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Discovering and accessing data

Assuming you've learned the basics of how to track and version data with DVC, you might wonder: How can we access and use these artifacts outside of the DVC project? How do we download a model to deploy it? How to download a specific version of a model? How to reuse datasets across different projects?

These questions tend to come up when you browse the files that DVC saves to remote storage (e.g. s3://dvc-public/remote/get-started/fb/89904ef053f04d64eafcc3d70db673 ๐Ÿ˜ฑ instead of the original file name such as model.pkl or data.xml).

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Remember those .dvc files dvc add generates? Those files (and dvc.lock) have their history in Git. DVC's remote storage config is also saved in Git, and contains all the information needed to access and download any version of datasets, files, and models. It means that a Git repository with DVC files becomes an entry point, and can be used instead of accessing files directly.

Find a file or directory

You can use dvc list to explore a DVC repository hosted on any Git server. For example, let's see what's in the get-started/ directory of our dataset-registry repo:

$ dvc list https://github.com/iterative/dataset-registry get-started

The benefit of this command over browsing a Git hosting website is that the list includes files and directories tracked by both Git and DVC (data.xml is not visible if you check GitHub).


One way is to simply download the data with dvc get. This is useful when working outside of a DVC project environment, for example in an automated ML model deployment task:

$ dvc get https://github.com/iterative/dataset-registry \

When working inside another DVC project though, this is not the best strategy because the connection between the projects is lost โ€” others won't know where the data came from or whether new versions are available.

Import file or directory

dvc import also downloads any file or directory, while also creating a .dvc file (which can be saved in the project):

$ dvc import https://github.com/iterative/dataset-registry \
             get-started/data.xml -o data/data.xml

This is similar to dvc get + dvc add, but the resulting .dvc files includes metadata to track changes in the source repository. This allows you to bring in changes from the data source later using dvc update.

The dataset registry repository doesn't actually contain a get-started/data.xml file. Like dvc get, dvc import downloads from remote storage.

.dvc files created by dvc import have special fields, such as the data source repo and path (under deps):

+- path: get-started/data.xml
+  repo:
+    url: https://github.com/iterative/dataset-registry
+    rev_lock: 96fdd8f12c14fa58a1b7354f15c7adb50e4e8542
 - md5: 22a1a2931c8370d3aeedd7183606fd7f
   path: data.xml

The url and rev_lock subfields under repo are used to save the origin and version of the dependency, respectively.

Python API

It's also possible to integrate your data or models directly in source code with DVC's Python API. This lets you access the data contents directly from within an application at runtime. For example:

import dvc.api

with dvc.api.open(
) as f:
    # f is a file-like object which can be processed normally


You can add aliases and metadata for files and directories under the artifacts section of dvc.yaml. This can help you organize your artifacts, and you can use dvc artifacts get and dvc.api.artifacts_show() to retrieve them by their alias rather than their path.

Model/Artifact Registry

The DVC Studio model registry was built for models but since DVC tracks all kinds of files, it can be used just as easily for other artifact types. See our tutorial for how to manage artifacts using the registry.

Artifacts become more useful as part of the model registry, where semantic versions can be registered and lifecycle stages (think dev/test/prod) can be assigned using Git tags managed by GTO. These tags give you a full history of your model lifecycle in Git and enable you to trigger CICD workflows based on changes in the model registry. With DVC Studio, you can see models and their metadata across all projects, and you can download artifacts by name, version, and lifecycle stage, without needing to configure access to the underlying Git repository or remote storage.


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