How to Change Datetime Formats in MySQL: Your Step-by-Step Guide

By Cristian G. Guasch • Updated: 09/22/23 • 9 min read

Dealing with dates and times in MySQL can be a tricky affair. It’s easy to stumble when it comes to formatting, thanks to the myriad of options available. Now, don’t you worry! I’ll guide you through the labyrinth of datetime formats in MySQL.

MySQL is an incredibly powerful tool for managing databases. However, its power also means complexity – especially when it comes to date and time information. The key lies in understanding how MySQL handles these data types and knowing your way around the various functions that allow us to manipulate them.

For instance, let’s take a look at datetime – one of MySQL’s data types used for storing temporal values including dates and times. If you’ve ever found yourself scratching your head over why your dates aren’t displaying as expected or why certain operations lead to unexpected results, then this article is just what you need! Let’s dive into changing datetime formats in MySQL together.

Understanding Datetime Formats in MySQL

When I’m working with MySQL, one of the things I’ve found to be incredibly important is understanding how to change datetime formats. It’s not as daunting as it might seem at first glance. Let me break it down for you.

In MySQL, the standard format for datetime is ‘YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS’. This represents a combination of date and time values, where ‘YYYY’ stands for the four-digit year, ‘MM’ signifies two-digit month, ‘DD’ refers to two-digit day, ‘HH’ points to hours ranging from 00 to 23, ‘MM’ indicates minutes and ‘SS’, seconds.


The above query will give us current datetime in MySQL standard format like ‘2022-05-14 15:20:30’.

However what if we want this timestamp differently? That’s when DATE_FORMAT() function comes into play. It allows us to represent datetime values in whatever format we prefer. For instance:

SELECT DATE_FORMAT(NOW(), '%M %d %Y %h:%i %p');

This query outputs current date and time but structured as ‘May 14 2022 03:20 PM’. Here ‘%M’ gives full month name, ‘%d’ provides day of the month with two digits, ‘%Y’ returns four-digit year value while ‘%h:%i %p’ renders time in 12 hour format.

Yet it’s easy to trip up here! Common mistakes include forgetting that ‘%’ characters are necessary before date specifier symbols or mixing up lowercase and uppercase letters which can result in different outputs. For example ‘%m’ will yield numeric representation of a month (like “05” for May), whereas ‘%M’ would return full month name (“May”).

Bear in mind these variations when trying out different formats! With a bit of practice, it becomes second nature to work with MySQL datetime formats.

Steps to Change Datetime Formats in MySQL

It’s often the case in database management that you’ll need to change the format of date and time data. This is especially true when working with MySQL, a popular open-source database system. Here, I’ll walk you through how to change datetime formats in MySQL.

Firstly, let’s understand what we’re dealing with. The default format for DATETIME in MySQL is ‘YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS’. But say you’ve got data from an external source that doesn’t match this format – it can throw your entire database out of sync. Thankfully, MySQL provides built-in functions to help us manipulate date and time data.

To start off with, the DATE_FORMAT() function comes particularly handy. Imagine having a date like ‘2022-03-12 18:30:45’ and needing it to display as ‘March 12th, 2022’. You’d use DATE_FORMAT() like so:

SELECT DATE_FORMAT('2022-03-12 18:30:45', '%M %D, %Y');

This results in a more human-friendly output: ‘March 12th, 2022’.

Beware though! It’s easy to get mixed up between %D (day of month with English suffix) and %d (day of month as a numeric). Misusing these could lead to unexpected results.

There are plenty more specific codes available for use within the DATE_FORMAT() function:

  • %Y Year as a numeric, four digits
  • %y Year as a numeric, two digits
  • %m Month name as a numeric (01…12)
  • %b Abbreviated month name
  • %H Hour (00..23)
  • …and many more!

However, all isn’t lost if your data doesn’t fit any known pattern at all – MySQL’s STR_TO_DATE() function can help. Here’s how you’d use it to convert a string of ’12-March-2022 18:30′ into a DATETIME format:

SELECT STR_TO_DATE('12-March-2022 18:30', '%d-%M-%Y %H:%i');

The output would be the familiar ‘2022-03-12 18:30:00’.

While these functions are quite powerful, they’re not without their quirks. A common pitfall is forgetting that MySQL counts months as 01 – 12 and days as 00 – 31. Getting this wrong could mean your dates end up all over the place!

In conclusion, changing datetime formats in MySQL isn’t too difficult once you know how. Just remember to double-check your input data and the codes you’re using in DATE_FORMAT() or STR_TO_DATE(). If done right, it’ll save you plenty of headaches down the line!

Common Errors While Changing Datetime Formats

When working with MySQL, it’s not uncommon to run into a few hiccups while trying to change datetime formats. I’ve found that some of the most frequent issues stem from incorrect syntax, incompatible datetime values, and timezone discrepancies.

