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Marina Mosti
Marina Mosti

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Formatting and modifying JavaScript dates with date-fns

Date manipulation in JavaScript may seem like a daunting thing to accomplish. The native Date() object is not very novice friendly and it requires a ton of work for simple tasks like formatting.

There are currently two big players when it comes to JavaScript libraries for date management. MomentJS and Date-FNS.

Why date-fns?

Both libraries get the job done, they allow you to grab a Date object and format, add time, subtract time, etc. However there is one clear core difference between the two that may be a selling point in your future projects.

Date-fns is modular meaning you only import what you need, which prevents a lot of bloating in your final packed files. This may not seem like a huge deal, but importing the whole MomentJS library to just have a simple formatting function may not be what you are looking for.

It is also immutable, which means for every function you will always get back a new Date object. This makes debugging a walk in the park.

The documentation is super clear and simple, and has clear use examples for every function. You can check it out here: date-fns documentation.

Getting started

Let's dive right in and import date-fns to a starter project.

# If you use NPM
npm install date-fns

# If you use YARN
yarn add date-fns

Note: If you're following this article and don't want to use package managers, you can import the whole library with <script src="http://cdn.date-fns.org/VERSION/date_fns.min.js"></script> but you'll miss out on importing just the modules you want/need.

Also, keep in mind that when using date-fns via <script> or from an online editor like CodeSandbox instead of calling a function directly like we will in this article, you will have to call it through the dateFns object.
Ex: dateFns.addDays()

Once you've added the library to your project, you can head over to your JavaScript file and start importing functions!

Formatting

Formatting is the go-to necessity when working with JavaScript dates, so we'll tackle it first.

Import the format function on your file by calling:

import { format } from 'date-fns';

Or in case you're working on a NodeJS project:

const { format } = require('date-fns');

Tip: If you don't already know, the bit between the import braces { format } allows us to import only the format function to your file, so you only actually bring in the functions that this file will use!

Let's create a new date to work with: const newYears = new Date(2019, 1, 1);, this will give us a constant newYears with a native JS date for Jan 1st, 2019.

Now let's go ahead and format this date in a MM/DD/YYYY format.

const newYears = new Date('2019/01/01');
const formattedDate = format(newYears, 'MM/DD/YYYY');
console.log(formattedDate);

If you run this and check out your console output, you'll see that you are getting back your formatted string. 01/01/2019

Wait, that's it? Yup! Date-fns makes formatting super simple!

If you want to check out the different formatting options, check out the official documentation for the format function for a full reference.

Adding a locale

Ok, so formatting is a very straight forward task. But date-fns also supports a simple way to localize formatted date output.

Let's grab our previous example and change it to a French locale, with a full month-name format. We just need to require the locale, and pass it to the format option. It will take an optional 3rd argument for an options object.

const newYears = new Date('2019/01/01');
const frenchLocale = require('date-fns/locale/fr');

const formattedDate = format(newYears, 'MMMM DD, YYYY', { locale: frenchLocale });
console.log(formattedDate);

Très bien! The output now is janvier 01, 2019

Adding and subtracting

Now that we know how to format dates, let's move on to actually manipulating our initial date.

In date-fns we have a function for each type of operation:

Starting to see a pattern here? There is quite a bit of adding/subtracting functions to work with. Make sure you head over to the docs to check out all the functions you can work with!

Let's grab our previous example and add a year to it, so that we're working with 2020's year start.

First, start by adding the addYears function to our import statement.

import { format, addYears } from 'date-fns';

Now that we have the function accessible, we can add a year to our base date, and then format the output.

let newYears = new Date('2019/01/01');
newYears = addYears(newYears, 1);

const formattedDate = format(newYears, 'MMMM DD, YYYY');
console.log(formattedDate);

The output now should be January 01, 2020

Calculating the number of days between two dates

Up for one more? How about for this one we calculate the number of days between the 1st day of the year and Christmas?

Let's first add the date-fns function differenceInDays:

import { format, addYears, differenceInDays } from 'date-fns';

We only now have to create both dates, and pass them to the function:

const firstDay = new Date('2019/01/01');
const christmas = new Date('2019/12/24');

const daysBetween = differenceInDays(christmas, firstDay);
console.log(daysBetween); // Outputs => 357

Conclusion

Date-fns may be daunting to look at, but in practice is a super simple and lightweight way to handle all your date calculations!

Bonus pro tip: Need to test one of the date-fns functions on the spot? Fire up your developer tools while browsing the documentation, and you can use all the functions on the spot through the dateFns object. Thank you Malinda M. for pointing this out!

Discussion (8)

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emgodev profile image
Michael

If you've ever used something like PHP's date handling functions, JS is a huge let down in this area. Though I must admit I never got around to picking up a Date library. I built a small one to make some things easier, but now I know which ones to start using, thanks!

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kossnocorp profile image
Sasha Koss

It's actually not huge at all, date-fns v2 introduces new lightFormat that supports most popular tokens and its size is only 887 B.

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emgodev profile image
Michael

Vanilla JS lacks the comparable features PHP provides out of the box, or the features provided in these libraries. I actually wasn't referring to the file size either, my bad!

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kossnocorp profile image
Sasha Koss

Gotcha 👌

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marinamosti profile image
Marina Mosti Author

I also come from a PHP background, and yeah libraries like Carbon are a must-have, but Moment and Date-fns really fill in the blanks :)

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iamrohitsawai profile image
Rohit Kiran Sawai

I have used format() method for converting date from "YYYY-MM-DD" to "DD/MM/YYYY". But it didn't work. stackoverflow.com/q/57594076/9282474 - here you can see question from stackoverflow. I need help. Please let me know where I'm making mistake. I have used MomentJS in example given on stackoverflow but after reading your blog I tried your format() method of date-fns. But that didn't work.

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sonyarianto profile image
Sony AK

I have question, the latest date-fns doesn't support CDN version anymore and how to convert the code for use for web purpose? I am new to JS.

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shuzootani profile image
shuzo

github.com/tc39/proposal-temporal
Temporal is cooming