Date and Time

When working with date and time information in Python, you commonly use the classes date, datetime and/or time from the datetime package. Babel provides functions for locale-specific formatting of those objects in its dates module:

>>> from datetime import date, datetime, time
>>> from babel.dates import format_date, format_datetime, format_time

>>> d = date(2007, 4, 1)
>>> format_date(d, locale='en')
u'Apr 1, 2007'
>>> format_date(d, locale='de_DE')

As this example demonstrates, Babel will automatically choose a date format that is appropriate for the requested locale.

The format_*() functions also accept an optional format argument, which allows you to choose between one of four format variations:

  • short,

  • medium (the default),

  • long, and

  • full.

For example:

>>> format_date(d, format='short', locale='en')
>>> format_date(d, format='long', locale='en')
u'April 1, 2007'
>>> format_date(d, format='full', locale='en')
u'Sunday, April 1, 2007'

Core Time Concepts

Working with dates and time can be a complicated thing. Babel attempts to simplify working with them by making some decisions for you. Python’s datetime module has different ways to deal with times and dates: naive and timezone-aware datetime objects.

Babel generally recommends you to store all your time in naive datetime objects and treat them as UTC at all times. This simplifies dealing with time a lot because otherwise you can get into the hairy situation where you are dealing with datetime objects of different timezones. That is tricky because there are situations where time can be ambiguous. This is usually the case when dealing with dates around timezone transitions. The most common case of timezone transition is changes between daylight saving time and standard time.

As such we recommend to always use UTC internally and only reformat to local time when returning dates to users. At that point the timezone the user has selected can usually be established and Babel can automatically rebase the time for you.

To get the current time use the now() method of the datetime object, passing utc to it as the timezone.

For more information about timezones see Time-zone Support.

Pattern Syntax

While Babel makes it simple to use the appropriate date/time format for a given locale, you can also force it to use custom patterns. Note that Babel uses different patterns for specifying number and date formats compared to the Python equivalents (such as time.strftime()), which have mostly been inherited from C and POSIX. The patterns used in Babel are based on the Locale Data Markup Language specification (LDML), which defines them as follows:

A date/time pattern is a string of characters, where specific strings of characters are replaced with date and time data from a calendar when formatting or used to generate data for a calendar when parsing. […]

Characters may be used multiple times. For example, if y is used for the year, yy might produce “99”, whereas yyyy produces “1999”. For most numerical fields, the number of characters specifies the field width. For example, if h is the hour, h might produce “5”, but hh produces “05”. For some characters, the count specifies whether an abbreviated or full form should be used […]

Two single quotes represent a literal single quote, either inside or outside single quotes. Text within single quotes is not interpreted in any way (except for two adjacent single quotes).

For example:

>>> d = date(2007, 4, 1)
>>> format_date(d, "EEE, MMM d, ''yy", locale='en')
u"Sun, Apr 1, '07"
>>> format_date(d, "EEEE, d.M.yyyy", locale='de')
u'Sonntag, 1.4.2007'

>>> t = time(15, 30)
>>> format_time(t, "hh 'o''clock' a", locale='en')
u"03 o'clock PM"
>>> format_time(t, 'H:mm a', locale='de')
u'15:30 nachm.'

>>> dt = datetime(2007, 4, 1, 15, 30)
>>> format_datetime(dt, "yyyyy.MMMM.dd GGG hh:mm a", locale='en')
u'02007.April.01 AD 03:30 PM'

The syntax for custom datetime format patterns is described in detail in the the Locale Data Markup Language specification. The following table is just a relatively brief overview.

Date Fields






Replaced with the era string for the current date. One to three letters for the abbreviated form, four lettersfor the long form, five for the narrow form



Replaced by the year. Normally the length specifies the padding, but for two letters it also specifies the maximum length.


Same as y but uses the ISO year-week calendar. ISO year-week increments after completing the last week of the year. Therefore it may change a few days before or after y. Recommend use with the w Symbol.





Use one or two for the numerical quarter, three for the abbreviation, or four for the full name.


Use one or two for the numerical quarter, three for the abbreviation, or four for the full name.



Use one or two for the numerical month, three for the abbreviation, or four for the full name, or five for the narrow name.


Use one or two for the numerical month, three for the abbreviation, or four for the full name, or 5 for the narrow name.



Week of year according to the ISO year-week calendar. This may have 52 or 53 weeks depending on the year. Recommend use with the Y symbol.


Week of month.



Day of month.


Day of year.


Day of week in month.



Week day


Day of week. Use one through three letters for the short day, or four for the full name, or five for the narrow name.


Local day of week. Same as E except adds a numeric value that will depend on the local starting day of the week, using one or two letters.



