Date and time

Domains: Javascript

Let's meet a new built-in object: Date. It stores the date, time and provides methods for date/time management.

For instance, we can use it to store creation/modification times, to measure time, or just to print out the current date.


To create a new Date object call new Date() with one of the following arguments:

new Date() : Without arguments - create a Date object for the current date and time:

let now = new Date();
alert( now ); // shows current date/time

new Date(milliseconds) : Create a Date object with the time equal to number of milliseconds (1/1000 of a second) passed after the Jan 1st of 1970 UTC+0.

// 0 means 01.01.1970 UTC+0
let Jan01_1970 = new Date(0);
alert( Jan01_1970 );

// now add 24 hours, get 02.01.1970 UTC+0
let Jan02_1970 = new Date(24 * 3600 * 1000);
alert( Jan02_1970 );

The number of milliseconds that has passed since the beginning of 1970 is called a *timestamp*.

It's a lightweight numeric representation of a date. We can always create a date from a timestamp using new Date(timestamp) and convert the existing Date object to a timestamp using the date.getTime() method (see below).

new Date(datestring) : If there is a single argument, and it's a string, then it is parsed with the Date.parse algorithm (see below).

```js run
let date = new Date("2017-01-26");
alert(date); // Thu Jan 26 2017 ...

new Date(year, month, date, hours, minutes, seconds, ms) : Create the date with the given components in the local time zone. Only two first arguments are obligatory.


  • The year must have 4 digits: 2013 is okay, 98 is not.
  • The month count starts with 0 (Jan), up to 11 (Dec).
  • The date parameter is actually the day of month, if absent then 1 is assumed.
  • If hours/minutes/seconds/ms is absent, they are assumed to be equal 0.

For instance:

	new Date(2011, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0); // // 1 Jan 2011, 00:00:00
new Date(2011, 0, 1); // the same, hours etc are 0 by default

The minimal precision is 1 ms (1/1000 sec):

	let date = new Date(2011, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 567);
alert( date ); // 1.01.2011, 02:03:04.567

Access date components

There are many methods to access the year, month and so on from the Date object. But they can be easily remembered when categorized.

  • getFullYear() : Get the year (4 digits)
  • getMonth() : Get the month, from 0 to 11.
  • getDate() : Get the day of month, from 1 to 31, the name of the method does look a little bit strange.
  • getHours(), getMinutes(), getSeconds(), getMilliseconds() : Get the corresponding time components.

Not getYear(), but getFullYear()

Many JavaScript engines implement a non-standard method getYear(). This method is deprecated. It returns 2-digit year sometimes. Please never use it. There is getFullYear() for the year.

Additionally, we can get a day of week: 

getDay(): Get the day of week, from 0 (Sunday) to 6 (Saturday). The first day is always Sunday, in some countries that's not so, but can't be changed.

All the methods above return the components relative to the local time zone.

There are also their UTC-counterparts, that return day, month, year and so on for the time zone UTC+0: getUTCFullYear(), getUTCMonth(), getUTCDay(). Just insert the "UTC" right after "get".

If your local time zone is shifted relative to UTC, then the code below shows different hours:

// current date
let date = new Date();

// the hour in your current time zone
alert( date.getHours() );

// the hour in UTC+0 time zone (London time without daylight savings)
alert( date.getUTCHours() );

Besides the given methods, there are two special ones that do not have a UTC-variant:

getTime() : Returns the timestamp for the date - a number of milliseconds passed from the January 1st of 1970 UTC+0.

getTimezoneOffset() : Returns the difference between the local time zone and UTC, in minutes:

// if you are in timezone UTC-1, outputs 60
// if you are in timezone UTC+3, outputs -180
alert( new Date().getTimezoneOffset() );

Setting date components

The following methods allow to set date/time components:

  • setFullYear(year [, month, date])
  • setMonth(month [, date])
  • setDate(date)
  • setHours(hour [, min, sec, ms])
  • setMinutes(min [, sec, ms])
  • setSeconds(sec [, ms])
  • setMilliseconds(ms)
