# A (third) proposal for implementing some date/time types in NumPy

Author: | Francesc Alted i Abad |
---|---|

Contact: | faltet@pytables.com |

Author: | Ivan Vilata i Balaguer |

Contact: | ivan@selidor.net |

Date: | 2008-07-30 |

### Executive summary

A date/time mark is something very handy to have in many fields where
one has to deal with data sets. While Python has several modules that
define a date/time type (like the integrated `datetime` [1] or
`mx.DateTime` [2]), NumPy has a lack of them.

In this document, we are proposing the addition of a series of date/time
types to fill this gap. The requirements for the proposed types are
two-folded: 1) they have to be fast to operate with and 2) they have to
be as compatible as possible with the existing `datetime` module that
comes with Python.

### Types proposed

To start with, it is virtually impossible to come up with a single
date/time type that fills the needs of every case of use. So, after
pondering about different possibilities, we have stuck with *two*
different types, namely `datetime64` and `timedelta64` (these names
are preliminary and can be changed), that can have different time units
so as to cover different needs.

Important

the time unit is conceived here as metadata that
*complements* a date/time dtype, *without changing the base type*. It
provides information about the *meaning* of the stored numbers, not
about their *structure*.

Now follows a detailed description of the proposed types.

`datetime64`

It represents a time that is absolute (i.e. not relative). It is
implemented internally as an `int64` type. The internal epoch is the
POSIX epoch (see [3]). Like POSIX, the representation of a date
doesn't take leap seconds into account.

In time unit *conversions* and time *representations* (but not in other
time computations), the value -2**63 (0x8000000000000000) is interpreted
as an invalid or unknown date, *Not a Time* or *NaT*. See the section
on time unit conversions for more information.

##### Time units

It accepts different time units, each of them implying a different time span. The table below describes the time units supported with their corresponding time spans.

Time unit | Time span (years) | |
---|---|---|

Code | Meaning | |

Y | year | [9.2e18 BC, 9.2e18 AC] |

M | month | [7.6e17 BC, 7.6e17 AC] |

W | week | [1.7e17 BC, 1.7e17 AC] |

B | business day | [3.5e16 BC, 3.5e16 AC] |

D | day | [2.5e16 BC, 2.5e16 AC] |

h | hour | [1.0e15 BC, 1.0e15 AC] |

m | minute | [1.7e13 BC, 1.7e13 AC] |

s | second | [ 2.9e9 BC, 2.9e9 AC] |

ms | millisecond | [ 2.9e6 BC, 2.9e6 AC] |

us | microsecond | [290301 BC, 294241 AC] |

ns | nanosecond | [ 1678 AC, 2262 AC] |

The value of an absolute date is thus *an integer number of units of the
chosen time unit* passed since the internal epoch. When working with
business days, Saturdays and Sundays are simply ignored from the count
(i.e. day 3 in business days is not Saturday 1970-01-03, but Monday
1970-01-05).

##### Building a `datetime64` dtype

The proposed ways to specify the time unit in the dtype constructor are:

Using the long string notation:

dtype('datetime64[us]')

Using the short string notation:

dtype('T8[us]')

Note that a time unit should always be specified, as there is not a default.

##### Setting and getting values

The objects with this dtype can be set in a series of ways:

t = numpy.ones(3, dtype='T8[s]') t[0] = 1199164176 # assign to July 30th, 2008 at 17:31:00 t[1] = datetime.datetime(2008, 7, 30, 17, 31, 01) # with datetime

- module
- t[2] = '2008-07-30T17:31:02' # with ISO 8601

And can be get in different ways too:

str(t[0]) --> 2008-07-30T17:31:00 repr(t[1]) --> datetime64(1199164177, 's') str(t[0].item()) --> 2008-07-30 17:31:00 # datetime module object repr(t[0].item()) --> datetime.datetime(2008, 7, 30, 17, 31) # idem str(t) --> [2008-07-30T17:31:00 2008-07-30T17:31:01

- 2008-07-30T17:31:02]
- repr(t) --> array([1199164176, 1199164177, 1199164178],
- dtype='datetime64[s]')

##### Comparisons

The comparisons will be supported too:

numpy.array(['1980'], 'T8[Y]') == numpy.array(['1979'], 'T8[Y]') --> [False]

or by applying broadcasting:

numpy.array(['1979', '1980'], 'T8[Y]') == numpy.datetime64

- ('1980', 'Y')
- --> [False, True]

The next should work too:

numpy.array(['1979', '1980'], 'T8[Y]') == '1980-01-01' --> [False, True]

because the right hand expression can be broadcasted into an array of 2 elements of dtype 'T8[Y]'.

