Menu
Share on

Introduction

Date and time data is commonly managed by database systems and is incredibly important, but can often be trickier to handle correctly than it initially appears. Databases must be able to store date and time data in clear, unambiguous formats, transform that data into user-friendly formats to interact with client applications, and perform time-based operations taking into account complexities like different timezones and changes in daylight savings time.

In this guide, we'll discuss some of the tools that MongoDB provides to work effectively with date and time data. We'll explore relevant data types, take a look at the operators and methods, and go over how to best use these tools to keep your date and time data in good order.

RELATED ON PRISMA.IO

If you are using MongoDB with Prisma, you can use the MongoDB connector to connect to and manage your database. Prisma's date type maps directly to MongoDB's Date type.

The MongoDB Date and Timestamp types

The DATE type in MongoDB can store date and time values as a combined unit.

Here, the left column represents the BSON (binary JSON) name for the data type and the second column represents the ID number associated with that type. The final "Alias" column represents the string that MongoDB uses to represent the type:

Type | Number | Alias |
------------------ | ------ | ------------ |
Date | 9 | "date" |

The BSON Date type is a signed 64-bit integer representing the number of milliseconds since the Unix epoch (Jan 1, 1970). Positive numbers represent the time elapsed since the epoch while negative numbers represent time moving backwards from the epoch.

Storing the date and time data as a large integer is beneficial because it:

  • allows MongoDB to store dates with millisecond precision
  • provides flexibility in how the date and time can be displayed

Because the date type does not store additional information like timezones, that context must be stored separately if it is relevant. MongoDB will store date and time information using UTC internally, but can easily convert to other timezones at time of retrieval as needed.

MongoDB also provides a Timestamp type that is mainly used internally:

Type | Number | Alias |
------------------ | ------ | ------------ |
Timestamp | 17 | "timestamp" |

Because this is mainly implemented to help coordinate internal processes like replication and sharding, you should probably not use this in your own application's logic. The date type can usually satisfy any requirements for times that you might have.

RELATED ON PRISMA.IO

When managing a MongoDB database with Prisma, the MongoDB Date type maps directly to the date type within Prisma.

How to create new dates

You can create a new Date object in two different ways:

  • new Date(): Returns a date and time as a Date object.
  • ISODate(): Returns a date and time as a Date object.

Both the new Date() and ISODate() methods produce a Date object that is wrapped in an ISODate() helper function.

Additionally, calling Date() function without the new constructor returns a date and time as as string instead of a Date object:

  • Date(): Returns a date and time as a string.

It is important to keep in mind this distinction between these two types as it affects what operations are available, the way the information is stored, and how much flexibility it will give you. In general, it's almost always best to store date information using the Date type and then format it for output as needed.

Let's take a look at how this works in a MongoDB shell session.

First, we can switch to a new temporary database and create three documents that each have a date field. We use a different method for populating the date field for each object:

use temp_db
db.dates.insertMany([
{
name: "Created with `Date()`",
date: Date(),
},
{
name: "Created with `new Date()`",
date: new Date(),
},
{
name: "Created with `ISODate()`",
date: ISODate(),
},
])
{
"acknowledged" : true,
"insertedIds" : [
ObjectId("62726af5a3dc7398b97e6e93"),
ObjectId("62726af5a3dc7398b97e6e94"),
ObjectId("62726af5a3dc7398b97e6e95")
]
}

By default, each of these mechanisms will store the current date and time. You can store a different date and time by adding an ISO 8601 formatted date string as an argument:

db.dates.insertMany([
{
name: "Future date",
date: ISODate("2040-10-28T23:58:18Z"),
},
{
name: "Past date",
date: new Date("1852-01-15T11:25"),
},
])

These will create a Date object at the appropriate date and time.

One thing to note is the inclusion of the trailing Z in the first new document above. This indicates that the date and time is being provided as UTC. Specifying the date without the Z will cause MongoDB interpret the input in relation to the current local time (though it will always convert and store it as a UTC date internally).

Validating the type of date objects

Next, we can display the resulting documents to see how MongoDB stored the date data:

db.dates.find().pretty()
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62726af5a3dc7398b97e6e93"),
"name" : "Created with `Date()`",
"date" : "Wed May 04 2022 12:00:53 GMT+0000 (UTC)"
}
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62726af5a3dc7398b97e6e94"),
"name" : "Created with `new Date()`",
"date" : ISODate("2022-05-04T12:00:53.307Z")
}
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62726af5a3dc7398b97e6e95"),
"name" : "Created with `ISODate()`",
"date" : ISODate("2022-05-04T12:00:53.307Z")
}
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62728b57a3dc7398b97e6e96"),
"name" : "Future date",
"date" : ISODate("2040-10-28T23:58:18Z")
}
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62728c5ca3dc7398b97e6e97"),
"name" : "Past date",
"date" : ISODate("1852-01-15T11:25:00Z")
}

As expected, the date fields that were populated with ISODate() and new Date() contain Date objects (wrapped in the ISODate helper). In contrast, the field populated by the bare Date() function call is stored as a string.

