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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 9.24 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.

Table 9.24. 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')


There is also a single-argument to_timestamp function; see Table 9.31.


to_timestamp and to_date exist to handle input formats that cannot be converted by simple casting. For most standard date/time formats, simply casting the source string to the required data type works, and is much easier. Similarly, to_number is unnecessary for standard numeric representations.

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. If there are characters in the template string that are not template patterns, the corresponding characters in the input data string are simply skipped over (whether or not they are equal to the template string characters).

Table 9.25 shows the template patterns available for formatting date and time values.

Table 9.25. 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 Date (integer days since November 24, 4714 BC at local midnight; see Section B.7)
Q quarter
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 abbreviation (only supported in to_char)
tz lower case time-zone abbreviation (only supported in to_char)
TZH time-zone hours
TZM time-zone minutes
OF time-zone offset from UTC (only supported in to_char)

Modifiers can be applied to any template pattern to alter its behavior. For example, FMMonth is the Month pattern with the FM modifier. Table 9.26 shows the modifier patterns for date/time formatting.

Table 9.26. 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 ignore the TM modifier.

  • to_timestamp and to_date skip multiple blank spaces at the beginning of the input string and around date and time values unless the FX option is used. For example, to_timestamp(' 2000    JUN', 'YYYY MON') and to_timestamp('2000 - JUN', 'YYYY-MON') work, but to_timestamp('2000    JUN', 'FXYYYY MON') returns an error because to_timestamp expects only a single space. FX must be specified as the first item in the template.

  • A separator (a space or non-letter/non-digit character) in the template string of to_timestamp and to_date matches any single separator in the input string or is skipped, unless the FX option is used. For example, to_timestamp('2000JUN', 'YYYY///MON') and to_timestamp('2000/JUN', 'YYYY MON') work, but to_timestamp('2000//JUN', 'YYYY/MON') returns an error because the number of separators in the input string exceeds the number of separators in the template.

    If FX is specified, a separator in the template string matches exactly one character in the input string. But note that the input string character is not required to be the same as the separator from the template string. For example, to_timestamp('2000/JUN', 'FXYYYY MON') works, but to_timestamp('2000/JUN', 'FXYYYY  MON') returns an error because the second space in the template string consumes the letter J from the input string.

  • A TZH template pattern can match a signed number. Without the FX option, minus signs may be ambiguous, and could be interpreted as a separator. This ambiguity is resolved as follows: If the number of separators before TZH in the template string is less than the number of separators before the minus sign in the input string, the minus sign is interpreted as part of TZH. Otherwise, the minus sign is considered to be a separator between values. For example, to_timestamp('2000 -10', 'YYYY TZH') matches -10 to TZH, but to_timestamp('2000 -10', 'YYYY  TZH') matches 10 to TZH.

  • 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 template patterns. 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, literal text and double-quoted strings result in skipping the number of characters contained in the string; for example "XX" skips two input characters (whether or not they are XX).


    Prior to PostgreSQL 12, it was possible to skip arbitrary text in the input string using non-letter or non-digit characters. For example, to_timestamp('2000y6m1d', 'yyyy-MM-DD') used to work. Now you can only use letter characters for this purpose. For example, to_timestamp('2000y6m1d', 'yyyytMMtDDt') and to_timestamp('2000y6m1d', 'yyyy"y"MM"m"DD"d"') skip y, m, and d.

  • If you want to have a double quote in the output you must precede it with a backslash, for example '\"YYYY Month\"'. Backslashes are not otherwise special outside of double-quoted strings. Within a double-quoted string, a backslash causes the next character to be taken literally, whatever it is (but this has no special effect unless the next character is a double quote or another backslash).

  • In to_timestamp and to_date, 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.

  • In to_timestamp and to_date, negative years are treated as signifying BC. If you write both a negative year and an explicit BC field, you get AD again. An input of year zero is treated as 1 BC.

  • In to_timestamp and to_date, the YYYY conversion 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 to_timestamp and to_date, the CC (century) field is accepted but ignored if there is a YYY, YYYY or Y,YYY field. If CC is used with YY or Y then the result is computed as that year in the specified century. If the century is specified but the year is not, the first year of the century is assumed.

  • In to_timestamp and to_date, weekday names or numbers (DAY, D, and related field types) are accepted but are ignored for purposes of computing the result. The same is true for quarter (Q) fields.

  • In to_timestamp and to_date, an ISO 8601 week-numbering date (as distinct from a Gregorian date) can be specified 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 to_timestamp, millisecond (MS) or microsecond (US) fields 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 treats it as 12 + 0.3 seconds. So, 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 write 12.003, which the conversion treats as 12 + 0.003 = 12.003 seconds.

    Here is a more complex example: to_timestamp('15:12:02.020.001230', 'HH24: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, for example zero hours and 36 hours both output as 12, while HH24 outputs the full hour value, which can exceed 23 in an interval value.

Table 9.27 shows the template patterns available for formatting numeric values.

Table 9.27. Template Patterns for Numeric Formatting

Pattern Description
9 digit position (can be dropped if insignificant)
0 digit position (will not be dropped, even if insignificant)
. (period) decimal point
, (comma) group (thousands) 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:

  • 0 specifies a digit position that will always be printed, even if it contains a leading/trailing zero. 9 also specifies a digit position, but if it is a leading zero then it will be replaced by a space, while if it is a trailing zero and fill mode is specified then it will be deleted. (For to_number(), these two pattern characters are equivalent.)

  • The pattern characters S, L, D, and G represent the sign, currency symbol, decimal point, and thousands separator characters defined by the current locale (see lc_monetary and lc_numeric). The pattern characters period and comma represent those exact characters, with the meanings of decimal point and thousands separator, regardless of locale.

  • If no explicit provision is made for a sign in to_char()'s pattern, one column will be reserved for the sign, and it will be anchored to (appear just left of) the number. If S appears just left of some 9's, it will likewise be anchored to the number.

  • 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.)

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

  • PL, SG, and TH are PostgreSQL extensions.

  • In to_number, if non-data template patterns such as L or TH are used, the corresponding number of input characters are skipped, whether or not they match the template pattern, unless they are data characters (that is, digits, sign, decimal point, or comma). For example, TH would skip two non-data characters.

  • V with to_char multiplies the input values by 10^n, where n is the number of digits following V. V with to_number divides in a similar manner. to_char and to_number do 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, FM99.99 is the 99.99 pattern with the FM modifier. Table 9.28 shows the modifier patterns for numeric formatting.

Table 9.28. Template Pattern Modifiers for Numeric Formatting

Modifier Description Example
FM prefix fill mode (suppress trailing zeroes and padding blanks) FM99.99
TH suffix upper case ordinal number suffix 999TH
th suffix lower case ordinal number suffix 999th

Table 9.29 shows some examples of the use of the to_char function.

Table 9.29. 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, 'FM90.99') '-0.1'
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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