The third law of the Time Lords

There is a great old saying that the marvellous thing about standards is that there are so many of them….  and things don’t get much worse than date and time formats.   Are we using DD-MM-YY or MM-DD-YY or DD-MM-YYYY…   I could go on for some time, nothing sets my teeth on edge more than not being certain what date format I am looking at.

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 1.11.38 PM

What amazes me is how many consumer oriented application still don’t respect regional time settings or use a common standard.    I recently evaluated CrashPlan for instance as an alternative to DropBox.   I was fairly surprised to find that the CrashPlan logs were all in USA date format (even though I am using the CrashPlan Australia portal).

2013-05-15_20-27-22Sadly when I compared this to Dropbox I found exactly the same problem!   Not exactly a ‘born-global’ attitude.


The good news is that there a common standard for date stamps that some IT vendors are now sticking to, which is called  ISO 8601.     A date stamp in ISO 8601 format always uses YYYY-MM-DD.   A great example of a log file that follows this standard is the vmware.log file of any Virtual Machine:

Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 8.33.38 PM

There is a great write-up of the format and structure for ISO 8601 here:

So why do I care about date formats (and why should you?).  The answer is error logs.

In todays IT world no system is an island.  There is always interaction.  When you want to understand root cause you need to understand event order.   If you cannot trust the time stamps (because NTP is not in use and the timezones are wrong) and you cannot combine the logs (because the time and date formats are wildly different), then you are in trouble.  So next time you are evaluating a solution, scare your vendor and ask if they support ISO8601.  Tell them to get on board.

This brings us to the three rules of time management (the three laws of the Time Lords):

  1. Always co-ordinate your time.
  2. Always get your timezone correct.
  3. Always use a standard time and date format.

And remember…  there is only person who can break the laws of time:



About Anthony Vandewerdt

I am an IT Professional who lives and works in Melbourne Australia. This blog is totally my own work. It does not represent the views of any corporation. Constructive and useful comments are very very welcome.
This entry was posted in advice, SAN, vmware and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The third law of the Time Lords

  1. Not entirely relevant to your post but from a consumer backup perspective I give thumbs up to CrashPlan. Not sure it is good for a DropBox replacement (I use GDrive) but certainly does the job for a local/cloud backup application.

    • Hi Rawley.

      Totally agree, Crashplan is great. Given I am paid up with Dropbox for a few more months, I will stick with them for now. The thing I like about Dropbox is the ‘East-West’ component where updates get shared between peers on the local LAN using a shared folder. Crashplan however is more like a true backup solution.

  2. Michael Lewy says:

    Should the 3rd Rule of the Time Lords not be changed in this case to …..
    “3. Always use a standard Date and Time format.” ?

  3. I’ve been using the ISO 8601 format for ages when creating directories to sort my personal directories. It makes them appear in the correct date order in Windows Explorer.

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