Importing a Data Dictionary in Alation 2023.3.2 and Later

Alation Cloud Service Applies to Alation Cloud Service instances of Alation

Customer Managed Applies to customer-managed instances of Alation

A new, faster, asynchronous data dictionary upload procedure is available from Alation version 2023.3.2. This capability is enabled by default on all Alation instances and supersedes the data dictionary functionality of the previous releases. Support for ER/Studio source files (.dm1 format) is not included in the new workflow.


To upload a data dictionary in Alation versions before 2023.3.2, see Importing a Data Dictionary in Alation 2023.3.1 and Earlier.

You can import a data dictionary into Alation to bulk-edit field values for a data object. Uploading a data dictionary can update the values of existing fields, but it cannot add fields to or remove fields from the data object templates.

Alation also offers APIs both for uploading a data dictionary and for uploading custom field values in bulk.

By uploading a data dictionary, you can:

  • Fill empty custom fields with new values from the imported dictionary.

  • Overwrite the existing field values with new ones from the imported dictionary.

The source file can be streamlined to include the keys of only those data objects that need to be updated and the fields to be updated. There is no need to import the full dictionary. For example, if you want to update only one field on one data object, you can create a source file that includes only the key of this data object, the name of the field to be updated, and the new value.

To import successfully, make sure your data dictionary CSV/TSV source file conforms to the Requirements for CSV/TSV Source Files.


If your source CSV file includes Unicode characters, make sure it is encoded in UTF-8.


Source files must have unique field names. Duplicate field names are not permitted and validation includes verifying imported field names against both custom field names and built-in field names. A warning message appears when an uploaded file conflicts with an existing field name.

Example: If you have a custom field called description included in the data dictionary file you are attempting to upload, you get an error because of the conflict with the built-in description field in the catalog.

Import a Data Dictionary from a CSV or TSV File

Users with the Composer, Steward, Source Admin, Catalog Admin, and Server Admin roles can perform a data dictionary upload. Both object-level and field-level permissions are taken into consideration when updates are requested.

If you are loading a large data dictionary and notice the upload taking an exceptionally long time, Alation version 2023.3.3 introduced an option to disable permission checks during the upload process and limit the upload dictionary functionality to Catalog Admins and Server Admins only. This option should be used with caution. To use this option, the feature flag alation.feature_flags.disable_perm_check_on_upload_dd can be set to True using alation_conf. For help with alation_conf, see Using alation_conf.


Alation Cloud Service customers can request server configuration changes through Alation Support.


The procedure described here is for updating an existing data source. If you are migrating information to a newly populated data source, see Data Migration.

To import a data dictionary from a CSV/TSV file:

  1. Sign in to Alation and open the catalog page of a data source, schema, or table.

  2. In the upper-right corner, click More, and then click Upload Dictionary. The Upload Dictionary page opens:

  3. Drag and drop your file in the drag-and-drop area, or press Click to upload your dictionary file. The maximum file size is 25MB. After you drag and drop or upload, Alation parses the source file and displays a dialog saying the file is being analyzed and the preview is being prepared:

  4. Click Check Status to see the current status, or continue working. An email will be sent to you when the analysis is complete. Click the View in Alation link in the email or click Check Status to view the preview table, which includes any errors that may have occurred as well as the pending changes:


    The preview shows what is going to be updated vs. what is going to be ignored:

    • The “active” values that are going to be updated appear in darker font color.

    • The “disabled” values that are going to be ignored or overwritten appear in lighter font color. If you switch between the upload options, the font color toggles between “active” and “disabled” values.

    Click Download Report to download the full preview report, or, if errors are present, you can choose to download only the errors. Correct any errors and re-upload the data dictionary before proceeding. You can also choose to proceed to the next step with open errors. The update will be performed on non-erroneous records.

  5. On the preview page, specify how existing field values are to be handled:

    • Keep Existing Values: If this option is selected, only the new values for empty fields are uploaded from the data dictionary. This option gives precedence to values that currently exist in the catalog over the values for these fields contained in the imported data dictionary. In other words, this option loads the new values for previously empty fields, and does not change the values that already exist in the catalog.

