Dealing With Dates in Python - Part 1#

Welcome back to Cameron’s Corner! This week, I want to get our hands on some code and talk about some of the approaches for dealing with datetimes in Python. Additionally, I want to discuss some common considerations you’ll need when implementing dates and datetimes in your own code. Let’s dive in!

What is a datetime?#

A datetime is a specific point-in-time, referring to an instance. As the name suggests, these typically contain both a date and a time component: the date is some combination of year, month, and day, and the time is some combination of hours, minutes, and seconds, down to some pre-defined level of specificity.

In Python, we can work with dates using the datetime module, which is actually a fairly “old battery” in the standard library. The reason I point this out is because datetime actually uses the non-pep-8 compliant pattern of naming classes in lower-case instead of SnakeCase.

from datetime import datetime # lower-case class name!

# Construct a datetime
dt = datetime(
    year=2023, month=1, day=3, hour=5, minute=30, second=15, microsecond=10

    f'{dt      = }',
    f'{dt.year = }', # access a part of the datetime
dt      = datetime.datetime(2023, 1, 3, 5, 30, 15, 10)
dt.year = 2023

What is a datetime used for?#

As I mentioned earlier, when using datetime, we typically want to represent a point-in-time, or a single instance. A common example of this is logging. If our running program emits a message, it can be very beneficial for us to record exactly when that message was emitted. We often use datetimes as a timestamp (hence why pandas calls their point-in-time object a Timestamp) for a given measurement or value.

from datetime import timedelta
from random import Random
from collections import namedtuple
from itertools import product, chain
from functools import reduce
from operator import mul

# Create some hirearchy of our messaging generation system
message_bank = {
    'level': [('info', .5), ('warning', .35), ('critical', .15)],
    'target': [('database', .25), ('microservice', .25), ('intranet', .25), ('application', .25)]

message_pool, weights = [], []
for lev, tar in product(*message_bank.values()):
    m, w = zip(lev, tar)
    weights.append(reduce(mul, w))

rnd = Random(0)

Record = namedtuple('Record', ['timestamp', 'level', 'target'])
timestamp = datetime(2023, 1, 18) # unspecified hours, mins, seconds = 0

for _ in range(10):
    message = rnd.choices(message_pool, weights=weights, k=1)[0]
    record = Record(timestamp, *message.split(':'))
    timestamp += timedelta(hours=rnd.randint(0, 24), minutes=rnd.randint(0, 60), seconds=rnd.randint(1, 60))
Record(timestamp=datetime.datetime(2023, 1, 18, 0, 0), level='warning', target='application')
Record(timestamp=datetime.datetime(2023, 1, 19, 0, 56, 27), level='info', target='database')
Record(timestamp=datetime.datetime(2023, 1, 19, 17, 27, 53), level='critical', target='microservice')
Record(timestamp=datetime.datetime(2023, 1, 20, 2, 58, 16), level='warning', target='database')
Record(timestamp=datetime.datetime(2023, 1, 20, 9, 30, 25), level='info', target='intranet')
Record(timestamp=datetime.datetime(2023, 1, 21, 9, 37, 5), level='warning', target='application')
Record(timestamp=datetime.datetime(2023, 1, 22, 3, 22, 57), level='warning', target='microservice')
Record(timestamp=datetime.datetime(2023, 1, 22, 7, 42, 4), level='warning', target='intranet')
Record(timestamp=datetime.datetime(2023, 1, 23, 5, 3, 35), level='warning', target='database')
Record(timestamp=datetime.datetime(2023, 1, 23, 16, 30, 56), level='warning', target='microservice')

In the above code, we created ten random messages of different levels about different parts of an imaginary infrastructure. We paired these messages with an incrementing datetime to provide a timestamp of when these messages were created.

A timedelta represents the difference between two datetime objects. This is measured in the number of weeks, days, etc. between two datetimes.

delta = datetime(year=2023, month=1, day=5) - datetime(year=2023, month=1, day=1)
    f'{type(delta)           = }',
    f'{delta                 = }',
    f'{delta.total_seconds() = }',
type(delta)           = <class 'datetime.timedelta'>
delta                 = datetime.timedelta(days=4)
delta.total_seconds() = 345600.0

The timedelta objects enable us to perform addition and subtraction with our datetimes! This has all sorts of applications, but first and foremost it provides one of the many ways to represent a span-of-time instead of a single point-in-time.

If datetime exists, then why date or time?#

In addition to the datetime object, the datetime module also defines separate date and time objects that we can use:

from datetime import date, time

d = date(year=2022, month=1, day=3)
t = time(hour=5, minute=30, second=15, microsecond=10)

    f'{d = }', 
    f'{t = }',
d =, 1, 3)
t = datetime.time(5, 30, 15, 10)

While these objects (datetime, date, time) all appear fairly similar to one another, they end up having very different use cases.

The date and time objects see a very different use case, often being used to represent a span-of-time (in a similar but different way than we might use a timedelta). For instance, it would not be very beneficial to log messages according to just their date as we lose important fidelity. However, if we wanted to create a summary report for a given day, then using a date to represent that information may be useful.

(I’ll save further discussion of dates and times in next week’s edition of Camerons Corner!)

Wrap Up#

This week, we discussed some key differences in the representation of time:

  • point-in-time

  • span-of-time

We also discussed how these are represented in Python. We can leverage the datetime module to perform some convenient time-series analysis, but have only scratched the surface of the topic.

Tune in next week for further discussion around span-of-time, as well as a dive into the subtleties of working with timezones and Daylight Saving Time (also known as the bane of working with datetimes).

Talk to you all next week!