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PHP: Calculating past and future dates

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The strtotime function in PHP is incredibly powerful but very much underutilised - mainly because some aspects can be a bit confusing and people are more confident 'doing things the hard way'. The strtotime function doesn't just convert date strings to timestamp values but also has its own 'language' to let you specify just about any date or time you want.

Calculating dates for past and future days

The easiest and most common calculations are based on seconds, minutes, hours and days. Months and years are also valid input but not always useful in calculations as they're not all of equal length because of the way our calendar works.

Shown below are the results of various strings passed to strtotime and converted to date strings.

For example:

echo date('l jS F (Y-m-d)', strtotime('-3 days'));
3 days ago
Thursday 23rd February (2017-02-23)
-3 days
Thursday 23rd February (2017-02-23)
-2 days
Friday 24th February (2017-02-24)
Saturday 25th February (2017-02-25)
Sunday 26th February (2017-02-26)
Sunday 26th February (2017-02-26)
Monday 27th February (2017-02-27)
+2 days
Tuesday 28th February (2017-02-28)
+3 days
Wednesday 1st March (2017-03-01)

As always there are often different ways to achieve the same result. In the list above you can see that '3 days ago' is equivalent to '-3 days'. Also 'yesterday' is the same as '-1 days' or '1 day ago'. The 's' on the end of 'days', 'years' or other measurements can be left off if you want.

The 'now' and 'today' input values in the list above are superfluous as if we leave off the second paramater of the date function it will default to the current time anyway.

Working with days of the week

Sometimes we work with days of the week and need to know the last/next occurrence of, for example, a Saturday:

-2 weeks Saturday
Saturday 18th February (2017-02-18)
last Saturday
Saturday 25th February (2017-02-25)
Saturday 4th March (2017-03-04)
this Saturday
Saturday 4th March (2017-03-04)
first Saturday
Saturday 4th March (2017-03-04)
next Saturday
Saturday 4th March (2017-03-04)
third Saturday
Saturday 18th March (2017-03-18)
+2 weeks Saturday
Saturday 18th March (2017-03-18)

In the list above we can see that 'Saturday', 'this Saturday' and 'first Saturday' are all equivalent. The 'this' and 'first' keywords are only used to improve readability.

Now it gets a bit complicated to explain. The following appears on the PHP website:

In PHP 5 up to 5.0.2, "now" and other relative times are wrongly computed from today's midnight. It differs from other versions where it is correctly computed from current time.

In addition, they've introduced 'second' as in 'second Saturday' and seem to have changed the meaning of 'next' to mean the same as 'first'. Finally, the return value on failure is now FALSE instead of -1. This last change is the most likely to cause problems in legacy applications.

The table below shows how the output has changed:

Older versions of PHP: PHP 5.0.2 and higher:
  • last Saturday
  • this Saturday or first Saturday
  • next Saturday
  • third Saturday
  • fourth Saturday
  • last Saturday
  • this Saturday or first Saturday or next Saturday
  • second Saturday
  • third Saturday
  • fourth Saturday

Using offsets to get the right day

Another problem is when you want to find the previous or next occurence of a certain day of the week. For example, today being a Sunday we can run the following:

last Sunday
Sunday 19th February (2017-02-19)
Sunday 26th February (2017-02-26)
this Sunday
Sunday 26th February (2017-02-26)
first Sunday
Sunday 5th March (2017-03-05)
next Sunday
Sunday 5th March (2017-03-05)
third Sunday
Sunday 19th March (2017-03-19)
Older versions of PHP: PHP 5.0.2 and higher:
  • last Sunday
  • this Sunday or first Sunday
  • next Sunday
  • third Sunday
  • fourth Sunday
  • last Sunday
  • this Sunday
  • first Sunday or next Sunday
  • second Sunday
  • third Sunday

You can see in the table above that, while 'next Sunday' returns the same result, the 'first', 'second', 'third', ... modifiers have all changed in meaning - thankfully to a more logical state.

You may notice also that this only occurs when you're calculating from the current day and not in the previous examples (unless today is Saturday). Whenever you do calculations based on days you should test as many possibilities as possible: Does it work today? yesterday? tomorrow? and so on.

Sometimes you want to find the last occurence of a day before today, or before yesterday or before 2 days ago. The following examples show the syntax you can use for this:

-3 days last Saturday
Wednesday 22nd February (2017-02-22)
-2 days last Saturday
Thursday 23rd February (2017-02-23)
yesterday last Saturday
Friday 24th February (2017-02-24)
tomorrow Saturday
Sunday 5th March (2017-03-05)
+2 days Saturday
Monday 6th March (2017-03-06)
+3 days Saturday
Tuesday 7th March (2017-03-07)

Now that you understand the inner workings of strtotime you should be able to drastically reduce the amount of code required to calculate past and future dates.

Checking if a date is in the Past or Future

The strtotime function returns an integer value so it's a simple matter to see if a date is in the past or in the future.

if(strtotime(dateString) > time()) { # date is in the future } if(strtotime(dateString) < time()) { # date is in the past } if(strtotime(dateString) == time()) { # date is right now }

Note: time() is equivalent to date('U') and returns the current timestamp to the nearest second.

You might want to replace time() with strtotime('0:00') if you want to compare a date string to the current date rather than the current date and time.



