Choosing Between `DATETIME` and `TIMESTAMP` in MySQL

Posted by Kyle Hankinson April 13, 2023

Should I Use the DATETIME or TIMESTAMP Data Type in MySQL?

When working with MySQL, one common dilemma that database administrators and developers face is choosing between the DATETIME and TIMESTAMP data types for storing date and time information. Both types have their unique characteristics and use cases. This article aims to provide a detailed comparison to help you make an informed decision based on your specific requirements.

Understanding DATETIME and TIMESTAMP

Before diving into the comparison, let's first understand what each data type represents:

  • DATETIME: This type is used to store a combination of date and time. Values are stored in the format YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS. The supported range is from '1000-01-01 00:00:00' to '9999-12-31 23:59:59'.

  • TIMESTAMP: Similar to DATETIME, this type also stores a combination of date and time but in UTC (Coordinated Universal Time). It has a range from '1970-01-01 00:00:01' UTC to '2038-01-19 03:14:07' UTC.

Key Differences

  1. Range:

    • DATETIME has a broader range, making it suitable for historical data.
    • TIMESTAMP has a narrower range, focused more on contemporary dates.
  2. Time Zone Awareness:

    • DATETIME does not consider time zone information. It stores the date and time as provided.
    • TIMESTAMP converts the stored time to UTC and converts it back to the current time zone of the MySQL server when retrieved.
  3. Storage Space:

    • DATETIME requires 8 bytes of storage.
    • TIMESTAMP requires 4 bytes of storage, making it more efficient for saving space.
  4. Automatic Initialization and Update:

    • TIMESTAMP can be automatically initialized or updated to the current date and time when a row is inserted or updated.
    • DATETIME, until MySQL 5.6, did not have this feature. However, from MySQL 5.6 onwards, DATETIME can also be automatically initialized or updated.
  5. Handling of Invalid Dates:

    • DATETIME is more flexible and can store invalid dates like '0000-00-00 00:00:00'.
    • TIMESTAMP is stricter in date validity.

Choosing Between DATETIME and TIMESTAMP

Your choice should be based on your specific needs:

  • Use DATETIME if:

    • You need to store historical or future dates outside the range of TIMESTAMP.
    • Your application is sensitive to time-zone conversions.
    • You need to store invalid date values for any specific reason.
  • Use TIMESTAMP if:

    • You are concerned about storage space.
    • Your application deals with multiple time zones.
    • You want automatic time stamping of your records.


In summary, DATETIME is more flexible in terms of range and time-zone independence, making it suitable for a wider range of applications. On the other hand, TIMESTAMP is more efficient in terms of storage and is beneficial when working with time zones and needing automatic date and time stamping. The decision should be based on the specific requirements of your database design and the nature of the data you are dealing with.

Remember, the choice between DATETIME and TIMESTAMP is not just about personal preference but about what fits best with your application's requirements. Understanding the differences and implications of each type is key to making the right choice for your MySQL database.