the provided name and tag and push it to the repository referenced by the image name. As the documentation notes, this step produces a few fields that can optionally be used in future steps or within deployment.yaml as template values. It is best practice to use {{ image_name }} within deployment.yaml (specificially the work pool's job variables section) so that you don't risk having your build step and deployment specification get out of sync with hardcoded values. For a worked example, check out the project tutorial.


Note that in the build step example above, we relied on the prefect-docker package; in cases that deal with external services, additional packages are often required and will be auto-installed for you.

The Push Section

The push section is most critical for situations in which code is not stored on persistent filesystems or in version control. In this scenario, code is often pushed and pulled from a Cloud storage bucket of some kind (e.g., S3, GCS, Azure Blobs, etc.). The push section allows users to specify and customize the logic for pushing this project to arbitrary remote locations.

For example, a user wishing to store their project in an S3 bucket and rely on default worker settings for its runtime environment could use the s3 recipe:

$ prefect project init --recipe s3
>> bucket: < insert bucket name here >

Inspecting our newly created prefect.yaml file we find that the push and pull sections have been templated out for us as follows:

  - prefect_aws.projects.steps.push_project_to_s3:
      requires: prefect-aws>=0.3.0
      bucket: my-bucket
      folder: project-name
      credentials: null

  - prefect_aws.projects.steps.pull_project_from_s3:
      requires: prefect-aws>=0.3.0
      bucket: my-bucket
      folder: "{{ folder }}"
      credentials: null

The bucket has been populated with our provided value (which also could have been provided with the --field flag); note that the folder property of the push step is a template - the pull_project_from_s3 step outputs both a bucket value as well as a folder value that can be used to template downstream steps. Doing this helps you keep your steps consistent across edits.

As discussed above, if you are using blocks, the credentials section can be templated with a block reference for secure and dynamic credentials access:

  - prefect_aws.projects.steps.push_project_to_s3:
      requires: prefect-aws>=0.3.0
      bucket: my-bucket
      folder: project-name
      credentials: "{{ }}"

Anytime you run prefect deploy, this push section will be executed upon successful completion of your build section. For more information on the mechanics of steps, see below.

The Pull Section

The pull section is the most important section within the prefect.yaml file as it contains instructions for preparing this project for a deployment run. These instructions will be executed each time a deployment created wthin this project is run via a worker.

There are three main types of steps that typically show up in a pull section:

  • set_working_directory: this step simply sets the working directory for the process prior to importing your flow
  • git_clone_project: this step clones the provided repository on the provided branch
  • pull_project_from_{cloud}: this step pulls the project directory from a Cloud storage location (e.g., S3)

Use block and variable references

All block and variable references within your pull step will remain unresolved until runtime and will be pulled each time your deployment is run. This allows you to avoid storing sensitive information insecurely; it also allows you to manage certain types of configuration from the API and UI without having to rebuild your deployment every time.

The .prefect/ directory

In general this directory doesn't need to be altered or inspected by users (hence the fact that it is hidden); its only use case right now is storing the existence of known workflows within your project in the flows.json file. Workflows get registered into .prefect/flows.json through two mechanisms:

  • running prefect deploy with an entrypoint (e.g., prefect deploy ./path/to/ will automatically register this flow within this project
  • explicity running prefect project register-flow ./path/to/ allows users to register flows explicitly themselves

Registration of flows allows you to to deploy based on flow name reference using the --flow or -f flag of prefect deploy:

$ prefect deploy -f 'My Flow Name'

Registration also allows users to share their projects without requiring a full understanding of the project's file structure; for example, you can commit ./prefect/flows.json to a version control system, and allow users to deploy these flows without needing to know each flow's individual entrypoint.

Deployment mechanics

Anytime you run prefect deploy, the following actions are taken in order:

  • the project prefect.yaml file is loaded; first, the prefect.yaml build section is loaded and all variable and block references are resolved. The steps are then run in the order provided
  • next, the push section is loaded and all variable and block references are resolved; the steps within this section are then run in the order provided
  • next, the pull section is templated with any step outputs but is not run. Note that block references are not hydrated for security purposes - block references are always resolved at runtime
  • next, the project deployment.yaml file is loaded. All variable and block references are resolved. All flags provided via the prefect deploy CLI are then overlaid on the values loaded from the file.
  • the final step occurs when the fully realized deployment specification is registered with the Prefect API

Anytime a step is run, the following actions are taken in order:

  • The step's inputs and block / variable references are resolved (see the templating documentation above for more details)
  • The step's function is imported; if it cannot be found, the special requires keyword is used to install the necessary packages
  • The step's function is called with the resolved inputs
  • The step's output is returned and used to resolve inputs for subsequent steps