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User Comments

Most recent 20 of 22 comments:

Post your comment or question

17 April, 2016

how to calculate next working day exclude weekend and holiday and check the next working day falls on working day or holiday, and if fall on holidays check until it fall on working day again

2 October, 2015

How do I get the date where the condition is given for eg.,"Last Saturday of the month" assuming for OCT 15

This might be what you're after:

$last_saturday_this_month = date('l jS F', strtotime("next month last Saturday"));

24 January, 2014

Thank you so much for that, simple clear and concise, I am presently in the first quarter of a php/SQL programming certificate, labs can be nightmarish and every time I find some help like this I am so grateful

6 August, 2013

I need to display the date for the next meeting that occurs on the second Monday of the month. For example on 1st August 2013, show 12th August 2013, on 13th August 2013 show 9th September 2013. I would also like it to ignore January & July (meetings do not occur those months) and display the February/August meeting dates instead. Any help appreciated.

Obviously you will need a function for this and not just a single strotime command. This should get you started:

$lastday = date('Y-m-d', strtotime("last day of last month"));
$thismeeting = date('Y-m-d', strtotime("$lastday second Monday"));

$lastday = date('Y-m-d', strtotime("last day of this month"));
$nextmeeting = date('Y-m-d', strtotime("$lastday second Monday"));

You can replace "last month" with "2013-08" if you want to loop through the year.

13 July, 2013

I want to calculate every 5days from when a user signed up. How do I go abtt this..

Something like this should work:

$start = "2013-02-22";
for($i=1; $i < 10; $i++) {
echo date("Y-m-d", strtotime("$start + " . ($i*5) . " day")) . "<br>

14 March, 2013

Thanks for the clear explanation & examples, just thought I'd share my experience to hopefully save a few hours of frustration for others:

I was using the Unix timestamp integer returned by strtotime('this Friday') and subtracting the number of seconds in a week (604800) to get the value for last Friday (which I have to do for the most recent five Fridays). Problem was, it just so happens that the Sunday between this Friday and last Friday is when Daylight Savings Time bumped us forward an hour, thereby making all of my "previous Friday" Unix timestamp calculations an hour off! Using strtotime('-1 weeks Friday') then -2 etc. fixed everything up nicely. Thanks again!

13 August, 2012

When a month has five saturday's then
date('Y-m-d', strtotime( date('M Y ').'second saturday')) is giving vaule of third saturday, any idea friends ?

If the 1st of a month is Saturday then "second saturday" will return the third Saturday in that month. You need to start from the last day of the previous month to get it right in this case.

9 May, 2012

Nice article - very helpful!

Wondering if you could help me understand why the results of this code is off by one (1) for actual day of year?

echo date('z', strtotime('2012-5-9'));
// shows 129 and s/b 130?


I figured it out...

I don't know why they don't mention this - but the array of days of yearusing the php date(z) function begins with 0 for Jan 1, 2012.

So... Dec 31, 2012 is 365 (off by one because of leap year).

I have to pad the results by 1 to get actual calendar day of year...

1 December, 2011

how to calcutate the day of the future year..and what is the main logic behind this calculation and how does it flow in that method
as if the day i want to calcute is 26 feb 2028 and today is 1 dec 2011 so what will be the day on 26 feb 2028..

It's really not as complicated as you think:

$dayofweek = date('l', strtotime('26 feb 2028')); // Saturday

7 October, 2011

Really a great Post! Thanks. It helped me in handling such kind of date and day issues!

31 August, 2011

I may have commented here before but I keep coming back to this page when I am searching for PHP date information and it is always right on the money with the syntax I need. Thx

30 March, 2011

I have the code:

$tUnixTime= strtotime('second sunday may 2011');
echo $sGMTMySqlString = gmdate("Y-m-d H:i:s", $tUnixTime);

The real answer should be:
2011-05-08 04:00:00

The program is giving:
2011-05-15 04:00:00

what I am doing bad?

The following strtotime examples should explain it:

  • 'may 2011' => Sunday 1st May (2011-05-01)
  • 'may 2011 next Sunday' => Sunday 8th May (2011-05-08 )
  • 'may 2011 second Sunday' => Sunday 15th May (2011-05-15)

In short, 'may 2011' is already a Sunday, so the counting starts from there. What you could use instead is '30 april 2011 second Sunday' to get the value you're after.

7 March, 2011

I have just been doing some work with dates today and this page has helped me immensely. Thank you

22 February, 2011

After looking at some other methods of doing this when I came to yours I thought this couldn't possibly work...but it did! Simple script works flawlessy, thanks man will be using it in my projects!

17 February, 2011

If we have an event that is always the second Saturday in July, how many numbers will we need for banners? e.g. 2009 11th, 2010 10th, 2011 9th, which other numbers will we need?

for($year=2000; $year <= 2050; $year++) {
echo date('l jS F, Y', strtotime("{$year}-07-01 second Saturday")) . "<br>";

1 February, 2011

Today is 31 January 2011.
I try to calculate the next month:
date('F',strtotime('+1 months'));
The answer is: March ???

A common problem. According to PHP, 1 month after 31 January 2011 will be 31 February. In our calendar that actually means 3 March. To avoid this you need to calculate the offset from the start of the current month.

8 November, 2010

Cool i used it and it work in first go. Thanks

18 September, 2009

Hello, I am looking to find a way to get the first tuesday of any month. I can't seem to figure it out. do you have any idea?

Use the first of the month, which is simple, and then 'Tuesday'.

strtotime('1 September 2010 Tuesday');

7 September, 2009

What if I wanted to determine what day of the week, month the 100th day would be if the user inputed a specific starting date?

Something like this will work where YYYY-MM-DD is your starting date:

date('l jS F Y', strtotime('YYYY-MM-DD +100 days'));

14 October, 2008

Thanks. I was prepared to insert several lines of code to change current date to (+ 7 days).. with your suggestions I've made it in a few characters. Well done!