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Managing Dependencies in Apache Airflow


Dependencies are one of Airflow’s most powerful and popular features. In Airflow, your pipelines are defined as Directed, Acyclic Graphs (DAGs). If each task is a node in that graph, then dependencies are the directed edges that determine how you can move through the graph. Because of this, dependencies are key to following data engineering best practices because they help you define flexible pipelines with atomic tasks.

Throughout this guide, we’ll use the following terms to describe task dependencies:

  • Upstream task: A task that must reach a specified state before a dependent task can run
  • Downstream task: A dependent task that cannot run until an upstream task reaches a specified state

In this guide we’ll cover the many ways you can implement dependencies in Airflow, including:

  • Basic task dependencies
  • Dynamic dependencies
  • Dependencies with Task Groups
  • Dependencies with the TaskFlow API
  • Trigger rules

For a detailed presentation of all these topics, check out our webinar on managing dependencies in Airflow.

Note that this guide focuses on within-DAG dependencies (i.e. dependencies between tasks in the same DAG). If you are looking to implement dependencies between DAGs, check out our guide on cross-DAG dependencies.

Basic Dependencies

Basic dependencies between Airflow tasks can be set in two ways:

  • Using bitshift operators (<< and >>)
  • Using the set_upstream and set_downstream methods

For example, if we have a DAG with four sequential tasks, the dependencies can be set in four ways:

  • Using set_downstream():

  • Using set_upstream():

  • Using >>

    t0 >> t1 >> t2 >> t3
  • Using <<

    t3 << t2 << t1 << t0

All of these methods are equivalent, resulting in the following DAG:

Basic Dependencies

Which method you choose is a matter of personal preference, but we recommend using a single method consistently. For example, using both bitshift operators and set_upstream/set_downstream in your DAGs can overly-complicate your code.

What if we want to set a parallel dependency where two downstream tasks are dependent on the same upstream task? For this use case, we can use lists or tuples:

# Dependencies with lists
t0 >> t1 >> [t2, t3]

# Dependencies with tuples
t0 >> t1 >> (t2, t3)

These statements are equivalent and result in the following DAG:

List Dependencies

What if we want to set multiple parallel cross-dependencies? Unfortunately, Airflow can’t parse dependencies between two lists (e.g. [t0, t1] >> [t2, t3] throws an error). If you need to set dependencies in this manner, you can use Airflow’s chain function:

from airflow import DAG
from airflow.operators.dummy_operator import DummyOperator
from airflow.models.baseoperator import chain

with DAG('dependencies',
         ) as dag:

    t0 = DummyOperator(task_id='t0')
    t1 = DummyOperator(task_id='t1')
    t2 = DummyOperator(task_id='t2')
    t3 = DummyOperator(task_id='t3')
    t4 = DummyOperator(task_id='t4')
    t5 = DummyOperator(task_id='t5')
    t6 = DummyOperator(task_id='t6')

    chain(t0, t1, [t2, t3], [t4, t5], t6)

This code results in the following DAG:

Chain Dependencies

Note that with the chain function, any lists or tuples included must be of the same length.

Dynamic Dependencies

If you generate tasks dynamically in your DAG, you should also set dependencies dynamically to ensure they reflect any changes in the tasks. This is easy to accomplish: simply define the dependencies within the context of the code used to dynamically create the tasks.

For example, below we generate a set of parallel dynamic tasks by looping through a list of endpoints. We define the dependencies within the loop, which means every generate_file task is downstream of start and upstream of send_email.

with DAG('covid_data_to_s3') as dag:

    t0 = DummyOperator(task_id='start')

    send_email = EmailOperator(
        subject='Covid to S3 DAG',
        html_content='<p>The Covid to S3 DAG completed successfully. Files can now be found on S3. <p>'
    for endpoint in endpoints:
        generate_files = PythonOperator(
            op_kwargs={'endpoint': endpoint, 'date': date}
        t0 >> generate_files >> send_email

The resulting DAG looks like this:

Dynamic Dependencies

Dependencies with Task Groups

Task groups are a UI-based grouping concept available in Airflow 2.0+. For more information on task groups in general, including how to create them and when to use them, check out our task groups guide.

When working with task groups, it is important to note that dependencies can be set both inside and outside of the group. For example, in the DAG code below we have a start task, a task group with two dependent tasks, and an end task that need to happen sequentially. The dependencies between the two tasks in the task group are set within the task group’s context (t1 >> t2). The dependencies between the task group and the start/end tasks are set within the DAG’s context (t0 >> tg1 >> t3).

t0 = DummyOperator(task_id='start')

# Start Task Group definition
with TaskGroup(group_id='group1') as tg1:
    t1 = DummyOperator(task_id='task1')
    t2 = DummyOperator(task_id='task2')

    t1 >> t2
# End Task Group definition
t3 = DummyOperator(task_id='end')

# Set Task Group's (tg1) dependencies
t0 >> tg1 >> t3

This code results in the following DAG:

Task Group Dependencies

Dependencies with the TaskFlow API

The TaskFlow API, available in Airflow 2.0+, provides an easy way to turn Python functions into Airflow tasks using the @task decorator.