##### Compatibility issues

This will be fully compatible with the `datetime` class of the
`datetime` module of Python only when using a time unit of
microseconds. For other time units, the conversion process will loose
precision or will overflow as needed. The conversion from/to a
`datetime` object doesn't take leap seconds into account.

`timedelta64`

It represents a time that is relative (i.e. not absolute). It is
implemented internally as an `int64` type.

In time unit *conversions* and time *representations* (but not in other
time computations), the value -2**63 (0x8000000000000000) is interpreted
as an invalid or unknown time, *Not a Time* or *NaT*. See the section
on time unit conversions for more information.

##### Time units

It accepts different time units, each of them implying a different time span. The table below describes the time units supported with their corresponding time spans.

Time unit | Time span | |
---|---|---|

Code | Meaning | |

Y | year | +- 9.2e18 years |

M | month | +- 7.6e17 years |

W | week | +- 1.7e17 years |

B | business day | +- 3.5e16 years |

D | day | +- 2.5e16 years |

h | hour | +- 1.0e15 years |

m | minute | +- 1.7e13 years |

s | second | +- 2.9e12 years |

ms | millisecond | +- 2.9e9 years |

us | microsecond | +- 2.9e6 years |

ns | nanosecond | +- 292 years |

ps | picosecond | +- 106 days |

fs | femtosecond | +- 2.6 hours |

as | attosecond | +- 9.2 seconds |

The value of a time delta is thus *an integer number of units of the
chosen time unit*.

##### Building a `timedelta64` dtype

The proposed ways to specify the time unit in the dtype constructor are:

Using the long string notation:

dtype('timedelta64[us]')

Using the short string notation:

dtype('t8[us]')

Note that a time unit should always be specified, as there is not a default.

##### Setting and getting values

The objects with this dtype can be set in a series of ways:

t = numpy.ones(3, dtype='t8[ms]') t[0] = 12 # assign to 12 ms t[1] = datetime.timedelta(0, 0, 13000) # 13 ms t[2] = '0:00:00.014' # 14 ms

And can be get in different ways too:

str(t[0]) --> 0:00:00.012 repr(t[1]) --> timedelta64(13, 'ms') str(t[0].item()) --> 0:00:00.012000 # datetime module object repr(t[0].item()) --> datetime.timedelta(0, 0, 12000) # idem str(t) --> [0:00:00.012 0:00:00.014 0:00:00.014] repr(t) --> array([12, 13, 14], dtype="timedelta64[ms]")

##### Comparisons

The comparisons will be supported too:

numpy.array([12, 13, 14], 't8[ms]') == numpy.array([12, 13, 13], 't8

- [ms]')
- --> [True, True, False]

or by applying broadcasting:

numpy.array([12, 13, 14], 't8[ms]') == numpy.timedelta64(13, 'ms') --> [False, True, False]

The next should work too:

numpy.array([12, 13, 14], 't8[ms]') == '0:00:00.012' --> [True, False, False]

because the right hand expression can be broadcasted into an array of 3 elements of dtype 't8[ms]'.

##### Compatibility issues

This will be fully compatible with the `timedelta` class of the
`datetime` module of Python only when using a time unit of
microseconds. For other units, the conversion process will loose
precision or will overflow as needed.

### Examples of use

Here it is an example of use for the `datetime64`:

In [5]: numpy.datetime64(42, 'us') Out[5]: datetime64(42, 'us') In [6]: print numpy.datetime64(42, 'us') 1970-01-01T00:00:00.000042 # representation in ISO 8601 format In [7]: print numpy.datetime64(367.7, 'D') # decimal part is lost 1971-01-02 # still ISO 8601 format In [8]: numpy.datetime('2008-07-18T12:23:18', 'm') # from ISO 8601 Out[8]: datetime64(20273063, 'm') In [9]: print numpy.datetime('2008-07-18T12:23:18', 'm') Out[9]: 2008-07-18T12:23 In [10]: t = numpy.zeros(5, dtype="datetime64[ms]") In [11]: t[0] = datetime.datetime.now() # setter in action In [12]: print t [2008-07-16T13:39:25.315 1970-01-01T00:00:00.000 1970-01-01T00:00:00.000 1970-01-01T00:00:00.000 1970-01-01T00:00:00.000] In [13]: repr(t) Out[13]: array([267859210457, 0, 0, 0, 0], dtype="datetime64[ms]") In [14]: t[0].item() # getter in action Out[14]: datetime.datetime(2008, 7, 16, 13, 39, 25, 315000) In [15]: print t.dtype dtype('datetime64[ms]')

