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Working with Databases and International Date Formats

By Darren Neimke

Workaround for Non-English Countries
Darren's article works wonders for international, English-speaking countries, like England, the United States, Australia, and so on. However, in non-English speaking countries, the months of the year are spelled differently and, hence, have different abbreviations. If you are from a non-English speaking country you may wish to read Giuliano Sauro's article: Using the ISO Date Format for International Dates.

For general answers to your date/time questions, be sure to check out the Date and Times FAQ Category on!

If you've ever written a script that needs to UPDATE or INSERT Date values in a database and you live outside of North America, then I'd nearly bet that (like me) you've stayed up until midnight cursing the fact that all dates in SQL Server and MS-Access are natively converted from US date format (mm/dd/yyyy).

Why is that a problem I hear you ask? Simple, I'll tell you the answer to that question on 6/4/2001. Did you see that? No? OK then, what is 6/4/2001? Well if you are converting dates using mm/dd/yyyy format then the answer would be the 4th-Jun-2001. On the other hand if you were converting dates using dd/mm/yyyy format (as is the case in Australia and the UK) then the answer would be 6th-Apr-2001. To see what I mean, if we copy this code into an ASP page and run it:

'English - United States LCID
Session.LCID = 1033
Response.Write Date() & "<br />"

'English - Australia LCID
Session.LCID = 3081
Response.Write Date() & "<br />" 

the results are:


For more information on using Session.LCID to alter locale-specific information, be sure to read: Using the Locale Identifier (LCID). You can view a list of all of the valid LCIDs here.

Now, before I explain how to remedy the problem, which, incidentally I already have anyway ;), first let's try to get a better understanding of what exactly is happening. Let's say that we produce an SQL String which looks strikingly like this:

Dim strSQLUpdate
' If you're using SQL Server...
strSQLUpdate = "UPDATE tblOrders SET fldDateOrdered = '" & Date() & "' " & _
               "WHERE fldStatus = open ;"

' If you're using MS-Access...
strSQLUpdate = "UPDATE tblOrders SET fldDateOrdered = #" & Date() & "# " & _
               "WHERE fldStatus = open ;" 

The VBScripting engine interprets the Date() function as a value, formats it based on your Server/LCID settings, and then packages it all up as a *String* to send off to the database's Query Engine. Once the Query Engine recieves this SQL statement it goes about the job of Analyzing and Optimizing the query before passing it on the the Storage engine to actually file the information away in the database.

To see why this is a problem we simply need to understand that all dates are stored in the database as numbers. In order to be able to store a date as a number, the date has to be converted to something other than the standard calendar format. The numeric representation of dates is called a Julian, or Serial, date. To do this, the date is converted to an offset from a fixed point in time.

In the case of Microsoft Access, this offset is 30th-Dec-1899, and all dates are stored as the number of days since this date. Thus 7/7/93 is stored as 34157, meaning 34,157 days since 30th-Dec-1899. Negative numbers represent dates prior to 30th-Dec-1899.

Since adding 1 to a date represents 1 day or 24 hours, each hour is stored as .041666..., or 1/24 of a day. In Microsoft Access all times are stored as a fraction of a day. Each hour is 1/24 of a day, each minute 1/1440, each second 1/86400. So 3:00 is stored as .125 (or 1/8 of a day), and 16:00 is stored as 0.666..., (or 2/3 of a day). Conversely, 0.2 represents 4:48 hours (1/5 of a day), and so on.

Therefore we see that the following snippet produces a result of 28/02/1900 6:00:00 AM (assuming your LCID is set to display dates in dd-mm-yyyy format):

Response.Write CDate( CDbl(60.25) )

This is because 28th-Feb-1900 is 60 days added to 30-Dec-1899, and 06:00 AM is obviously a quarter (or .25) of the way through the day itself. The general point here is that the underlying value stored in the database is simply a DOUBLE.

Now that we know how a database physically stores a date (answer: as a DOUBLE), we're ready for Part 2, in which we'll look at how the Query Engine converts the SQL string containing the date (which is a string itself) into the proper format.

  • Read Part 2!

  • Article Information
    Article Title: Working with Databases and International Date Formats
    Article Author: Darren Neimke
    Published Date: Tuesday, April 10, 2001
    Article URL:

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