If your DAG has only Python functions that are all defined with the decorator, setting dependencies is as easy as invoking the Python functions. For example, in the DAG below we have two dependent tasks, get_testing_increases and analyze_testing_increases. To set the dependencies, we invoke the function analyze_testing_increases(get_testing_increase(state)):

from airflow.decorators import dag, task
from datetime import datetime

import requests
import json

url = ''
state = 'wa'

default_args = {
    'start_date': datetime(2021, 1, 1)

@dag('xcom_taskflow_dag', schedule_interval='@daily', default_args=default_args, catchup=False)
def taskflow():

    def get_testing_increase(state):
        Gets totalTestResultsIncrease field from Covid API for given state and returns value
        res = requests.get(url+'{0}/current.json'.format(state))
        return{'testing_increase': json.loads(res.text)['totalTestResultsIncrease']}

    def analyze_testing_increases(testing_increase: int):
        Evaluates testing increase results
        print('Testing increases for {0}:'.format(state), testing_increase)
        #run some analysis here

    # Invoke functions to create tasks and define dependencies

dag = taskflow()

The resulting DAG looks like this:

TaskFlow Dependencies

If your DAG has a mix of Python function tasks defined with decorators and tasks defined with traditional operators, you can set the dependencies by assigning the decorated task invocation to a variable and then defining the dependencies as you would normally. For example, in the DAG below the upload_data_to_s3 task is defined by the @task decorator and invoked with upload_data = upload_data_to_s3(s3_bucket, test_s3_key). That upload_data variable is then used in the last line to define dependencies.

with DAG('sagemaker_model',
         ) as dag:

    def upload_data_to_s3(s3_bucket, test_s3_key):
        Uploads validation data to S3 from /include/data 
        s3_hook = S3Hook(aws_conn_id='aws-sagemaker')

        # Take string, upload to S3 using predefined method

    upload_data = upload_data_to_s3(s3_bucket, test_s3_key)

    predict = SageMakerTransformOperator(

    results_to_redshift = S3ToRedshiftOperator(

    upload_data >> predict >> results_to_redshift

Trigger Rules

When you set dependencies between tasks, Airflow’s default behavior is to run a task only when all upstream tasks have succeeded. However, you can change this default behavior using trigger rules.

The options available are:

  • all_success: (default) The task runs only when all upstream tasks have succeeded.
  • all_failed: The task runs only when all upstream tasks are in a failed or upstream_failed state.
  • all_done: The task runs once all upstream tasks are done with their execution.
  • all_skipped: The task runs only when all upstream tasks have been skipped.
  • one_failed: The task runs as soon as at least one upstream task has failed.
  • one_success: The task runs as soon as at least one upstream task has succeeded.
  • none_failed: The task runs only when all upstream tasks have succeeded or been skipped.
  • none_failed_min_one_success: The task runs only when all upstream tasks have not failed or upstream_failed, and at least one upstream task has succeeded.
  • none_skipped: The task runs only when no upstream task is in a skipped state.
  • always: The task runs at any time.
  • dummy: Dependencies are just for show, trigger at will.

Branching and Trigger Rules

One common scenario where you might need to implement trigger rules is if your DAG contains conditional logic like branching. In these cases, one_success might be a more appropriate rule than all_success.

For example, in the following DAG we have a simple branch with a downstream task that needs to run if either of the branches are followed. With the all_success rule, the end task would never run because all but one of the branch tasks will always be skipped and therefore will not have a state of ‘success’. If we change the trigger rule to one_success, then the end task can run so long as one of the branches successfully completes.

import random
from airflow import DAG
from airflow.operators.dummy import DummyOperator
from airflow.operators.python import BranchPythonOperator
from datetime import datetime
from airflow.utils.trigger_rule import TriggerRule

def return_branch(**kwargs):
    branches = ['branch_0', 'branch_1', 'branch_2']
    return random.choice(branches)

with DAG(dag_id='branch',
         start_date=datetime(2021, 1, 1),
         ) as dag:

    start = DummyOperator(task_id='start')
    end = DummyOperator(

    branching = BranchPythonOperator(

    start >> branching

    for i in range(0, 3):
        d = DummyOperator(task_id='branch_{0}'.format(i))
        branching >> d >> end

This code results in the following DAG:

Branch Dependencies

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