    • Replace Existing Values: If this option is selected, the values in the dictionary overwrite the values that currently exist in the catalog. This option uploads both the new values for empty fields and updates the existing values with values from the dictionary.

  6. Click Update Catalog to finish the import. A dialog appears informing you that this action cannot be canceled, and asking if you want to proceed. Click Yes to update the catalog.

  7. You see a message saying the catalog update is in process:


    Click Check Status to see the progress. If the update is complete, you see a message telling you so.

Data Migration

If you are migrating data curation from one data source to another, you perform the same steps as for updating a single data source, but you may need some additional preparation. If you are starting from a downloaded data dictionary, be aware that from Alation version 2023.3.2, those downloaded data dictionaries include a column al_datadict_item_properties, which contains object IDs that greatly facilitate efficient resolution of catalog updates through the dictionary upload. However, those object IDs may not be accurate in a different data source or instance. Thus, in the migration scenario, we recommend that you remove the al_datadict_item_properties column before uploading the edited data dictionary.

For users who attempted migration scenarios with a 2023.3.2 data dictionary and encountered errors, Alation offers two potential solutions:

  1. Update the data dictionary manually using the Requirements for CSV/TSV Source Files, in particular the advice to triple-quote (""") any value containing a period (.).

  2. Request a migration script from Alation Support; this requires two downloaded data dictionaries, one from the original data source and one from the target data source, and then matches objects and produces a final, uploadable data dictionary from the two.

Requirements for CSV/TSV Source Files

The source CSV/TSV file must include the head with field names in the required format and the field values for each of the data objects to be updated.

Custom Field Format for Upload

The definition for the Object Set custom field must include the name of the field and the object type of the value in the following format: "field name:object type".

When uploading values for the Object Set field, you need to be aware of the Permitted Types included into this field. Overall, an Object Set custom field can refer to any combination of the following object types:

  • Data source

  • Schema

  • Table

  • Column

  • User

  • Group

  • Article

  • Term (2023.3.4 and later)

  • Policy (2023.3.4 and later)

For each Permitted Object that can be included in the field, you will need to add the associated object type. Use the following definitions:

Alation Object

Associated object type to be used in CSV/TSV head

Object set value format


data source






















Group 1




Test Article








Customer Access Policy


  • As the name of the Object Set field in the source file, use its Name Singular property. From Alation version 2023.3.3, you can also specify the object set’s object ID, or a combination of the name and object ID, in the form object_id | object_name. Using an object ID can improve performance in updating from an uploaded data dictionary.

  • For each Permitted Type included in the field, add an individual entry to the head of the file. For example, if the object set field test can reference columns and articles, the head should include individual definitions for either columns (test:attribute) or articles (test:article) (if one type of value is being updated) or both (if both types of value are updated): test:attribute,test:article.

  • If you are uploading data object names as values, you need to use the qualified name of the object as the value, including the data source ID. For example:

    • 70.schema1 - value for schema1 in data source with id = 70

    • 70.schema1.tableA - value for table tableA in schema1 in data source with id = 70

    • 70.schema1.tableA.volleyball - value for column volleyball in tableA in schema1 in data source with id = 70


Assume that there is an Object Set field Test on the catalog page of a Data Source A. The field includes all Permitted Types.

You want to import values for this field using a data dictionary. The definition of the field Test that you need to include into the file head will look like this:


The actual values may look like this:

70,70.schema1,70.schema1.tableA,70.schema1.tableA.volleyball,Article About Schema1,qagroup,,Privacy,Customer Access Policy

Multiple values for the same object type should be separated by semicolons:


The definition for the People Set custom field must include the name of the field and the definition for the object name that is referenced by the value in the following format: field name:object type.

For People Set, you can use two object types:

  • user

  • groupprofile

Each of these types must have an individual entry in the file head.


Assume that there is a People Set field Expert on the catalog page of a Data Source A.

You want to import a value for this field Bill Travis. Bill has an account in Alation with the username

The definition of the field Expert that you need to include into the file head will look like this:


The actual value to be uploaded will look like this:

If the set of values to be uploaded includes both users and groups, then the head should include individual definitions for both the object types and will look like this:


The actual value to be uploaded will look like this:,qa group

Multiple values for one type of value must be separated by semicolons:;;

For the Reference type of field, the head must use the following format: field name:object type.

