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Differences between DATE and TIMESTAMP columns

This article outlines the usage differences between the following data types:

  • DATE

The DATE data type is particularly useful when there is a need to represent data related to something that has happened in the past or is expected to happen in the future.  With the DATE data type, the challenge is to determine the interval between two events that happen very close together in time.  It lacks sufficient granularity to elegantly handle subtraction calculations between two events to determine the exact  number of years, weeks, days, hours and seconds between them because such arithmetic between dates yields the number of days between the events.  Oracle's introduction of the TIMESTAMP data type provided a solution to this challenge.

The  TIMESTAMP data type stores all of the information stored by the DATE data type but it includes fractional seconds.  Calculating the difference between two events of the TIMESTAMP data type is much simpler than with the DATE data type due to the higher granularity of the data.

The TO_CHAR function will work with both the DATE and TIMESTAMP data types; however, it is important to note that the TRUNC function will not work with TIMESTAMP data.  Thus the TIMESTAMP data type should be the choice when working with data where the differenct in time rather than just date is of primary importance.

There are similarities and differences between the DATE and TIMESTAMP data types, so it is necessary to choose the correct data type for the granularity required.  Attempting to converting less granular DATE data into more granular TIMESTAMP data after the fact could create some serious issues.  Thus is it critical to choose the appropriate data type from the beginning.


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Note: This Oracle documentation was created as a support and Oracle training reference for use by our DBA performance tuning consulting professionals.  Feel free to ask questions on our Oracle forum.

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