Working with dates, times, timezones and calendars.


There are several important flaws in the standard C, C++ and Boost libraries that handle dates and time:

  1. The biggest flaw of most libraries that provide operations over dates is the fact that they only support the Gregorian calendar. boost::date_time , std::tm , and standard functions like localtime and gmtime, all assume the Gregorian calendar.
  2. The information about local start of week is not provided.
    For example the standard C and C++ library has mktime and localtime, but they do not give user the information about the first day of week. This information is locale dependent. It is Monday in France and it is Sunday in United States.

Boost.Locale provides generic date_time, and calendar classes that allow you to perform operations on dates and times for non-Gregorian calendars such as Hebrew, Islamic, Japanese and others.

Non-ICU based backends support the Gregorian calendar only. Unlike boost::date_time, they are fully aware of the local first day of week. Thus, if the current day of week is Monday, then setting "current day of week" to Sunday would move the actual date 6 days forward in Russian or French locales and move one day backward in USA and Israeli locales.

Handling Dates and Time

  • boost::locale::calendar – represents generic information about the calendar, independent from a specific time point. For example, you can get the maximum number of days in a month for a specific calendar.
  • boost::locale::date_time – represents a time point. It is constructed from a calendar and allows manipulation of various time periods.
  • boost::locale::period – holds a list of functions that represent various periods, such as month, year, day, and hour, allowing manipulation of dates and times. You can add periods, multiply them by integers, get or set them, or add them to date_time objects.

For example:

using namespace boost::locale;
date_time now; // Create date_time class with default calendar initialized to current time
date_time tomorrow = now + period::day();
cout << "Let's meet tomorrow at " << as::date << tomorrow << endl;
date_time some_point = period::year(1995) + period::january() + period::day(1);
// Set some_point's date to 1995-Jan-1.
cout << "The "<< as::date << some_point << " is the "
<< as::ordinal << some_point / period::day_of_week_local() << " day of the week" << endl;

You can calculate the difference between dates by dividing the difference by a period:

date_time now;
cout << " There are " << (now + 2 * period::month() - now) / period::day() << " days "
"between " << as::date << now << " and " << now + 2*period::month() << endl;

You can also use different syntax (less operator overloading)

date_time now;
cout << " There are " << period::day(now + period::month(2) - now) << " days "
"between " << as::date << now << " and " << now + period::month(2) << endl;

date_time – provides the member functions minimum and maximum to get the information about smallest and largest possible values of a certain period for a specific time.

For example, for February the maximum(period::day()) would be 28 (or 29 for a leap year), and for January it would be 31.

Be very careful with assumptions about calendars. For example, in the Hebrew calendar, the number of months is different for leap years and non-leap years.

We recommend you to look at the calendar.cpp example provided with this library to get an understanding of how to manipulate dates and times using these classes.

To convert between various calendar dates, you may get the current POSIX time via the time member function.

For example:

using namespace boost::locale;
using namespace boost::locale::period;
// Create locales with Hebrew and Gregorian (default) calendars.
std::locale l_hebrew=gen("en_US.UTF-8@calendar=hebrew");
std::locale l_gregorian=gen("en_US.UTF-8");
// Create a Gregorian date from fields
date_time greg(year(2010) + february() + day(5),l_gregorian);
// Assign a time point taken from the Gregorian date to date_time with
// the Hebrew calendar
date_time heb(greg.time(),l_hebrew);
// Now we can query the year.
std::cout << "Hebrew year is " << heb / year << std::endl;

Non-ICU based backends support the same date-time range as mktime and localtime C library functions.

  • Unix 32 bit: dates between 1901 and 2038
  • Unix 64 bit: dates from 1 BC
  • Windows: dates from 1970. If the time_t is 32 bits wide (mingw), then the upper limit is year 2038

Time Zone

The current operating system's time zone is used by default, however the time zone can be modified at several different levels:

  1. Calendar level: you can specify a timezone when creating a new instance of boost::locale::calendar in its constructor.
  2. iostream level: you can use as::time_zone manipulator to set a specific time zone to the iostream so all dates and times would be represented in this time zone
  3. You can specify the default global time zone by calling: boost::locale::time_zone::global(std::string const &). This time zone would be the default one for newly created iostream object and calendar instances.

Non-ICU based backends support only two kinds of time zones:

  1. The current OS time zone, as it is handled by localtime and mktime the standard library functions - the default time zone
  2. Simple time zone in format "GMT+HH:MM" - the time zone represented using fixed shift from the UTC without support of daylight saving time.

I/O Operations on date_time objects

Writing a date_time is equivalent to:

  • Applying as::datetime manipulator on the stream
  • Writing POSIX time as number that is fetched by calling date_time::time() function.
  • Reverting the manipulator effect back.

For example this code:

using namespace boost::locale;
std::cout << now << std::endl;

Would print in the default format, something like:

2/3/2011 12:00 am

However if you need to change the default behavior (for example show only date), then you need to use specific iostream manipulator in order to display current date or time, it would override the default formatting.

For example

using namespace boost::locale;
std::cout << as::date << now << std::endl;

Would print something like:


This is important to remember that date_time object is always rendered and parsed in the context of the iostream's locale and time zone and not in the context of specific date_time object.

Questions and Answers

Why should I use Boost.Locale over Boost.DateTime when I need Gregorian calendar only?

  • Boost.DateTime is locale agnostic library and ignores the fact that the first day of week varies by the locale.
  • Boost.Locale provides a unified access to date and time in time zone aware way. It represents a time as universal scalar - the POSIX time and over that builds dates, local times and time-zones handling.
    For example, date_time(some_time.time() + 3600) may be not equal to some_time + hour(), because of the daylight savings time.

Why don't you use Boost.DateTime time zone support?

Boost.DateTime's time zone support is broken. Time zones can not be represented with a simple table of rules where daylight saving depend only on certain n'th day of week in month. The daylight savings time may vary by year, political issues and many other things.

Most of the modern operating systems (Linux, *BSD, Mac OS X, OpenVMS) and many important software packages (ICU, Java, Python) use so called Olson database in order to handle daylight saving time correctly.

If you need full time zone database support, then you should use ICU library.