Unexpected Shorthand Date Implicit Conversions

Published on: 2018-10-23

I do my best work in the mornings.  Evenings are pretty good too once I get a second wind.

Late afternoon are my nemesis for getting any serious technical or creative work done.  Usually I reserve that time for responding to emails, writing documentation, and brewing coffee.

Some afternoons I can’t help myself though and end up getting myself into trouble.

What is THAT!?

It all started when I was troubleshooting an existing query that was having issues.  During the process of trying to understand what the query was doing, I happened to look at the execution plan:

Simplified, but you get the point.

When I hovered over the Table Scan, the Predicate section caught my eye.  Specifically, I wondered “Why is 1900-01-31 showing up? I don’t have that anywhere in my query!

(fun side story: the real query I was working on was dealing with user-defined datatypes, something I don’t have experience with, so I thought those had something to do with the problems I was experiencing.  I latched onto this 1900 date as the potential cause but it ended up being a red herring!)

Help!

Like I mentioned, late afternoons are not when I do my best work.  I couldn’t figure out why SQL Server was converting my -30 to January 31, 1900.

Intrigued and having no clue what was going on, I decided to post the question with the #sqlhelp hashtag on Twitter.  Fortunately for me, Aaron Bertrand, Jason Leiser, and Thomas LaRock all came to the rescue with ideas and answers – thanks guys!

Implicit Conversion

In hindsight, the answer is obvious: the -30 implicitly converts to a datetime (the return type of my @Today variable), in this case 30 days after the start of the minimum datetime value, 1900-01-01.

This makes perfect sense: SQL Server needs to do some math and in order to do so it first needs to make sure both datatypes in the equation match.  Since int readily converts to datetime but not the other way around, SQL Server was just doing its job.

Future Problems

As I mentioned earlier, this int to datetime conversion wasn’t the actual issue with my query – in my drowsy state I mistook it as being the source of my problem.

And while it wasn’t a problem this time, it can become a problem in the future.

Aaron has an excellent article on the problems with shorthand date math, but the most relevant future issue with my query is: what if someone in the future decides to update all datetimes to datetime2s (datetime2 being Microsoft’s recommended datatype for new work)?

If we update to a datetime2s and run the query again:

Everything is broken

AHHH!  While SQL Server had no problem converting our previous code between datetime and int, it’s not so happy about converting datetime2.

Morals

In the end, the above scenario had nothing to do with the actual problem I had on hand (which had to do with some operator precedence confusion).

To avoid future confusion and problems it’s still better to refactor the code to be explicit with what you want to do by using the DATEADD() function:

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AT TIME ZONE: The easy way to deal with time zones and daylight savings time

Published on: 2018-03-27

Many people think daylight savings time was created to help align the hours that the sun is up with our waking hours so farmers and school children didn’t have to be outside in the dark.  Or something like that.

Well let me fill you in on a little secret – daylight savings time was actually created by a government works project to ensure that programmers could forever write tedious conditional logic in their date-based queries to handle the date time conversions surrounding time zones and daylight savings time.

While these types of datetime conversions have historically been a pain, SQL Server 2016 introduced the AT TIME ZONE feature makes these types of conversions a breeze.

Defining Time Zone

Let’s say you have a datetime value that you know is encoded in UTC (if you don’t know what timezone your data was originally encoded in you’re out of luck):

Besides naming convention, there’s nothing that tells us that our datetime is in UTC.  But if we know that to be the case, we can use AT TIME ZONE to add an UTC offset to the timestamp to make it official:

See that +00:00  at the end of our value?  That’s our time zone offset – it’s basically telling us how many hours and minutes away from UTC our date is stored in.  With this offset in place, our UTC datetime isn’t encoded only by the variable name – it’s actually encoded in the data itself.

Converting Time Zones

Now that we have a well-defined UTC datetime, we can use AT TIME ZONE to easily convert our data to different time zones.

For example, if we want to convert our UTC datetime to Eastern Standard Time, we can tack on  AT TIME ZONE 'Eastern Standard Time' :

The time portion of our datetime is now showing 7am with the offset indicating we are 4 hours behind UTC.  Easy time zone conversions, yes!

But What About Our Farmer Friends?

So AT TIME ZONE makes it easy to convert between time zones – but how does it handle daylight savings time conversions?

Well, on March 11, 2018 I lost an hour of my life when daylight savings time kicked in at 2am.  Does AT TIME ZONE recognize this theft?

YES! Say so long to conditional conditions that subtract an amount of time based on the date; AT TIME ZONE handles the switch to DST with ease as noted by the offset change from -05:00  to -04:00 .

And just like that, programming for time zone and day light savings time logic just became a little easier.

But I Don’t Live In The Eastern Standard Time Zone!

No problem, in addition to AT TIME ZONE, SQL Server 2016 added this nifty table that will give you the names of all of the time zones it supports:

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