Deployments are server-side representations of flows. They store the crucial metadata needed for remote orchestration including when, where, and how a workflow should run. Deployments elevate workflows from functions that you must call manually to API-managed entities that can be triggered remotely.
Here we will focus largely on the metadata that defines a deployment and how it is used. Different ways of creating a deployment populate these fields differently.
Every Prefect deployment references one and only one "entrypoint" flow (though that flow may itself call any number of subflows). Different deployments may reference the same underlying flow, a useful pattern when developing or promoting workflow changes through staged environments.
The complete schema that defines a deployment is as follows:
Structure of the schema defining a deployment
# required defining data
path: str = None
# workflow scheduling and parametrization
parameters: dict = None
parameter_openapi_schema: dict = None
schedule: Schedule = None
is_schedule_active: bool = True
trigger: Trigger = None
# metadata for bookkeeping
version: str = None
description: str = None
tags: list = None
# worker-specific fields
work_pool_name: str = None
work_queue_name: str = None
infra_overrides: dict = None
pull_steps: dict = None
All methods for creating Prefect deployments are interfaces for populating this schema. Let's look at each section in turn.
Deployments universally require both a
name and a reference to an underlying
In almost all instances of deployment creation, users do not need to concern themselves with the
flow_id as most interfaces will only need the flow's name.
Note that the deployment name is not required to be unique across all deployments but is required to be unique for a given flow ID.
As a consequence, you will often see references to the deployment's unique identifying name
For example, triggering a run of a deployment from the Prefect CLI can be done via:
prefect deployment run my-first-flow/my-first-deployment
The other two fields are less obvious:
path: the path can generally be interpreted as the runtime working directory for the flow. For example, if a deployment references a workflow defined within a Docker image, the
pathwill be the absolute path to the parent directory where that workflow will run anytime the deployment is triggered. This interpretation is more subtle in the case of flows defined in remote filesystems.
entrypoint: the entrypoint of a deployment is a relative reference to a function decorated as a flow that exists on some filesystem. It is always specified relative to the
path. Entrypoints use Python's standard path-to-object syntax (e.g.,
The entrypoint must reference the same flow as the flow ID.
Note that Prefect requires that deployments reference flows defined within Python files. Flows defined within interactive REPLs or notebooks cannot currently be deployed as such. They are still valid flows that will be monitored by the API and observable in the UI whenever they are run, but Prefect cannot trigger them.
Deployments do not contain code definitions
Deployment metadata references code that exists in potentially diverse locations within your environment; this separation of concerns means that your flow code stays within your storage and execution infrastructure and never lives on the Prefect server or database.
This is the heart of the Prefect hybrid model: there's a boundary between your proprietary assets, such as your flow code, and the Prefect backend (including Prefect Cloud).
Scheduling and parametrization¶
One of the primary motivations for creating deployments of flows is to remotely schedule and trigger them. Just as flows can be called as functions with different input values, so can deployments be triggered or scheduled with different values through the use of parameters.
The six fields here capture the necessary metadata to perform such actions:
schedule: a schedule object. Most of the convenient interfaces for creating deployments allow users to avoid creating this object themselves. For example, when updating a deployment schedule in the UI basic information such as a cron string or interval is all that's required.
trigger(Cloud-only): triggers allow you to define event-based rules for running a deployment. For more information see Automations.
parameter_openapi_schema: an OpenAPI compatible schema that defines the types and defaults for the flow's parameters. This is used by both the UI and the backend to expose options for creating manual runs as well as type validation.
parameters: default values of flow parameters that this deployment will pass on each run. These can be overwritten through a trigger or when manually creating a custom run.
enforce_parameter_schema: a boolean flag that determines whether the API should validate the parameters passed to a flow run against the schema defined by
Scheduling is asynchronous and decoupled
Because deployments are nothing more than metadata, runs can be created at anytime. Note that pausing a schedule, updating your deployment, and other actions reset your auto-scheduled runs.
Versioning and bookkeeping¶
Versions, descriptions and tags are omnipresent fields throughout Prefect that can be easy to overlook. However, putting some extra thought into how you use these fields can pay dividends down the road.
version: versions are always set by the client and can be any arbitrary string. We recommend tightly coupling this field on your deployments to your software development lifecycle. For example if you leverage
gitto manage code changes, use either a tag or commit hash in this field. If you don't set a value for the version, Prefect will compute a hash
description: the description field of a deployment is a place to provide rich reference material for downstream stakeholders such as intended use and parameter documentation. Markdown formatting will be rendered in the Prefect UI, allowing for section headers, links, tables, and other formatting. If not provided explicitly, Prefect will use the docstring of your flow function as a default value.
tags: tags are a mechanism for grouping related work together across a diverse set of objects. Tags set on a deployment will be inherited by that deployment's flow runs. These tags can then be used to filter what runs are displayed on the primary UI dashboard, allowing you to customize different views into your work. In addition, in Prefect Cloud you can easily find objects through searching by tag.