And here it goes an example of use for the `timedelta64`:

In [5]: numpy.timedelta64(10, 'us') Out[5]: timedelta64(10, 'us') In [6]: print numpy.timedelta64(10, 'us') 0:00:00.000010 In [7]: print numpy.timedelta64(3600.2, 'm') # decimal part is lost 2 days, 12:00 In [8]: t1 = numpy.zeros(5, dtype="datetime64[ms]") In [9]: t2 = numpy.ones(5, dtype="datetime64[ms]") In [10]: t = t2 - t1 In [11]: t[0] = datetime.timedelta(0, 24) # setter in action In [12]: print t [0:00:24.000 0:00:01.000 0:00:01.000 0:00:01.000 0:00:01.000] In [13]: print repr(t) Out[13]: array([24000, 1, 1, 1, 1], dtype="timedelta64[ms]") In [14]: t[0].item() # getter in action Out[14]: datetime.timedelta(0, 24) In [15]: print t.dtype dtype('timedelta64[s]')

### Operating with date/time arrays

`datetime64` vs `datetime64`

The only arithmetic operation allowed between absolute dates is the subtraction:

In [10]: numpy.ones(3, "T8[s]") - numpy.zeros(3, "T8[s]") Out[10]: array([1, 1, 1], dtype=timedelta64[s])

But not other operations:

In [11]: numpy.ones(3, "T8[s]") + numpy.zeros(3, "T8[s]") TypeError: unsupported operand type(s) for +: 'numpy.ndarray'

and 'numpy.ndarray'

Comparisons between absolute dates are allowed.

##### Casting rules

When operating (basically, only the subtraction will be allowed) two absolute times with different unit times, the outcome would be to raise an exception. This is because the ranges and time-spans of the different time units can be very different, and it is not clear at all what time unit will be preferred for the user. For example, this should be allowed:

>>> numpy.ones(3, dtype="T8[Y]") - numpy.zeros(3, dtype="T8[Y]") array([1, 1, 1], dtype="timedelta64[Y]")

But the next should not:

>>> numpy.ones(3, dtype="T8[Y]") - numpy.zeros(3, dtype="T8[ns]") raise numpy.IncompatibleUnitError # what unit to choose?

`datetime64` vs `timedelta64`

It will be possible to add and subtract relative times from absolute dates:

In [10]: numpy.zeros(5, "T8[Y]") + numpy.ones(5, "t8[Y]") Out[10]: array([1971, 1971, 1971, 1971, 1971], dtype=datetime64[Y]) In [11]: numpy.ones(5, "T8[Y]") - 2 * numpy.ones(5, "t8[Y]") Out[11]: array([1969, 1969, 1969, 1969, 1969], dtype=datetime64[Y])

But not other operations:

In [12]: numpy.ones(5, "T8[Y]") * numpy.ones(5, "t8[Y]") TypeError: unsupported operand type(s) for *: 'numpy.ndarray'

and 'numpy.ndarray'

##### Casting rules

In this case the absolute time should have priority for determining the time unit of the outcome. That would represent what the people wants to do most of the times. For example, this would allow to do:

>>> series = numpy.array(['1970-01-01', '1970-02-01', '1970-09-01'], dtype='datetime64[D]') >>> series2 = series + numpy.timedelta(1, 'Y') # Add 2 relative years >>> series2 array(['1972-01-01', '1972-02-01', '1972-09-01'], dtype='datetime64[D]') # the 'D'ay time unit has been chosen

`timedelta64` vs `timedelta64`

Finally, it will be possible to operate with relative times as if they
were regular int64 dtypes *as long as* the result can be converted back
into a `timedelta64`:

In [10]: numpy.ones(3, 't8[us]') Out[10]: array([1, 1, 1], dtype="timedelta64[us]") In [11]: (numpy.ones(3, 't8[M]') + 2) ** 3 Out[11]: array([27, 27, 27], dtype="timedelta64[M]")

But:

In [12]: numpy.ones(5, 't8') + 1j TypeError: the result cannot be converted into a ``timedelta64``

##### Casting rules

When combining two `timedelta64` dtypes with different time units the
outcome will be the shorter of both ("keep the precision" rule). For
example:

In [10]: numpy.ones(3, 't8[s]') + numpy.ones(3, 't8[m]') Out[10]: array([61, 61, 61], dtype="timedelta64[s]")

However, due to the impossibility to know the exact duration of a relative year or a relative month, when these time units appear in one of the operands, the operation will not be allowed:

In [11]: numpy.ones(3, 't8[Y]') + numpy.ones(3, 't8[D]') raise numpy.IncompatibleUnitError # how to convert relative years to

days?

