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Understanding the distinction between MySQL timestamp and datetime types is crucial for database schema design, affecting data storage, time zone handling, automatic updates, and more. This exploration delves into their key differences, providing insights on when to use one over the other, supported with practical examples and performance considerations.

Differences Between TIMESTAMP and DATETIME

Data Storage

Both TIMESTAMP and DATETIME store data in a similar format, “YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS”, but their interpretations and functionalities diverge significantly.

TIMESTAMP uses 4 bytes for storage and has a range from ‘1970-01-01 00:00:01’ UTC to ‘2038-01-19 03:14:07’ UTC, making it suitable for recording events in modern systems. This is one incarnation of the famous Year 2038 Problem.

On the other hand, DATETIME requires 5 bytes, covering a wider range from ‘1000-01-01 00:00:00’ to ‘9999-12-31 23:59:59’, offering more flexibility for historical dates.

Time Zone Handling

MySQL automatically converts TIMESTAMP values from the current time zone to UTC for storage, and back to the current time zone for retrieval. This behavior makes TIMESTAMP ideal for applications involving multiple time zones.

Conversely, DATETIME does not perform any conversion, maintaining the same values as they were input. This trait is particularly useful for applications where the specific time zone representation is crucial, such as scheduling future events.

Automatic Updates

MySQL allows for a TIMESTAMP column to be automatically updated to the current timestamp when the row is modified, facilitating audit trails or versioning.

DATETIME columns, however, lack this automatic update feature, requiring manual intervention to change the values, thus providing more control over the data.



TIMESTAMP is ideal for recording the creation or modification dates of records, automatically adapting to the time zone of each database server.

Its automatic conversion to UTC is beneficial for applications that synchronize data across different time zones, ensuring consistency and accuracy.

When to Use DATETIME

For applications that need to store past or future dates outside the range of TIMESTAMP, such as birthdates or historical events, DATETIME is the better choice.

When scheduling events that should not shift with time zone changes, like a webinar at 9 AM PST, DATETIME ensures the time remains constant regardless of the server’s time zone.

Practical Examples

Example Queries

INSERT INTO your_table (timestamp_column) VALUES (CURRENT_TIMESTAMP);

This inserts the current timestamp, automatically adjusted to the server’s time zone.

INSERT INTO your_table (datetime_column) VALUES ('2023-01-01 09:00:00');

This explicitly sets a DATETIME value, unaffected by time zone considerations.

Performance Considerations

Queries involving TIMESTAMP columns might be slightly faster due to their smaller storage size and index efficiency.

For applications where storage efficiency is a concern, TIMESTAMP‘s lower byte requirement makes it a more compelling option, especially in tables with a high number of records.

In summary, the choice between TIMESTAMP and DATETIME in MySQL hinges on specific application requirements like time zone sensitivity, need for historical data accuracy, and automatic updates. By carefully considering these aspects, developers can design databases that are both robust and efficient.

Last updated May 28, 2024

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