All of these bits of metadata can be leveraged to great effect by injecting them into the processes that Prefect is orchestrating. For example you can use both run ID and versions to organize files that you produce from your workflows, or by associating your flow run's tags with the metadata of a job it orchestrates. This metadata is available during execution through Prefect runtime.
Everything has a version
Deployments aren't the only entity in Prefect with a version attached; both flows and tasks also have versions that can be set through their respective decorators. These versions will be sent to the API anytime the flow or task is run and thereby allow you to audit your changes across all levels.
Workers and Work Pools¶
Workers and work pools are an advanced deployment pattern that allow you to dynamically provision infrastructure for each flow run. In addition, the work pool job template interface allows users to create and govern opinionated interfaces to their workflow infrastructure. To do this, a deployment using workers needs to evaluate the following fields:
work_pool_name: the name of the work pool this deployment will be associated with. Work pool types mirror infrastructure types and therefore the decision here affects the options available for the other fields.
work_queue_name: if you are using work queues to either manage priority or concurrency, you can associate a deployment with a specific queue within a work pool using this field.
infra_overrides: often called
job_variableswithin various interfaces, this field allows deployment authors to customize whatever infrastructure options have been exposed on this work pool. This field is often used for things such as Docker image names, Kubernetes annotations and limits, and environment variables.
pull_steps: a JSON description of steps that should be performed to retrieve flow code or configuration and prepare the runtime environment for workflow execution.
Pull steps allow users to highly decouple their workflow architecture. For example, a common use of pull steps is to dynamically pull code from remote filesystems such as GitHub with each run of their deployment.
For more information see the guide to deploying with a worker.
Two approaches to deployments¶
There are two primary ways to deploy flows with Prefect, differentiated by how much control Prefect has over the infrastructure in which the flows run.
In one setup, deploying Prefect flows is analogous to deploying a webserver - users author their workflows and then start a long-running process (often within a Docker container) that is responsible for managing all of the runs for the associated deployment(s).
In the other setup, you do a little extra up-front work to setup a work pool and a base job template that defines how individual flow runs will be submitted to infrastructure. Workers then take these job definitions and submit them to the appropriate infrastructure with each run.
Both setups can support production workloads. The choice ultimately boils down to your use case and preferences. Read further to decide which setup is right for your situation.
Serving flows on long-lived infrastructure¶
Once you have authored your flow and decided on its deployment settings as described above, all that's left is to run this long-running process in a location of your choosing. The process will stay in communication with the Prefect API, monitoring for work and submitting each run within an individual subprocess. Note that because runs are submitted to subprocesses, any external infrastructure configuration will need to be setup beforehand and kept associated with this process.
This approach has many benefits:
- Users are in complete control of their infrastructure, and anywhere the "serve" Python process can run is a suitable deployment environment.
- It is simple to reason about.
- Creating deployments requires a minimal set of decisions.
- Iteration speed is fast.
However, there are a few reasons you might consider running flows on dynamically provisioned infrastructure with workers and work pools instead:
- Flows that have expensive infrastructure needs may be more costly in this setup due to the long-running process.
- Flows with heterogeneous infrastructure needs across runs will be more difficult to configure and schedule.
- Large volumes of deployments can be harder to track.
- If your internal team structure requires that deployment authors be members of a different team than the team managing infrastructure, the work pool interface may be preferred.
Dynamically provisioning infrastructure with workers¶
Work pools and workers allow Prefect to exercise greater control of the infrastructure on which flows run. This setup allows you to essentially "scale to zero" when nothing is running, as the worker process is lightweight and does not need the same resources that your workflows do.
With this approach:
- You can configure and monitor infrastructure configuration within the Prefect UI.
- Infrastructure is ephemeral and dynamically provisioned.
- Prefect is more infrastructure-aware and therefore collects more event data from your infrastructure by default.
- Highly decoupled setups are possible.
Of course, complexity always has a price. The worker approach has more components and may be more difficult to debug and understand.
You don't have to commit to one approach
You are not required to use only one of these approaches for your deployments. You can mix and match approaches based on the needs of each flow. Further, you can change the deployment approach for a particular flow as its needs evolve. For example, you might use workers for your expensive machine learning pipelines, but use the serve mechanics for smaller, more frequent file-processing pipelines.