In order to being able to perform the above operation a new NumPy
function, called `change_timeunit` is proposed. Its signature will
be:

change_timeunit(time_object, new_unit, reference)

where 'time_object' is the time object whose unit is to be changed, 'new_unit' is the desired new time unit, and 'reference' is an absolute date (NumPy datetime64 scalar) that will be used to allow the conversion of relative times in case of using time units with an uncertain number of smaller time units (relative years or months cannot be expressed in days).

With this, the above operation can be done as follows:

In [10]: t_years = numpy.ones(3, 't8[Y]') In [11]: t_days = numpy.change_timeunit(t_years, 'D', '2001-01-01') In [12]: t_days + numpy.ones(3, 't8[D]') Out[12]: array([366, 366, 366], dtype="timedelta64[D]")

### dtype vs time units conversions

For changing the date/time dtype of an existing array, we propose to use
the `.astype()` method. This will be mainly useful for changing time
units.

For example, for absolute dates:

In[10]: t1 = numpy.zeros(5, dtype="datetime64[s]") In[11]: print t1 [1970-01-01T00:00:00 1970-01-01T00:00:00 1970-01-01T00:00:00 1970-01-01T00:00:00 1970-01-01T00:00:00] In[12]: print t1.astype('datetime64[D]') [1970-01-01 1970-01-01 1970-01-01 1970-01-01 1970-01-01]

For relative times:

In[10]: t1 = numpy.ones(5, dtype="timedelta64[s]") In[11]: print t1 [1 1 1 1 1] In[12]: print t1.astype('timedelta64[ms]') [1000 1000 1000 1000 1000]

Changing directly from/to relative to/from absolute dtypes will not be supported:

In[13]: numpy.zeros(5, dtype="datetime64[s]").astype('timedelta64') TypeError: data type cannot be converted to the desired type

Business days have the peculiarity that they do not cover a continuous
line of time (they have gaps at weekends). Thus, when converting from
any ordinary time to business days, it can happen that the original time
is not representable. In that case, the result of the conversion is
*Not a Time* (*NaT*):

In[10]: t1 = numpy.arange(5, dtype="datetime64[D]") In[11]: print t1 [1970-01-01 1970-01-02 1970-01-03 1970-01-04 1970-01-05] In[12]: t2 = t1.astype("datetime64[B]") In[13]: print t2 # 1970 begins in a Thursday [1970-01-01 1970-01-02 NaT NaT 1970-01-05]

When converting back to ordinary days, NaT values are left untouched (this happens in all time unit conversions):

In[14]: t3 = t2.astype("datetime64[D]") In[13]: print t3 [1970-01-01 1970-01-02 NaT NaT 1970-01-05]

### Final considerations

#### Why the `origin` metadata disappeared

During the discussion of the date/time dtypes in the NumPy list, the
idea of having an `origin` metadata that complemented the definition
of the absolute `datetime64` was initially found to be useful.

However, after thinking more about this, we found that the combination
of an absolute `datetime64` with a relative `timedelta64` does offer
the same functionality while removing the need for the additional
`origin` metadata. This is why we have removed it from this proposal.

#### Operations with mixed time units

Whenever an operation between two time values of the same dtype with the same unit is accepted, the same operation with time values of different units should be possible (e.g. adding a time delta in seconds and one in microseconds), resulting in an adequate time unit. The exact semantics of this kind of operations is defined int the "Casting rules" subsections of the "Operating with date/time arrays" section.

Due to the peculiarities of business days, it is most probable that operations mixing business days with other time units will not be allowed.

#### Why there is not a `quarter` time unit?

This proposal tries to focus on the most common used set of time units
to operate with, and the `quarter` can be considered more of a derived
unit. Besides, the use of a `quarter` normally requires that it can
start at whatever month of the year, and as we are not including support
for a time `origin` metadata, this is not a viable venue here.
Finally, if we were to add the `quarter` then people should expect to
find a `biweekly`, `semester` or `biyearly` just to put some
examples of other derived units, and we find this a bit too overwhelming
for this proposal purposes.

[1] | http://docs.python.org/lib/module-datetime.html |

[2] | http://www.egenix.com/products/python/mxBase/mxDateTime |

[3] | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unix_time |