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9.8. Data Type Formatting Functions

The PostgreSQL formatting functions provide a powerful set of tools for converting various data types (date/time, integer, floating point, numeric) to formatted strings and for converting from formatted strings to specific data types. Table 9-21 lists them. These functions all follow a common calling convention: the first argument is the value to be formatted and the second argument is a template that defines the output or input format.

A single-argument to_timestamp function is also available; it accepts a double precision argument and converts from Unix epoch (seconds since 1970-01-01 00:00:00+00) to timestamp with time zone. (Integer Unix epochs are implicitly cast to double precision.)

Table 9-21. Formatting Functions

Function Return Type Description Example
to_char(timestamp, text) text convert time stamp to string to_char(current_timestamp, 'HH12:MI:SS')
to_char(interval, text) text convert interval to string to_char(interval '15h 2m 12s', 'HH24:MI:SS')
to_char(int, text) text convert integer to string to_char(125, '999')
to_char(double precision, text) text convert real/double precision to string to_char(125.8::real, '999D9')
to_char(numeric, text) text convert numeric to string to_char(-125.8, '999D99S')
to_date(text, text) date convert string to date to_date('05 Dec 2000', 'DD Mon YYYY')
to_number(text, text) numeric convert string to numeric to_number('12,454.8-', '99G999D9S')
to_timestamp(text, text) timestamp with time zone convert string to time stamp to_timestamp('05 Dec 2000', 'DD Mon YYYY')
to_timestamp(double precision) timestamp with time zone convert Unix epoch to time stamp to_timestamp(1284352323)

In a to_char output template string, there are certain patterns that are recognized and replaced with appropriately-formatted data based on the given value. Any text that is not a template pattern is simply copied verbatim. Similarly, in an input template string (for the other functions), template patterns identify the values to be supplied by the input data string.

Table 9-22 shows the template patterns available for formatting date and time values.

Table 9-22. Template Patterns for Date/Time Formatting

Pattern Description
HH hour of day (01-12)
HH12 hour of day (01-12)
HH24 hour of day (00-23)
MI minute (00-59)
SS second (00-59)
MS millisecond (000-999)
US microsecond (000000-999999)
SSSS seconds past midnight (0-86399)
AM, am, PM or pm meridiem indicator (without periods)
A.M., a.m., P.M. or p.m. meridiem indicator (with periods)
Y,YYY year (4 or more digits) with comma
YYYY year (4 or more digits)
YYY last 3 digits of year
YY last 2 digits of year
Y last digit of year
IYYY ISO 8601 week-numbering year (4 or more digits)
IYY last 3 digits of ISO 8601 week-numbering year
IY last 2 digits of ISO 8601 week-numbering year
I last digit of ISO 8601 week-numbering year
BC, bc, AD or ad era indicator (without periods)
B.C., b.c., A.D. or a.d. era indicator (with periods)
MONTH full upper case month name (blank-padded to 9 chars)
Month full capitalized month name (blank-padded to 9 chars)
month full lower case month name (blank-padded to 9 chars)
MON abbreviated upper case month name (3 chars in English, localized lengths vary)
Mon abbreviated capitalized month name (3 chars in English, localized lengths vary)
mon abbreviated lower case month name (3 chars in English, localized lengths vary)
MM month number (01-12)
DAY full upper case day name (blank-padded to 9 chars)
Day full capitalized day name (blank-padded to 9 chars)
day full lower case day name (blank-padded to 9 chars)
DY abbreviated upper case day name (3 chars in English, localized lengths vary)
Dy abbreviated capitalized day name (3 chars in English, localized lengths vary)
dy abbreviated lower case day name (3 chars in English, localized lengths vary)
DDD day of year (001-366)
IDDD day of ISO 8601 week-numbering year (001-371; day 1 of the year is Monday of the first ISO week)
DD day of month (01-31)
D day of the week, Sunday (1) to Saturday (7)
ID ISO 8601 day of the week, Monday (1) to Sunday (7)
W week of month (1-5) (the first week starts on the first day of the month)
WW week number of year (1-53) (the first week starts on the first day of the year)
IW week number of ISO 8601 week-numbering year (01-53; the first Thursday of the year is in week 1)
CC century (2 digits) (the twenty-first century starts on 2001-01-01)
J Julian Day (integer days since November 24, 4714 BC at midnight UTC)
Q quarter (ignored by to_date and to_timestamp)
RM month in upper case Roman numerals (I-XII; I=January)
rm month in lower case Roman numerals (i-xii; i=January)
TZ upper case time-zone name
tz lower case time-zone name
OF time-zone offset

Modifiers can be applied to any template pattern to alter its behavior. For example, FMMonth is the Month pattern with the FM modifier. Table 9-23 shows the modifier patterns for date/time formatting.