  • setTime(milliseconds) (sets the whole date by milliseconds since 01.01.1970 UTC)

Every one of them except setTime() has a UTC-variant, for instance: setUTCHours().

As we can see, some methods can set multiple components at once, for example setHours. The components that are not mentioned are not modified.

For instance:

let today = new Date();

alert(today); // still today, but the hour is changed to 0

today.setHours(0, 0, 0, 0);
alert(today); // still today, now 00:00:00 sharp.


The autocorrection is a very handy feature of Date objects. We can set out-of-range values, and it will auto-adjust itself.

For instance:

let date = new Date(2013, 0, *!*32*/!*); // 32 Jan 2013 ?!?
alert(date); // 1st Feb 2013!

Out-of-range date components are distributed automatically.

Let's say we need to increase the date "28 Feb 2016" by 2 days. It may be "2 Mar" or "1 Mar" in case of a leap-year. We don't need to think about it. Just add 2 days. The Date object will do the rest:

let date = new Date(2016, 1, 28);
date.setDate(date.getDate() + 2);

alert( date ); // 1 Mar 2016

That feature is often used to get the date after the given period of time. For instance, let's get the date for "70 seconds after now":

let date = new Date();
date.setSeconds(date.getSeconds() + 70);

alert( date ); // shows the correct date

We can also set zero or even negative values. For example:

let date = new Date(2016, 0, 2); // 2 Jan 2016

date.setDate(1); // set day 1 of month
alert( date );

date.setDate(0); // min day is 1, so the last day of the previous month is assumed
alert( date ); // 31 Dec 2015

Date to number, date diff

When a Date object is converted to number, it becomes the timestamp same as date.getTime():

let date = new Date();
alert(+date); // the number of milliseconds, same as date.getTime()

The important side effect: dates can be subtracted, the result is their difference in ms.

That can be used for time measurements:

let start = new Date(); // start counting

// do the job
for (let i = 0; i < 100000; i++) {
  let doSomething = i * i * i;

let end = new Date(); // done

alert( `The loop took ${end - start} ms` );

If we only want to measure the difference, we don't need the Date object.

There's a special method that returns the current timestamp.

It is semantically equivalent to new Date().getTime(), but it doesn't create an intermediate Date object. So it's faster and doesn't put pressure on garbage collection.

It is used mostly for convenience or when performance matters, like in games in JavaScript or other specialized applications.

So this is probably better:

let start =; // milliseconds count from 1 Jan 1970

// do the job
for (let i = 0; i < 100000; i++) {
  let doSomething = i * i * i;

let end =; // done

alert( `The loop took ${end - start} ms` ); // subtract numbers, not dates


If we want a reliable benchmark of CPU-hungry function, we should be careful.

For instance, let's measure two functions that calculate the difference between two dates: which one is faster?

// we have date1 and date2, which function faster returns their difference in ms?
function diffSubtract(date1, date2) {
  return date2 - date1;

// or
function diffGetTime(date1, date2) {
  return date2.getTime() - date1.getTime();

These two do exactly the same thing, but one of them uses an explicit date.getTime() to get the date in ms, and the other one relies on a date-to-number transform. Their result is always the same.

So, which one is faster?

The first idea may be to run them many times in a row and measure the time difference. For our case, functions are very simple, so we have to do it around 100000 times.

Let's measure:

function diffSubtract(date1, date2) {
  return date2 - date1;

function diffGetTime(date1, date2) {
  return date2.getTime() - date1.getTime();

function bench(f) {
  let date1 = new Date(0);
  let date2 = new Date();

  let start =;
  for (let i = 0; i < 100000; i++) f(date1, date2);
  return - start;

alert( 'Time of diffSubtract: ' + bench(diffSubtract) + 'ms' );
alert( 'Time of diffGetTime: ' + bench(diffGetTime) + 'ms' );

Wow! Using getTime() is so much faster! That's because there's no type conversion, it is much easier for engines to optimize.

Okay, we have something. But that's not a good benchmark yet.

