ISO8601 - date and time format

ISO8601 is the standard notation for dates and times recommended by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). It is used to express dates and times in a completely unambiguous way. An example would be: 2007-01-03T12:32, meaning 3rd January 2007, January 3rd 2007, 3/1/2007, 1/3/2007 etc at 12:32pm.

When is the ISO8601 format useful?

ISO8601 is especially useful when dates are handled by computers, saved as text and transfered between applications or countries with different date systems. The date format used by a Windows based PC is usually set to that of the user's location, for example, in the U.S., the format is mm/dd/yyyy. In Europe and Australia it is dd/mm/yyyy. Of course, every other country has its own standard.

Advantages of using the ISO8601 format

The two big advantages of the ISO8601 format are the are sortable and unambiguous. We produce a program, called DDFileCatcher, which makes lists of files. The program can save file dates to text files. We realized that file dates saved in the dd/mm/yyyy format would be misinterpreted if loaded into a computer using the mm/dd/yyyy format. If the list in the dd/mm/yyyy format were imported into an Excel spreadsheet on a machine using the mm/dd/yyyy format, Excel would convert some dates to the other format. For example: 3/1/2007 would be accepted, but would be 1st March 2007, instead of 3rd January 2007. Using the ISO8601 format, Excel would not interpret the text, eg "2007-01-03T12:32", as a date, so it could not be used for calculations, for example subtracting one date from another. It could, however, be sorted because dates in the ISO8601 can be sorted correctly alphabetically.

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