Table 9-23. Template Pattern Modifiers for Date/Time Formatting

Modifier Description Example
FM prefix fill mode (suppress leading zeroes and padding blanks) FMMonth
TH suffix upper case ordinal number suffix DDTH, e.g., 12TH
th suffix lower case ordinal number suffix DDth, e.g., 12th
FX prefix fixed format global option (see usage notes) FX Month DD Day
TM prefix translation mode (print localized day and month names based on lc_time) TMMonth
SP suffix spell mode (not implemented) DDSP

Usage notes for date/time formatting:

  • FM suppresses leading zeroes and trailing blanks that would otherwise be added to make the output of a pattern be fixed-width. In PostgreSQL, FM modifies only the next specification, while in Oracle FM affects all subsequent specifications, and repeated FM modifiers toggle fill mode on and off.

  • TM does not include trailing blanks.

  • to_timestamp and to_date skip multiple blank spaces in the input string unless the FX option is used. For example, to_timestamp('2000    JUN', 'YYYY MON') works, but to_timestamp('2000    JUN', 'FXYYYY MON') returns an error because to_timestamp expects one space only. FX must be specified as the first item in the template.

  • to_timestamp and to_date exist to handle input formats that cannot be converted by simple casting. These functions interpret input liberally, with minimal error checking. While they produce valid output, the conversion can yield unexpected results. For example, input to these functions is not restricted by normal ranges, thus to_date('20096040','YYYYMMDD') returns 2014-01-17 rather than causing an error. Casting does not have this behavior.

  • Ordinary text is allowed in to_char templates and will be output literally. You can put a substring in double quotes to force it to be interpreted as literal text even if it contains pattern key words. For example, in '"Hello Year "YYYY', the YYYY will be replaced by the year data, but the single Y in Year will not be. In to_date, to_number, and to_timestamp, double-quoted strings skip the number of input characters contained in the string, e.g. "XX" skips two input characters.

  • If you want to have a double quote in the output you must precede it with a backslash, for example '\"YYYY Month\"'.

  • If the year format specification is less than four digits, e.g. YYY, and the supplied year is less than four digits, the year will be adjusted to be nearest to the year 2020, e.g. 95 becomes 1995.

  • The YYYY conversion from string to timestamp or date has a restriction when processing years with more than 4 digits. You must use some non-digit character or template after YYYY, otherwise the year is always interpreted as 4 digits. For example (with the year 20000): to_date('200001131', 'YYYYMMDD') will be interpreted as a 4-digit year; instead use a non-digit separator after the year, like to_date('20000-1131', 'YYYY-MMDD') or to_date('20000Nov31', 'YYYYMonDD').

  • In conversions from string to timestamp or date, the CC (century) field is ignored if there is a YYY, YYYY or Y,YYY field. If CC is used with YY or Y then the year is computed as the year in the specified century. If the century is specified but the year is not, the first year of the century is assumed.

  • An ISO 8601 week-numbering date (as distinct from a Gregorian date) can be specified to to_timestamp and to_date in one of two ways:

    • Year, week number, and weekday: for example to_date('2006-42-4', 'IYYY-IW-ID') returns the date 2006-10-19. If you omit the weekday it is assumed to be 1 (Monday).

    • Year and day of year: for example to_date('2006-291', 'IYYY-IDDD') also returns 2006-10-19.

    Attempting to enter a date using a mixture of ISO 8601 week-numbering fields and Gregorian date fields is nonsensical, and will cause an error. In the context of an ISO 8601 week-numbering year, the concept of a "month" or "day of month" has no meaning. In the context of a Gregorian year, the ISO week has no meaning.


    While to_date will reject a mixture of Gregorian and ISO week-numbering date fields, to_char will not, since output format specifications like YYYY-MM-DD (IYYY-IDDD) can be useful. But avoid writing something like IYYY-MM-DD; that would yield surprising results near the start of the year. (See Section 9.9.1 for more information.)

  • In a conversion from string to timestamp, millisecond (MS) or microsecond (US) values are used as the seconds digits after the decimal point. For example to_timestamp('12:3', 'SS:MS') is not 3 milliseconds, but 300, because the conversion counts it as 12 + 0.3 seconds. This means for the format SS:MS, the input values 12:3, 12:30, and 12:300 specify the same number of milliseconds. To get three milliseconds, one must use 12:003, which the conversion counts as 12 + 0.003 = 12.003 seconds.

    Here is a more complex example: to_timestamp('15:12:02.020.001230', 'HH:MI:SS.MS.US') is 15 hours, 12 minutes, and 2 seconds + 20 milliseconds + 1230 microseconds = 2.021230 seconds.

