5

I am reading the description of the datetime datatype from Sybase ASE 15.7 documentation:

datetime columns hold dates between January 1, 1753 and December 31, 9999. datetime values are accurate to 1/300 second on platforms that support this level of granularity.

I find the above very confusing. First of all, this is the only data type for which the caveat "on platforms that support this level of granularity" is added. What exactly does this mean and how do I find if my platform is one of those that "support this level of granularity"?

Moreover, it is not clear to me what being able to accurately store 1/300ths of a second effectively means. I am accessing the database using JDBC for which the only plausible type is java.sql.Timestamp. This type allows me to retrieve up to the precision of nanoseconds. But given that division by 300 requires infinite digits in the decimal system in the general case, effectively a fractional number of nanoseconds (with infinite decimal digits) are needed to hold a value expressed as 1/300 of a second. So, this means that I am not able to obtain the value stored in the server without losing some precision, however negligible.

Finally, when I execute the following query:

SELECT convert(char(32), submission_date, 139) FROM some..table

I see values like the following:

Jan  6 2014 12:36:12.420000     
Sep 12 2013 13:44:57.100000     
Sep 10 2014 13:47:02.240000     
Sep 10 2014 13:47:07.850000     
Sep 10 2014 13:47:13.346000     
Sep 10 2014 13:47:19.033000     
Sep 10 2014 13:47:24.533000     
Sep 10 2014 13:47:30.030000     
Sep 10 2014 13:47:35.636000     
Sep 10 2014 13:47:41.136000     
Sep 10 2014 13:47:46.750000     
Sep 10 2014 13:47:52.240000     
Sep 25 2014 09:01:18.426000     

These values seem to indicate that only whole thousandths of a second are kept (not 1/300ths of a second - which would require a fractional number of thousandths). If it were the case that the server internally stores the values "accurately to 1/300 second" I would expect the conversion to a decimal notation to use all available decimal places (except for the edge cases of 3/300 secs, 30/300 secs, 150/300 secs and a few others which do not require an infinite amount of digits in the decimal system).

6

datetime in Adaptive Server Enterprise (and SQL Server, since they share a common-code-base that included the datetime type) is stored using 8 bytes. 4 bytes for the date, and 4 bytes for the time. You can see this by looking at the binary version of a datetime:

SELECT CONVERT(varbinary(8), CONVERT(datetime, '1753-01-01T00:00:00.000'), 0)
SELECT CONVERT(varbinary(8), CONVERT(datetime, '1900-01-01T00:00:00.000'), 0)
SELECT CONVERT(varbinary(8), CONVERT(datetime, '1900-01-02T00:00:00.000'), 0)
SELECT CONVERT(varbinary(8), CONVERT(datetime, '3000-12-31T23:59:59.997'), 0)

The four binary values are:

0xFFFF2E4600000000
0x0000000000000000
0x0000000100000000
0x000622D3018B81FF

Take the following, which shows where the 1/300 of a second comes into play:

SELECT CONVERT(varbinary(8), CONVERT(datetime, '1900-01-01T00:00:00.000'), 0) 
SELECT CONVERT(varbinary(8), CONVERT(datetime, '1900-01-02T00:00:00.000'), 0) 
SELECT CONVERT(varbinary(8), CONVERT(datetime, '1900-01-02T00:00:00.003'), 0) 

The difference between the 2nd and 3rd values, is one:

0x0000000000000000
0x0000000100000000
0x0000000100000001

So dates are stored in the most significant 4 bytes; and times are stored in the least significant 4 bytes. Although moving to a precision greater than 3 milliseconds (1/300 of a second) would be possible in 4 bytes of storage; that is all the precision that is actually used.

In SQL Server, you can use a datetime2(7) data type to get precision down to 7 digits, with an accuracy of 100ns:

SELECT CONVERT(varbinary(16), CONVERT(datetime2(7), '1900-01-01T00:00:00.0000000'), 0)
SELECT CONVERT(varbinary(16), CONVERT(datetime2(7), '1900-01-01T00:00:00.0000001'), 0)
SELECT CONVERT(varbinary(16), CONVERT(datetime2(7), '1900-01-01T00:00:00.0000002'), 0)

The storage of these values are slightly different, however you can still see the binary value incrementing:

0x0700000000005B950A
0x0701000000005B950A
0x0702000000005B950A

I'm using the Sybase ISQL client; Sybase CTISQL Utility/15.7/P-EBF20996 SP100/DRV.15.7.0.10

As an aside, a small difference exists between how Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) and SQL Server round datetime values. In SQL Server, milliseconds are rounded to 0.000, 0.003, and 0.007, whereas in ASE they are rounded to 0.000, 0.003, and 0.006 - why there is a difference is not documented as far as I can tell. You can see this on ASE by running this query:

SELECT CONVERT(varchar(50), CONVERT(datetime, N'2017-01-01T23:59:59.997'), 139);

Which returns:

Jan  1 2017 23:59:59.996000

Whereas on SQL Server, the equivalent code, SELECT CONVERT(varchar(50), CONVERT(datetime, N'2017-01-01T23:59:59.997'), 109); , returns:

Jan  1 2017 11:59:59:997PM
3

Based on this answer, it is clear that the exact encoding is opaque and counter-intuitive. It is also clear that the statement in Sybase documentation to the effect that datetime can hold values accurate to 1/300 second is misleading and imprecise.