You can verify that which of the date fields contain an actual Date object by calling a map function over the collection. The map checks each date field to see if the object it stores is an instance of the Date type and displays the result in a new field called is_a_Date_object. Additionally, we will use the valueOf() method to show how each date field is actually stored by MongoDB:

db.dates.find().map(
function(date_doc) {
date_doc["is_a_Date_object"] = date_doc.date instanceof Date;
date_doc["date_storage_value"] = date_doc.date.valueOf();
return date_doc;
}
)
[
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62726af5a3dc7398b97e6e93"),
"name" : "Created with `Date()`",
"date" : "Wed May 04 2022 12:00:53 GMT+0000 (UTC)",
"is_a_Date_object" : false,
"date_storage_value" : "Wed May 04 2022 12:00:53 GMT+0000 (UTC)"
},
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62726af5a3dc7398b97e6e94"),
"name" : "Created with `new Date()`",
"date" : ISODate("2022-05-04T12:00:53.307Z"),
"is_a_Date_object" : true,
"date_storage_value" : 1651665653307
},
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62726af5a3dc7398b97e6e95"),
"name" : "Created with `ISODate()`",
"date" : ISODate("2022-05-04T12:00:53.307Z"),
"is_a_Date_object" : true,
"date_storage_value" : 1651665653307
},
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62728b57a3dc7398b97e6e96"),
"name" : "Future date",
"date" : ISODate("2040-10-28T23:58:18Z"),
"is_a_Date_object" : true,
"date_storage_value" : 2235081498000
},
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62728c5ca3dc7398b97e6e97"),
"name" : "Past date",
"date" : ISODate("1852-01-15T11:25:00Z"),
"is_a_Date_object" : true,
"date_storage_value" : -3722502900000
}
]

This confirms that the fields displayed as ISODATE(...) are instances of the Date type while the date created with the bare Date() function is not.

Additionally, the above output shows that objects stored with the Date type are recorded as signed integers. As expected, the date object associated with the date from 1852 is negative because it is counting backwards from January 1970.

Querying for date objects

If you have a collection with mixed representations of dates like this, you can query for fields that have a matching type using the $type operator.

For instance, to query for all of the documents where date is a Date object, you could type:

db.dates.find({
date: { $type: "date" },
}).pretty()
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62726af5a3dc7398b97e6e94"),
"name" : "Created with `new Date()`",
"date" : ISODate("2022-05-04T12:00:53.307Z")
}
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62726af5a3dc7398b97e6e95"),
"name" : "Created with `ISODate()`",
"date" : ISODate("2022-05-04T12:00:53.307Z")
}
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62728b57a3dc7398b97e6e96"),
"name" : "Future date",
"date" : ISODate("2040-10-28T23:58:18Z")
}
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62728c5ca3dc7398b97e6e97"),
"name" : "Past date",
"date" : ISODate("1852-01-15T11:25:00Z")
}

To find instances where the date field is stored as a string instead, type:

db.dates.find({
date: { $type: "string" },
}).pretty()
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62726af5a3dc7398b97e6e93"),
"name" : "Created with `Date()`",
"date" : "Wed May 04 2022 12:00:53 GMT+0000 (UTC)"
}

The Date type allows you to perform queries that understand the relationship between time units.

For instance, you can compare Date objects ordinally as you would with other types. To check for future dates, you could type:

db.dates.find({
date: {
$gt: new Date()
}
}).pretty()
{
"_id" : ObjectId("62728b57a3dc7398b97e6e96"),
"name" : "Future date",
"date" : ISODate("2040-10-28T23:58:18Z")
}

How to use Date type methods

You can operate on Date objects with a variety of included methods and operators. For instance, you can extract different date and time components from a date and print in many different formats.

A demonstration is probably the quickest way to showcase this functionality.

First, let's select the date from a document with a date object:

date_obj = db.dates.findOne({"name": "Future date"}).date

Now, we can select the date field and extract different components from it by calling various methods on the object:

date_obj.getUTCFullYear()
date_obj.getUTCMonth()
date_obj.getUTCDate()
date_obj.getUTCHours()
date_obj.getUTCMinutes()
date_obj.getUTCSeconds()
2040 // year
9 // month
28 // date
23 // hour
58 // minutes
18 // seconds

There are also companion methods that can be used to set the time by providing different time and date components. For example, you can change the year by calling the .setUTCFullYear() method:

date_obj.toString()
date_obj.setUTCFullYear(2028)
date_obj.toString()
date_obj.setUTCFullYear(2040)
Sun Oct 28 2040 23:58:18 GMT+0000 (UTC)
1856390298000 // integer stored for the new date value
Sat Oct 28 2028 23:58:18 GMT+0000 (UTC)
2235081498000 // integer stored for the restored date value