  • to_char(..., 'ID')'s day of the week numbering matches the extract(isodow from ...) function, but to_char(..., 'D')'s does not match extract(dow from ...)'s day numbering.

  • to_char(interval) formats HH and HH12 as shown on a 12-hour clock, i.e. zero hours and 36 hours output as 12, while HH24 outputs the full hour value, which can exceed 23 for intervals.

Table 9-24 shows the template patterns available for formatting numeric values.

Table 9-24. Template Patterns for Numeric Formatting

Pattern Description
9 value with the specified number of digits
0 value with leading zeros
. (period) decimal point
, (comma) group (thousand) separator
PR negative value in angle brackets
S sign anchored to number (uses locale)
L currency symbol (uses locale)
D decimal point (uses locale)
G group separator (uses locale)
MI minus sign in specified position (if number < 0)
PL plus sign in specified position (if number > 0)
SG plus/minus sign in specified position
RN Roman numeral (input between 1 and 3999)
TH or th ordinal number suffix
V shift specified number of digits (see notes)
EEEE exponent for scientific notation

Usage notes for numeric formatting:

  • A sign formatted using SG, PL, or MI is not anchored to the number; for example, to_char(-12, 'MI9999') produces '-  12' but to_char(-12, 'S9999') produces '  -12'. The Oracle implementation does not allow the use of MI before 9, but rather requires that 9 precede MI.

  • 9 results in a value with the same number of digits as there are 9s. If a digit is not available it outputs a space.

  • TH does not convert values less than zero and does not convert fractional numbers.

  • PL, SG, and TH are PostgreSQL extensions.

  • V effectively multiplies the input values by 10^n, where n is the number of digits following V. to_char does not support the use of V combined with a decimal point (e.g., 99.9V99 is not allowed).

  • EEEE (scientific notation) cannot be used in combination with any of the other formatting patterns or modifiers other than digit and decimal point patterns, and must be at the end of the format string (e.g., 9.99EEEE is a valid pattern).

Certain modifiers can be applied to any template pattern to alter its behavior. For example, FM9999 is the 9999 pattern with the FM modifier. Table 9-25 shows the modifier patterns for numeric formatting.

Table 9-25. Template Pattern Modifiers for Numeric Formatting

Modifier Description Example
FM prefix fill mode (suppress leading zeroes and padding blanks) FM9999
TH suffix upper case ordinal number suffix 999TH
th suffix lower case ordinal number suffix 999th

Table 9-26 shows some examples of the use of the to_char function.

Table 9-26. to_char Examples

Expression Result
to_char(current_timestamp, 'Day, DD  HH12:MI:SS') 'Tuesday  , 06  05:39:18'
to_char(current_timestamp, 'FMDay, FMDD  HH12:MI:SS') 'Tuesday, 6  05:39:18'
to_char(-0.1, '99.99') '  -.10'
to_char(-0.1, 'FM9.99') '-.1'
to_char(0.1, '0.9') ' 0.1'
to_char(12, '9990999.9') '    0012.0'
to_char(12, 'FM9990999.9') '0012.'
to_char(485, '999') ' 485'
to_char(-485, '999') '-485'
to_char(485, '9 9 9') ' 4 8 5'
to_char(1485, '9,999') ' 1,485'
to_char(1485, '9G999') ' 1 485'
to_char(148.5, '999.999') ' 148.500'
to_char(148.5, 'FM999.999') '148.5'
to_char(148.5, 'FM999.990') '148.500'
to_char(148.5, '999D999') ' 148,500'
to_char(3148.5, '9G999D999') ' 3 148,500'
to_char(-485, '999S') '485-'
to_char(-485, '999MI') '485-'
to_char(485, '999MI') '485 '
to_char(485, 'FM999MI') '485'
to_char(485, 'PL999') '+485'
to_char(485, 'SG999') '+485'
to_char(-485, 'SG999') '-485'
to_char(-485, '9SG99') '4-85'
to_char(-485, '999PR') '<485>'
to_char(485, 'L999') 'DM 485'
to_char(485, 'RN') '        CDLXXXV'
to_char(485, 'FMRN') 'CDLXXXV'
to_char(5.2, 'FMRN') 'V'
to_char(482, '999th') ' 482nd'
to_char(485, '"Good number:"999') 'Good number: 485'
to_char(485.8, '"Pre:"999" Post:" .999') 'Pre: 485 Post: .800'
to_char(12, '99V999') ' 12000'
to_char(12.4, '99V999') ' 12400'
to_char(12.45, '99V9') ' 125'
to_char(0.0004859, '9.99EEEE') ' 4.86e-04'

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