How the ISO Date Format Tells Today

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Which date format is the standard? ISO takes a different approach.


With time on our water-and-dirt-based planet, some things are absolute. For instance, it takes about 24 hours for the earth to rotate on its axis, and this is the basis for a day. Furthermore, it takes 365.2422 of these days for the earth to complete a rotation around the sun. All users of the Gregorian Calendar express these durations in years, months, and days, but, in representing any single day, the order of these three designations of time can vary.

For dates, most nations follow the day/month/year format (07/01/19 for January 7, 2019, for example), but the United States adheres to its own format of month/day/year (1/7/19 or 1/7/2019).

Clearly, this can lead to some confusion. As anyone traveling to the United States or any American in another country can attest, it can be a challenge to put yourself in the mindset to process a different standard format. In addition, with the date being just three numbers, switching two of the three drastically changes the date represented. 1/7/19 being both January 7, 2019 and July 1, 2019 is quite a disparity.

People will certainly argue as to which of these two standard formats for dates is correct, but it cannot be denied that their shared use can induce errors. In fact, the potential for misinterpreting dates across national boundaries is the logic for the ISO date format.

As specified by ISO 8601:2019 – Data Elements And Interchange Formats – Information Interchange – Representation Of Dates And Times, the ISO format for dates represents year, month, and day from the largest unit to the smallest, most specific unit of time. For example, January 7, 2019 would be:

20190107 (basic format)

2019-01-07 (extended format)

Officially, this understood as:

YYYYMMDD (basic format)

YYYY-MM-DD (extended format)

With YYYY being the full year, MM representing 2 digits for the month, and DD representing two digits for the day.

While the ISO date format is foreign to many, it is not without regular use. It’s the date format used in SQL and is often the default date setting on many computers. Furthermore, it is similar to the date format of several nations, including Albania, Canada, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Sweden. As to whether civilians of the world’s nations will adopt the ISO format in the day-to-day use, it’s unlikely. However, the ISO date format is useful to limit confusion and errors throughout various official practices.

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