A common question amongst database developers is “How do I get dates and time into and out of the database in the format my script/program/table expects?” This information is based on Oracle, however I expect much of this will apply to other databases.

About the DATE and TIMESTAMP datatypes: The DATE datatype is 7-bytes, comprised of date and time information to the precision of 1 second.
TIMESTAMP can be from 7 to 11 bytes depending on the precision specified. Timestamps can represent date and time as small as the nanosecond (.000000001 seconds) The default is to a microsecond of precision (.000001 seconds.)

Note: dual is a special table for testing and development. It’s useful for returning values (results from functions or contents of variables) not stored in tables, for instance the current date.

Let’s start with some information we can grab from the system about the current date and time.

SELECT sysdate FROM dual;

SYSDATE
---------
14-SEP-05


This simple select statement returns the date in the standard format (typically DD-MON-YY.)

SELECT systimestamp FROM DUAL;

SYSTIMESTAMP
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
14-SEP-05 04.06.31.264201 PM -04:00

Here we see that systimestamp reports more detail than sysdate, including the offset from GMT.

Displaying Dates

The to_char function will allow you to describe how you want dates displayed and will convert them to a character string in that format. The default in Oracle is DD-MON-YY. The default format can be changed by setting the nls_date_format parameter.

SELECT to_char(sysdate, 'MM/DD/YYYY') FROM dual;

TO_CHAR(SY
----------
09/14/2005

As seen here, the to_char function requires two parameters: a date to display, and the format you want it to be in. There are dozens of formatting options, but here are some common ones:

SELECT to_char(sysdate, 'MM/DD/YY') FROM dual;

09/14/05

SELECT to_char(sysdate, 'MM/DD/YYYY HH:MI:SS') FROM dual;

09/14/2005 04:09:03

SELECT to_char(sysdate, 'DAY, MONTH DD, HH12:MI AM') FROM dual;

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 04:09 PM

SELECT to_char(sysdate, 'YYYY BC') FROM dual;

2005 AD

SELECT to_char(systimestamp, 'HH24:MI:SS.FF3') FROM dual;

16:09:24.606

There are several more options than are displayed here. Your databases documentation should have a full list. These components can be used in any order or combination. These characters, as well as spaces can be used to format dates / . – : . ;

Inserting Dates

to_date works similarly to the to_char function above. You must specify a date, typically enclosed by single quotes, then describe the format with the date components as above. To demonstrate this we’ll create a table we can insert some dates into.

CREATE TABLE dates
(
entry NUMBER,
entry_date DATE,
CONSTRAINT pk_dates PRIMARY KEY (entry)
);

Now a few inserts:

INSERT INTO dates (entry, entry_date)
VALUES (1, sysdate);

Inserts the current date and time to the second.

INSERT INTO dates (entry, entry_date)
VALUES (2, to_date('09/27/05', 'MM/DD/YY'));

INSERT INTO dates (entry, entry_date)
VALUES (3, to_date('10/02/2005 10:05:33 PM', 'MM/DD/YYYY HH:MI:SS AM'));

INSERT INTO dates (entry, entry_date)
VALUES (4, to_date('17:01:24', 'HH24:MI:SS'));

INSERT INTO dates (entry, entry_date)
VALUES (5, to_date('Monday, September 12, 2:30 PM', 'DAY, MONTH DD, HH:MI AM'));

COMMIT;

Now let’s take a look at the data in the dates table:

SELECT entry, to_char(entry_date, 'MM/DD/YYYY HH:MI:SS AM')
FROM dates;

1 09/14/2005 09:08:32 PM
2 09/27/2005 12:00:00 AM
3 10/02/2005 10:05:33 PM
4 09/01/2005 05:01:24 PM
5 09/12/2005 02:30:00 PM

We can see that the current date and time was entered in entry 1 down to the second.

Entry 2 contains the date we entered, but since we did not specify the time it has defaulted to midnight.

Entry 3 shows a complete timestamp exactly as we specified.

In entry 4 we see the time as we specified, but since we didn’t specify a date it has defaulted to the first of this month. I have a feeling this varies from database to database. Probably best not to rely on this.

Entry 5 shows the date and time, however since we did not specify seconds they display as :00.

Comparing Dates

Dates can be compared much like other values. To demonstrate this we’ll do some quick selects on the table we just created.

select entry, to_char(entry_date, 'MM/DD/YYYY HH:MI:SS AM')
from dates
where entry_date > to_date('09/20/2005', 'MM/DD/YYYY');

2 09/27/2005 12:00:00 AM
3 10/02/2005 10:05:33 PM

select entry, to_char(entry_date, 'MM/DD/YYYY HH:MI:SS AM')
from dates
where entry_date < sysdate; 1 09/14/2005 09:08:32 PM 4 09/01/2005 05:01:24 PM 5 09/12/2005 02:30:00 PM select entry, to_char(entry_date, 'MM/DD/YYYY HH:MI:SS AM') from dates order by entry_date; 4 09/01/2005 05:01:24 PM 5 09/12/2005 02:30:00 PM 1 09/14/2005 09:08:32 PM 2 09/27/2005 12:00:00 AM 3 10/02/2005 10:05:33 PM

Those are the highlights. Most things you'll need to do will be some type of variation on these.

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