The importance of dates and times in calendar components

When speaking about a calendar, we are speaking about dates and times. The start, end and duration of an event represent the most important part of a calendar component. Calendar properties like DTSTART, DTEND, DUE, COMPLETED have as value types one of following value types: DATE or DATE-TIME.

Some property values examples can be seen below:

SUMMARY:Lunchtime meeting
LOCATION:Mo's bar - back room

Start is inclusive, End is exclusive

This is an important point and allows us to create adjacent events with no overlap. This is particularly important in date only events. For example a one day event will have a start day on the day the event takes place and an end date of the day after.

Using DATE values

A Property value for a Date related property, assigned to a Calendar component, can have the DATE value type. This value type if defined to identify values that contain a calendar date, without any TIME information include in it. This value is basically composed on the year value, month value and day value. Year value has 4 digits, the month and the day values contain each of them 2 digits.

An example of a DATE value type is: 20160226 - February 26, 2016

Below there is an example of an event having the properties DTSTART and DTEND set with DATE value types

SUMMARY:Lunchtime meeting
LOCATION:Mo's bar - back room

Using DATE-TIME values

Beside the DATE value type, another value type which is mostly used for the properties is the DATE-TIME value type. The DATE-TIME identifies values that specify a calendar date and the time of the day. DATE-TIME can be seen as an extension of the DATE value type, an extension that contains beside the normal calendar date also the time of the day, in hours, minutes and seconds. The way this value is created is the following concatenation: DATE + “T” + TIME where:

  • DATE - represents the calendar date
  • “T” - the LATIN CAPITAL LETTER T character is a time designator showing that the value also contains TIME value.
  • TIME - it is the time value, value that can be represented in different ways.

Below there are 2 examples of a DATE-TIME value:

  • 20160226T120000 - a DATE-TIME value that does not contain time zone information
  • TZID=America/New_York:20160226T120000 - a DATE-TIME value that has also the TZID property defining the Time zone on which that DATE-TIME applies to.

Depending on the TIME value the DATE-TIME values can be split in 3 categories:

  • DATE WITH LOCAL TIME AND TIME ZONE REFERENCE - Date and local time with reference to time zone information. Time zone information is specified by TZID property parameter. The TZID property parameter value references a particular time zone definition via a VTIMEZONE calendar component. Example: TZID=America/New_York:20160307T230000. Indicates March 07, 2016 11:00 PM UTC-05:00
  • DATE WITH LOCAL TIME - these are “Floating” date-times. They represent the same year, month, day, hour, minute, second no matter in what time zone they are observed. For example ‘20160307T230000’ will indicate year 2016, month March, day 7, hour 23, minute 0, second 0 for users with different time zones.
  • DATE WITH UTC TIME - Represent a fix point in time. Their time zone is UTC or absolute time. Are identified with suffix ‘Z’ (which comes from Zulu Military Time with UTC±00:00). Example: 20160307T230000Z. It is illegal to apply a ‘TZID’ property parameter to DATE-TIME properties with values in UTC

Using TIME ZONE values instead of LOCAL TIME

Using DATE WITH LOCAL TIME values assigned to your properties is the easiest way of using the DATE-TIME value type but in the same time is the less recommended. Using them may cause synchronization problems for users that are in different time zones and they need to participate at a common event. For example, creating an event that has as Start Date Time the value ‘20160307T230000’, means that every participant, no matter in what time zone they will be at that moment, will have in their calendar an event at 11 PM, on March 7, 2016. This will definitely lead to synchronization issues between all participants.

UTC and TIME ZONE Handling

UTC Time and Time zone reference are two of the ways on managing the values for the DATE-TIME value type. Dates with local time and time zone reference should be preferred instead of UTC Time. Using Time zone information helps the Calendar components to be precise when talking about events that occur more than once when changing from daylight to standard time. When talking about Daylight Saving Time, there is definitely an advantage in using time zone reference. By using UTC Time, when changing from standard to daylight time, we will have a gap in our recurrent events, because using UTC we will point to a fix point in time. This will not happen if we will provide time zone reference, because the value will adapt to the time zone, which includes Daylight Time Saving support.

There is a more detailed description about Best Practices in the Time Zones section.

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