We can also cast the date into different formats for display:

date_obj.toDateString()
date_obj.toUTCString()
date_obj.toISOString()
date_obj.toLocaleDateString()
date_obj.toLocaleTimeString()
date_obj.toString()
date_obj.toTimeString()
Sun Oct 28 2040 // .toDateString()
Sun, 28 Oct 2040 23:58:18 GMT // .toUTCString()
2040-10-28T23:58:18.000Z // .toISOString()
10/28/2040 // .toLocaleDateString()
23:58:18 // .toLocaleTimeString()
Sun Oct 28 2040 23:58:18 GMT+0000 (UTC) // .toString()
23:58:18 GMT+0000 (UTC) // .toTimeString()

These are all mainly methods associated with JavaScript's Date type.

How to use MongoDB Date aggregation functions

MongoDB offers some other functions that can manipulate dates as well. One useful example of this is the $dateToString() aggregation function. You can pass call $dateToString() with a Date object, a format string specifier, and a timezone indicator. MongoDB will use the format string as a template to figure out how to output the given Date object with the timezone being used to offset the output from UTC correctly.

Here, we will format the dates in our dates collection using an arbitrary string. We'll also cast the dates to the New York timezone.

First, we need to remove any stray documents that might have saved the date field as a string:

db.dates.deleteMany({"date": {$type: "string"}})

Now we can run an aggregation with the $dateToString function:

db.dates.aggregate(
[
{
$project: {
"_id": 0,
"date": "$date",
"my_date": {
$dateToString: {
date: "$date",
format: "Day %d of Month %m (Day %j of year %Y) at %H hours, %M minutes, and %S seconds (timezone offset: %z)",
timezone: "America/New_York",
}
}
}
}
]
).pretty()
{
"date" : ISODate("2022-05-04T12:00:53.307Z"),
"my_date" : "Day 04 of Month 05 (Day 124 of year 2022) at 08 hours, 00 minutes, and 53 seconds (timezone offset: -0400)"
}
{
"date" : ISODate("2022-05-04T12:00:53.307Z"),
"my_date" : "Day 04 of Month 05 (Day 124 of year 2022) at 08 hours, 00 minutes, and 53 seconds (timezone offset: -0400)"
}
{
"date" : ISODate("2040-10-28T23:58:18Z"),
"my_date" : "Day 28 of Month 10 (Day 302 of year 2040) at 19 hours, 58 minutes, and 18 seconds (timezone offset: -0400)"
}
{
"date" : ISODate("1852-01-15T11:25:00Z"),
"my_date" : "Day 15 of Month 01 (Day 015 of year 1852) at 06 hours, 28 minutes, and 58 seconds (timezone offset: -0456)"
}

The $dateToParts() function is similarly useful. It can be used to decompose a Date field into its constituent parts.

For example, we can type:

db.dates.aggregate(
[
{
$project: {
_id: 0,
date: {
$dateToParts: { date: "$date" }
}
}
}
]
)
{ "date" : { "year" : 2022, "month" : 5, "day" : 4, "hour" : 12, "minute" : 0, "second" : 53, "millisecond" : 307 } }
{ "date" : { "year" : 2022, "month" : 5, "day" : 4, "hour" : 12, "minute" : 0, "second" : 53, "millisecond" : 307 } }
{ "date" : { "year" : 2040, "month" : 10, "day" : 28, "hour" : 23, "minute" : 58, "second" : 18, "millisecond" : 0 } }
{ "date" : { "year" : 1852, "month" : 1, "day" : 15, "hour" : 11, "minute" : 25, "second" : 0, "millisecond" : 0 } }

The MongoDB documentation on aggregation functions has information on additional functions you can use to manipulate Date objects for display or comparison.

Conclusion

In this guide, we covered some of the different ways that you can work with date and time data within MongoDB. Most temporal data should probably be stored in MongoDB's Date data type as this provides a good deal of flexibility when operating on the data or displaying it.

Getting familiar with how date and time data is stored internally, how to coerce it into desirable formats on output, and how to compare, modify, and decompose the data into useful chunks can help you solve many different problems. While date information can be challenging to work with, taking advantage of the available methods and operators can help mitigate some of the heavy lifting.

RELATED ON PRISMA.IO

If you're using MongoDB, checkout Prisma's MongoDB connector! You can use the Prisma Client to manage production MongoDB databases with confidence.

To get started working with MongoDB and Prisma, checkout our getting started from scratch guide or how to add to an existing project.

About the Author(s)
Justin Ellingwood

Justin Ellingwood

Justin has been writing about databases, Linux, infrastructure, and developer tools since 2013. He currently lives in Berlin with his wife and two rabbits. He doesn't usually have to write in the third person, which is a relief for all parties involved.