Time Fields






AM or PM



Hour [1-12].


Hour [0-23].


Hour [0-11].


Hour [1-24].



Use one or two for zero places padding.



Use one or two for zero places padding.


Fractional second, rounds to the count of letters.


Milliseconds in day.



Use one to three letters for the short timezone or four for the full name.


Use one to three letters for RFC 822, four letters for GMT format.


Use one letter for short wall (generic) time, four for long wall time.


Same as z, except that timezone abbreviations should be used regardless of whether they are in common use by the locale.

Time Delta Formatting

In addition to providing functions for formatting localized dates and times, the babel.dates module also provides a function to format the difference between two times, called a ‘’time delta’’. These are usually represented as datetime.timedelta objects in Python, and it’s also what you get when you subtract one datetime object from an other.

The format_timedelta function takes a timedelta object and returns a human-readable representation. This happens at the cost of precision, as it chooses only the most significant unit (such as year, week, or hour) of the difference, and displays that:

>>> from datetime import timedelta
>>> from babel.dates import format_timedelta
>>> delta = timedelta(days=6)
>>> format_timedelta(delta, locale='en_US')
u'1 week'

The resulting strings are based from the CLDR data, and are properly pluralized depending on the plural rules of the locale and the calculated number of units.

The function provides parameters for you to influence how this most significant unit is chosen: with threshold you set the value after which the presentation switches to the next larger unit, and with granularity you can limit the smallest unit to display:

>>> delta = timedelta(days=6)
>>> format_timedelta(delta, threshold=1.2, locale='en_US')
u'6 days'
>>> format_timedelta(delta, granularity='month', locale='en_US')
u'1 month'

Time-zone Support

Many of the verbose time formats include the time-zone, but time-zone information is not by default available for the Python datetime and time objects. The standard library includes only the abstract tzinfo class, which you need appropriate implementations for to actually use in your application. Babel includes a tzinfo implementation for UTC (Universal Time).

Babel uses either `zoneinfo`_ or pytz for timezone support. If pytz is installed, it is preferred over the standard library’s zoneinfo. You can directly interface with either of these modules from within Babel:

>>> from datetime import time
>>> from babel.dates import get_timezone, UTC
>>> dt = datetime(2007, 4, 1, 15, 30, tzinfo=UTC)
>>> eastern = get_timezone('US/Eastern')
>>> format_datetime(dt, 'H:mm Z', tzinfo=eastern, locale='en_US')
u'11:30 -0400'

The recommended approach to deal with different time-zones in a Python application is to always use UTC internally, and only convert from/to the users time-zone when accepting user input and displaying date/time data, respectively. You can use Babel together with zoneinfo or pytz to apply a time-zone to any datetime or time object for display, leaving the original information unchanged:

>>> british = get_timezone('Europe/London')
>>> format_datetime(dt, 'H:mm zzzz', tzinfo=british, locale='en_US')
u'16:30 British Summer Time'

Here, the given UTC time is adjusted to the “Europe/London” time-zone, and daylight savings time is taken into account. Daylight savings time is also applied to format_time, but because the actual date is unknown in that case, the current day is assumed to determine whether DST or standard time should be used.

Babel also provides support for working with the local timezone of your operating system. It’s provided through the LOCALTZ constant:

>>> from babel.dates import LOCALTZ, get_timezone_name
<DstTzInfo 'Europe/Vienna' CET+1:00:00 STD>
>>> get_timezone_name(LOCALTZ)
u'Central European Time'

Localized Time-zone Names

While the Locale class provides access to various locale display names related to time-zones, the process of building a localized name of a time-zone is actually quite complicated. Babel implements it in separately usable functions in the babel.dates module, most importantly the get_timezone_name function:

>>> from babel import Locale
>>> from babel.dates import get_timezone_name, get_timezone

>>> tz = get_timezone('Europe/Berlin')
>>> get_timezone_name(tz, locale=Locale.parse('pt_PT'))
u'Hora da Europa Central'

You can pass the function either a datetime.tzinfo object, or a or datetime.datetime object. If you pass an actual date, the function will be able to take daylight savings time into account. If you pass just the time-zone, Babel does not know whether daylight savings time is in effect, so it uses a generic representation, which is useful for example to display a list of time-zones to the user.

>>> from datetime import datetime
>>> from babel.dates import _localize

>>> dt = _localize(tz, datetime(2007, 8, 15))
>>> get_timezone_name(dt, locale=Locale.parse('de_DE'))
u'Mitteleurop\xe4ische Sommerzeit'
>>> get_timezone_name(tz, locale=Locale.parse('de_DE'))
u'Mitteleurop\xe4ische Zeit'