Imagine that at the time of running bench(diffSubtract) CPU was doing something in parallel, and it was taking resources. And by the time of running bench(diffGetTime) the work has finished.

A pretty real scenario for a modern multi-process OS.

As a result, the first benchmark will have less CPU resources than the second. That may lead to wrong results.

For more reliable benchmarking, the whole pack of benchmarks should be rerun multiple times.

Here's the code example:

function diffSubtract(date1, date2) {
  return date2 - date1;

function diffGetTime(date1, date2) {
  return date2.getTime() - date1.getTime();

function bench(f) {
  let date1 = new Date(0);
  let date2 = new Date();

  let start =;
  for (let i = 0; i < 100000; i++) f(date1, date2);
  return - start;

let time1 = 0;
let time2 = 0;

// run bench(upperSlice) and bench(upperLoop) each 10 times alternating
for (let i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
  time1 += bench(diffSubtract);
  time2 += bench(diffGetTime);

alert( 'Total time for diffSubtract: ' + time1 );
alert( 'Total time for diffGetTime: ' + time2 );

Modern JavaScript engines start applying advanced optimizations only to "hot code" that executes many times (no need to optimize rarely executed things). So, in the example above, first executions are not well-optimized. We may want to add a heat-up run:

// added for "heating up" prior to the main loop

// now benchmark
for (let i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
  time1 += bench(diffSubtract);
  time2 += bench(diffGetTime);

Modern JavaScript engines perform many optimizations. They may tweak results of "artificial tests" compared to "normal usage", especially when we benchmark something very small. So if you seriously want to understand performance, then please study how the JavaScript engine works. And then you probably won't need microbenchmarks at all.

The great pack of articles about V8 can be found at

Date.parse from a string

The method Date.parse(str) can read a date from a string.

The string format should be: YYYY-MM-DDTHH:mm:ss.sssZ, where:

  • YYYY-MM-DD -- is the date: year-month-day.
  • The character "T" is used as the delimiter.
  • HH:mm:ss.sss -- is the time: hours, minutes, seconds and milliseconds.
  • The optional 'Z' part denotes the time zone in the format +-hh:mm. A single letter Z that would mean UTC+0.

Shorter variants are also possible, like YYYY-MM-DD or YYYY-MM or even YYYY.

The call to Date.parse(str) parses the string in the given format and returns the timestamp (number of milliseconds from 1 Jan 1970 UTC+0). If the format is invalid, returns NaN.

For instance:

let ms = Date.parse('2012-01-26T13:51:50.417-07:00');
alert(ms); // 1327611110417  (timestamp)

We can instantly create a new Date object from the timestamp:

let date = new Date( Date.parse('2012-01-26T13:51:50.417-07:00') );


  • Date and time in JavaScript are represented with the Date object. We can't create "only date" or "only time": Date objects always carry both.
  • Months are counted from zero (yes, January is a zero month).
  • Days of week in getDay() are also counted from zero (that's Sunday).
  • Date auto-corrects itself when out-of-range components are set. Good for adding/subtracting days/months/hours.
  • Dates can be subtracted, giving their difference in milliseconds. That's because a Date becomes the timestamp when converted to a number.
  • Use to get the current timestamp fast.

Note that unlike many other systems, timestamps in JavaScript are in milliseconds, not in seconds.

Also, sometimes we need more precise time measurements. JavaScript itself does not have a way to measure time in microseconds (1 millionth of a second), but most environments provide it. For instance, browser has that gives the number of milliseconds from the start of page loading with microsecond precision (3 digits after the point):

alert(`Loading started ${}ms ago`);
// Something like: "Loading started 34731.26000000001ms ago"
// .26 is microseconds (260 microseconds)
// more than 3 digits after the decimal point are precision errors, but only the first 3 are correct

Node.JS has microtime module and other ways. Technically, any device and environment allows to get more precision, it's just not in Date.

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Date and time









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Garbage collector