One error you might encounter is due to an incorrect syntax. Here’s what this could look like:

SELECT DATE_FORMAT('2021-04-15 14:35:29', '%Y %m %d');

This would throw an error because the date format string is missing its placeholders for hours, minutes, and seconds.

A straightforward fix here would be to include those missing elements in your format string. Like so:

SELECT DATE_FORMAT('2021-04-15 14:35:29', '%Y-%m-%d %H:%i:%s');

The corrected code now correctly includes placeholders for the time in addition to the date.

Another common mistake occurs when you try changing datetime values that aren’t compatible with MySQL’s DATETIME or TIMESTAMP types. For instance:

UPDATE table_name SET datetime_column = 'April 15th, 2021';

This will cause an error because MySQL doesn’t understand ‘April 15th, 2021’ as a valid DATETIME value.

Correcting such errors involves ensuring your dates are formatted as ‘YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS’. So you can correct the query above like this:

UPDATE table_name SET datetime_column = '2021-04-15 00:00:00';

Timezone discrepancies can also introduce problems. If your server and application are running on different timezones, confusion might arise when manipulating datetimes.

For example:

SET @@global.time_zone = '+08:00';
SET @@session.time_zone = '+00:00';

The above commands will lead to different datetime results between your application and MySQL server because of the timezone difference.

To fix this, ensure both your server and application are running on the same timezone. Like so:

SET @@global.time_zone = '+00:00';
SET @@session.time_zone = '+00:00';

These common errors I’ve mentioned can be avoided by paying close attention to syntax, ensuring compatibility of datetime values, and keeping timezones consistent. By doing so, you’ll find changing datetime formats in MySQL a breeze!

Tips for Efficiently Modifying MySQL Datetime Formats

Messing around with dates and times in MySQL can be a bit tricky. It’s crucial to remember that the default format is ‘YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS’. But what if you want your date and time in a different arrangement? Don’t fret, I’ve got you covered.

First up, let’s talk about the DATE_FORMAT() function. This nifty tool allows you to change how your datetime prints out. Say, you want it displayed as ‘DD-MM-YYYY’. You’d use this piece of code:

SELECT DATE_FORMAT(your_column,'%d-%m-%Y') AS new_format
FROM your_table;

That ‘%d-%m-%Y’ string? That’s telling MySQL exactly how we want our date formatted. We swapped the year (‘%Y’) and day (‘%d’) positions here.

Now, moving on to a common pitfall – never ever forget using proper datetime values when filtering or sorting data. If you’re trying to sort by month on an incorrectly formatted date field, chances are high that things won’t go as planned!

Another lifesaver is the STR_TO_DATE() function which converts strings into valid date or time types. Suppose there’s a table column with dates formatted like so: ’25-Dec-2020′. To convert this into YYYY-MM-DD style, we’d write:

SELECT STR_TO_DATE(your_column,'%d-%M-%Y') AS standard_format 
FROM your_table;

Also worth mentioning is that these functions work both ways! If you need to turn a correctly formatted datetime back into an unusual format (for display purposes maybe?), DATE_FORMAT() will do just that!

Lastly, watch out for NULL values while working with dates and times in MySQL. A NULL value can throw off calculations or result in errors if not properly accounted for. It’s generally a good practice to handle these potential NULL values using the IFNULL() function.

Navigating datetime formats in MySQL doesn’t have to be an uphill battle if you’re equipped with the right tools and knowledge. With practice, it’ll soon become second nature!

Conclusion: Mastering Datetime Format Changes

Mastering datetime format changes in MySQL isn’t as daunting as it appears. I’ve managed to navigate this complex topic with some patience and plenty of practice. The key is understanding the flexibility that MySQL offers, particularly when it comes to formatting dates and times.

Let’s take a look at an example:

SELECT DATE_FORMAT(NOW(), '%M %d %Y - %H:%i');

This snippet will return the current date and time in a more human-readable format like ‘December 12 2021 – 14:45’.

It’s important not to get too comfortable though. There are common mistakes many fall into while working with datetime formats. One such pitfall includes forgetting the case sensitivity of format specifiers. For instance, ‘%m’ and ‘%M’ hold different meanings, where the former represents the month in numerical form (01,02,…) and latter shows month name (January, February,…).

Another point of confusion can be misinterpreting ‘%d’ for day instead of date. When used with DATE_FORMAT function, ‘%d’ returns day of the month from 01-31.

When it comes down to mastering datetime conversions, here are few pointers:

  • Familiarize yourself with various format specifiers.
  • Practice writing queries using different combinations.
  • Learn from your errors; they’ll guide you towards what not to do.

The great thing about learning is that there’s always room for improvement! So go ahead, dig deep into those documentation pages or pull up a new SQL script file – every mistake made brings you closer to becoming an expert at changing datetime formats in MySQL!

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