What the documentation should have said is that datetime has a resolution / precision / granularity (pick your favorite term) of approximately 1/300 of a second or approximately 3 ms.

I ran a test to corroborate this. On a table with approximately 1000 datetime values (randomly generated as they depend on user input), I wanted to see how many distinct millisecond values I would encounter:

 SELECT COUNT(*) FROM
 (
   SELECT DISTINCT y.millis FROM
   (
      SELECT RIGHT(RTRIM(LTRIM(x.submissionDate)), 6) AS millis FROM (
         SELECT convert(char(32), submission_date, 139) AS submissionDate FROM someTable
      ) x
   ) y
 ) z

The innermost SQL statement in the query above was also used in my question and yields the values I 've posted in my question.

The result of the composite query was 237 which is consistent with the above.

Furthermore, SQL Server documentation (which is applicable as the datetime implementation is part of the shared codebase between Sybase ASE and SQL Server), has the following to say:


Image follows:

enter image description here


In the same page it is also noted that:

datetime is not ANSI or ISO 8601 compliant.

Overall I think using such a hairy type is an anti-pattern. I cannot fathom why anyone would not simply use an INT to hold seconds since the Epoch (yeah I know about 2038), or a BIGINT to hold milliseconds or even microseconds or nanoseconds since the Epoch.


update following exhaustive testing

I was able to find some time to do exhaustive testing on this matter and managed to get to the bottom of it. Here's my findings (tested against Sybase ASE 15.7, I guess same results apply to SQL Server):

I 've proved experimentally that the server keeps Datetime values supplied to it by the client with a resolution of 1/300 of a second. I created a table with the following DDL:

DROP TABLE DatetimeTest;
CREATE TABLE DatetimeTest (
    d DATETIME NOT NULL
);

… and filled it (using a driver program in Java) with 1000 values with millisecond increments of 1/1000 of a second. Executing the following query:

 SELECT COUNT(*) FROM
 (
 SELECT DISTINCT y.millis FROM
 (
 SELECT RIGHT(RTRIM(LTRIM(x.d)), 6) AS millis FROM (
 SELECT convert(char(32), d, 139) AS d FROM DatetimeTest
 ) x
 ) y
 ) z                                                  

… yielded exactly 300.

The above establishes that the server is able to hold only 300 distinct values for the fractional second part. This does not prove that the actual values kept are multiples of 1/300 of a second but it's a reasonable indication.

What the above implies is that any storage of fractional seconds supplied by the client to the server is potentially lossy. I therefore did some further tests to estabish exactly how lossy. What I found is the following:

  • time values with second precision in the client can be stored losslessy in the server (all right, there was never any doubt about that)
  • time values with tenth of second precision in the client can be stored losslessy in the server
  • time values with hundredth of second precision in the client can be stored losslessy in the server
  • only 10% of the time values with millisecond precision in the client can be stored losslessly in the server (those corresponding to full hundredths of a second). For the remaining 90% of the values a difference between what the client supplied and what the server stored up to (and including) 3ms can be observed.

The above are consistent with a hypothesis of the server storing the time component as an integer number of 1/300s of a second as:

  • any tenth of a second value can be exactly expressed as a fraction in the form n/300
  • any hundredth of a second value can be exactly expressed as a fraction in the form n/300
  • only 10% of the possible millisecond values can be exactly expressed as a fraction in the form n/300.

Finally, it is clear that there's something wrong with the convert function as the query:

SELECT convert(char(32), d, 139) AS d FROM DatetimeTest

… reports zeros beyond the third decimal point which is clearly not correct and confusing. But I don't believe it disproves the above.

update II

Weirdly, the percentage reported by my test code for non-exact server mappings for millisecond values is 90% only when I use in my tests the Sybase jConnect JDBC driver. For the open source JTDS JDBC driver an improved and wonderfully round 70% applies. Basically the test logic is that I create a value with millisecond precision in the client side, store it in the server, and then read it back again from the client to see what I get back. This test arrangement allows the client-side driver to gently correct some server values on the way back (when client-side code reads from the database).

Apparently the JTDS driver can more cleverly account for the idiosyncratic way in which the Sybase server stores the fractional second component and can do so for all 300 of the distinct server values (compensating for the rounding error on the reverse direction - from server to client - as necessary), not just for those 100 that happen to exactly correspond to some millisecond value in the 0-1000 range.

At any rate this doesn't change the facts on the server-side and is only relevant if one has control over the client-side language and driver that will be used to pull Datetime values out of the server.

I thought I'd skip that part to keep things simple, but I then I thought I might add it for completeness. It also corroborates the model for server storage of Datetime values as all of those numbers (300, 90%, 70%) fit the narrative. But life's too short, time to move on.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.