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Ruby Time & Date Classes

If you want to do anything related with time you probably want to use some sort of class that can store and work with this type of data.

In this article you will learn what time-related classes and methods are available in Ruby and how to use them.

The Time Class

To manage time in Ruby you can use the Time class. This class can represent a date (day/month/year) and a time (hours/minutes/seconds). This is stored by the Time class as the number of seconds since the Epoch, also known as Unix time.

There are a few ways to initialize a Time object. You can get an object that represents the current time using Time.new or Time.now.

You can also create a Time object using an Unix timestamp and the at method.

You can ask a time object for any of its components. For example, you can ask what day and month a time object is representing.

In addition, you can also ask if this date corresponds to a certain day of the week. For example: “Is this date a Sunday?”. These are predicate methods, meaning that they will return either true or false.

Time Zones

A Time object also has a time zone associated with it, you can check the current time zone for a Time object using the zone method. This will give you the time zone abbreviation.

If you want the time zone offset you can use the utc_offset method. The output for this method is in seconds, but you can divide by 3600 to get it in hours.

Example:

Ruby Time Formatting

The default string representation for the time & date given to you by the Ruby Time class might not be what you want. Fortunately, there is a method you can use to get almost any format you need. This method is strftime, which basically means ‘format time’.

The way it works is by passing in a string with format specifiers, these specifiers will be replaced by a value from the time object. If you have ever used the printf method the idea is very similar to that.

Let’s see some examples:

As you can see, this method is very flexible. You can find more info on the different formats available on the following links:

Time Difference (Addition & Subtraction)

Sometimes you don’t want the current time, but a time in the future or the past. You can do addition with time objects. Remember that the internal representation for Time is in seconds, so you can do this:

In this example you get a time object that is set 10 seconds from the current time. Then you can check if that time has passed yet.

The Date Class

The Date class has no concept of minutes, seconds or hours. This class stores everything internally in terms of days. To use the Date class you need to require 'date'.

You can get the current date using Date.today. Unlike time, Date.new is not an alias for today, so keep that in mind.

Date arithmetic is similar to the Time class, the difference is that you add days instead of seconds.

Date Parsing

The Date.parse method will try to parse anything that looks like a date. It uses a simple heuristic algorithm that tries to detect the input format. Sometimes this will give unwanted results.

Examples:

If you need something more strict you can use the Date.iso8601 method. An iso8601 date has the following format: year-month-day. An ArgumentError exception will be raised on invalid input.

You can use the Date.strptime method and a set of format specifiers to provide your own custom input format. These are the same specifiers that you can use for strftime.

Example:

The Time class can also parse strings to turn then into Time objects. You will need to require 'time' to enable this functionality.

Date Constants

The Date class has some constants that you may find useful. For example, there is an array with the months of the year and another with the days of the week. Months start at index 1 so you can get a direct month number -> month name mapping.

The days start with Sunday, but you can use the rotate method to have the week start on Monday.

The DateTime Class

The DateTime class is a subclass of Date and it can store seconds in addition to dates. Both Time and DateTime can get the same job done, with the main difference being that Time is implemented in C, so it will be faster.

ActiveSupport – Time & Date Methods

If you have used rails you are probably familiar with things like 3.days.ago. These methods are not available in pure Ruby, they are added by the ActiveSupport component of Rails.

Here you can find some examples, notice how these methods don’t return Time or Date objects, but a custom ActiveSupport class.

The code for these methods is actually pretty simple, you should take a look. The source code for TimeWithZone is also worth taking a look at.