How to Use Dates in SQL

By Cristian G. Guasch • Updated: 03/03/24 • 8 min read

Navigating the world of SQL can sometimes feel like trying to solve a puzzle, especially when it comes to handling dates. It’s a crucial skill, though, because dates are everywhere in databases, from logging user activity to tracking orders. I’ve spent a good chunk of my career mastering SQL dates, and I’m here to share that knowledge with you.

Understanding how to use dates in SQL effectively can transform your database queries from good to great. Whether you’re filtering results, calculating intervals, or simply displaying date information, getting it right is key. Let’s dive into the essentials of using dates in SQL, ensuring you have the tools to handle these tasks with confidence.

Storing Dates in SQL

When it comes to storing dates in SQL, getting it right from the get-go is crucial. SQL has specific data types meant for date and time, DATE, TIME, and DATETIME, each serving its unique purpose. I can’t stress enough the importance of choosing the right data type for your needs. For instance, if you’re solely interested in the date, the DATE type is your go-to. Let’s dive into how you can store dates effectively.

Choosing the Right Type

First up, you should understand the difference between these types. DATE stores a date (year, month, day), TIME stores time (hours, minutes, seconds), and DATETIME and TIMESTAMP store both date and time. A common mistake is using VARCHAR or other text formats for dates. This not only increases storage space but also complicates your queries and can lead to errors during comparisons.

Examples of Storing Dates

To give you a clearer picture, let’s look at some SQL commands:

-- Storing a simple date
INSERT INTO orders (order_id, order_date)
VALUES (1, '2023-04-28');
-- Storing date and time
INSERT INTO log_entries (entry_id, entry_timestamp)
VALUES (1, '2023-04-28 14:30:00');

In these examples, it’s evident how specifying the date format is essential. SQL adheres to the ISO 8601 format (YYYY-MM-DD) for dates, which is a best practice to follow.

Common Mistakes

A rather frequent oversight is neglecting time zones when storing dates and times. While DATETIME does not store time zone info, TIMESTAMP does, converting stored times to UTC. Not accounting for this can lead to confusing discrepancies in your data.

Another pitfall involves misunderstanding the granularity of the data type chosen. For example, if you use the DATE type when your application requires time accuracy to the second, you’ll lose critical information.

Retrieving Dates from a Database

Retrieving dates from a SQL database is crucial for analyzing and displaying time-sensitive data accurately. Mastering date retrieval queries can significantly enhance your data manipulation skills. Below, I’ll guide you through the process, highlighting common mistakes and useful variations.

First, let’s start with a basic SQL query to fetch a date:

SELECT order_date FROM orders WHERE order_id = 101;

This simple command retrieves the order_date for a specific order. However, when dealing with dates, the retrieval can get more intricate, especially when you’re after ranges or specific components of a date.

For instance, to fetch orders within a December 2022 date range, the query would expand:

SELECT * FROM orders WHERE order_date BETWEEN '2022-12-01' AND '2022-12-31';

Remember, always use the ISO 8601 format (YYYY-MM-DD) for date values to avoid ambiguity.

A common mistake I’ve seen is not accounting for time when the column type is DATETIME or TIMESTAMP. If you’re looking to include the entire day in your range for DATETIME columns, you’ll need to be specific:

SELECT * FROM orders WHERE order_date >= '2022-12-01 00:00:00' AND order_date < '2023-01-01 00:00:00';

For retrieving specific date parts, like the year or month from a date column, SQL provides built-in functions:

SELECT YEAR(order_date) AS OrderYear, MONTH(order_date) AS OrderMonth FROM orders;

It’s essential to understand the variety of functions your SQL dialect supports, such as DAY(), WEEK(), or HOUR(), for more granular date analyses.

Lastly, don’t overlook the power of the CAST function for date conversion, especially if your dates are stored in text or other non-date formats (which isn’t recommended). Here’s how to do it:

SELECT CAST('2022-12-01' AS DATE);

Using CAST can save the day when dealing with legacy databases or data that wasn’t initially stored optimally.

Date Functions in SQL

When diving deeper into working with dates in SQL, mastering date functions is crucial. These tools help manipulate and extract date parts, allowing for more dynamic data retrieval and analysis. I’ll cover some key functions and common pitfalls to watch out for.

DATEADD and DATEDIFF are staples in any SQL user’s toolbox. The former adds a specified time interval to a date, while the latter finds the difference between two dates. However, it’s easy to misuse these by ignoring the correct order of arguments, which can lead to unexpected results.

For example, to add 10 days to the current date, you can use:


To calculate the difference in days between two dates:

SELECT DATEDIFF(day, '2023-01-01', '2023-01-31') AS DaysBetween;

GETDATE() and CURRENT_TIMESTAMP are functions that fetch the current date and time. While they’re often used interchangeably, it’s important to remember that their precision might vary across SQL versions.

Extracting specific parts of a date, such as the year, month, or day, is another common task. YEAR(), MONTH(), and DAY() functions come in handy for this:

SELECT YEAR(GETDATE()) AS CurrentYear, MONTH(GETDATE()) AS CurrentMonth, DAY(GETDATE()) AS CurrentDay;

A typical mistake is not accounting for the return type of these functions. They return integers, which might not be immediately evident if you’re aiming to concatenate them with strings for formatting dates.

Understanding and utilizing these date functions correctly enhances your SQL queries, making your data manipulation tasks both simpler and more powerful. Experimenting with these functions in various combinations can unlock even more insights from your data, setting a solid foundation for advanced data analysis and presentation techniques.

Best Practices for Using Dates in SQL

When working with dates in SQL, I’ve found that following a set of best practices not only makes my life easier but also ensures my queries are efficient and error-free. Here’s a deep dive into some of these strategies, complete with examples.

First and foremost, always use ISO 8601 format for date literals. This format, which is YYYY-MM-DD, eliminates confusion and is universally understood by SQL databases. Here’s a quick example:

SELECT * FROM Orders WHERE OrderDate = '2023-04-01';

A common mistake I’ve observed is not factoring in time when querying datetime fields. If you’re looking for records from April 1, 2023, and you use the above query, you might miss records from that day but with a timestamp other than midnight. To include the entire day, use the BETWEEN operator:

SELECT * FROM Orders WHERE OrderDate BETWEEN '2023-04-01' AND '2023-04-02';

Another best practice is to use built-in functions for date manipulation instead of writing custom logic. Want to find records from the last 30 days? Here’s how:

SELECT * FROM Orders WHERE OrderDate > DATEADD(day, -30, GETDATE());

However, a pitfall to avoid is assuming the server’s current date and time (GETDATE()) will always be in your local timezone. This can lead to discrepancies, especially in global applications. Always account for time zone differences when necessary.

Finally, when it comes to extracting parts of a date, such as the year or month, SQL offers straightforward functions like YEAR() and MONTH(). But remember, these functions return integers, and a common blunder is to treat their output as strings without casting. Here’s how you should do it:

SELECT YEAR(OrderDate) AS OrderYear, MONTH(OrderDate) AS OrderMonth FROM Orders;

By adhering to these best practices, I ensure my SQL queries involving dates are not only error-free but also optimized for performance.


Mastering the art of handling dates in SQL is crucial for any developer looking to optimize their database queries for both efficiency and accuracy. By adhering to the best practices outlined, such as embracing the ISO 8601 format and leveraging built-in functions for date manipulation, you’re setting yourself up for success. Remember, the devil’s in the details when it comes to dealing with datetime fields and time zones. It’s these nuances that can make or break the performance and reliability of your SQL queries. So, take the time to understand and apply these principles. Your future self will thank you for the error-free and optimized queries that result.

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