Permitted object types and the format are the same as for Object Set.

For the Picker type of field, the head must use the following format: field name.




Head requirements for this field type are the same as for Picker. Because there can be multiple values added to the field of this type, the multiple values must use the following format: "[""Value1"",""Value2"",""Value3""]".

The special value "[]" resets the value of the multipicker field.


The field Countries is a multi-select picker:

Head: countries

Values: "[""Germany"",""Canada"",""Korea""]"

For the Rich Text type of field, the head must use the following format: field name.

The value must use the value format. For example: This is a short summary.

For the Date type of field, the head must use the following format: field name.

The value must use the YYYY/MM/DD format. For example: 2019/02/17.

Formats Summary Table

Custom Field Type

Format for Head

Example for Head

Format for Uploaded Value

Value Example

Object Set

field name:permitted object type1 field name:permitted object type2

test:article test:attribute

value for object type1 value for object type2

nothing useful 70.uppercasedb1.mixedcase.volleyball

People Set

field name:user field name:groupprofile

steward:user steward:groupprofile

Alation username Alation group name


field name:permitted object type



nothing useful


field name




Multi-Select Picker

"field name"




Rich Text

field name



Here is a test summary


field name

creation date



Special Characters in Custom Field Names

The data dictionary upload process considers some characters as special for its own formatting. Custom field names containing such characters require special formatting:

  • If a custom field name contains a pipe (|) or colon (:) character, the whole field name should be wrapped in quotes ("").

  • If a custom field name contains a comma (,), the whole field name should be wrapped in quotes ("") and the comma should be escaped with a backslash (\).

The following table shows how some sample custom field names should appear on the column header line for different use cases:

Custom Field name

Column Header format



space separated custom field name

…,space separated custom field name,…

Role, Responsibility, Duty

…,”role\, responsibility\, duty”,…

Owner | Custodian (a people-set field)

…,”owner | custodian”:user,”owner | custodian”:groupprofile,…

Related: Objects (an object-set field)

…,”related: objects”:data,”related: objects”:schema,”related: objects”:glossary_term

Sample CSV

al_datadict_item_properties,al_datadict_item_column_data_type,key,title,description,contains pii,critical data element,data quality policies,data quality status,data quality summary,derived term:glossary_term,description,expert:groupprofile,expert:user,master/ref/transactional,migration type,pii classification,relevant data:article,relevant data:attribute,relevant data:business_policy,relevant data:glossary_term,relevant data:table,relevant policy:business_policy,rp gdpr processing basis,security classification,status,steward:groupprofile,steward:user,subject matter expert:groupprofile,subject matter expert:user
oid=2821;otype=table,,finance.fin_spnd_sgmnt,Financial Spend Segment,,,N/A,N/A,,,N/A,,N/A,N/A,N/A,,N/A,N/A,N/A,N/A,N/A,N/A,,,N/A,N/A,,,,
oid=41699;otype=attribute,INT,finance.fin_spnd_sgmnt.spnd_sgmnt_cd,Spend Segment Code,,,,,,N/A,,,,,,N/A,,,,,,,,N/A,,,,,N/A,N/A
oid=42379;otype=attribute,STRING,finance.fin_spnd_sgmnt.spnd_sgmnt_desc,Spend Segment Description,,,,,,N/A,,,,,,N/A,,,,,,,,N/A,,,,,N/A,N/A
oid=42148;otype=attribute,STRING,finance.fin_spnd_sgmnt.spnd_sgmnt_nm,Spend Segment Name,,,,,,N/A,,,,,,N/A,,,,,,,,N/A,,,,,N/A,N/A
oid=42723;otype=attribute,INT,finance.fin_spnd_sgmnt.spnd_sgmnt_sts,Spend Segment Status,,,,,,N/A,,,,,,N/A,,,,,,,,N/A,,,,,N/A,N/A


From version 2023.3.2, blanks (N/A, null, or empty values) in the uploaded data dictionary file are ignored, and removal of an existing value from any field is not supported. Previously, blanks in the uploaded data dictionary file would clear the corresponding existing values.