The time element (and microformats)

by .

Microformats are a way of adding extra semantic information to a webpage using HTML classes — information like an event’s date and time, a person’s phone number, an organisation’s email address, etc.

They aren’t a “standard” per se, but they are a widely adopted convention within the geek community. And since they use an agreed-upon set of class names, they are as compatible with HTML5 as they are with HTML4 or XHTML.

HTML5 offers one potential addition to the microformats arsenal. Because earlier versions of some microformats presented accessibility problems in the way they encoded dates and times (see an article called hAccessibility that I co-wrote with James Craig), HTML5 offers a new element for unambiguously encoding dates and times for machines while still displaying them in a human-readable way.

The time element represents either a time on a 24 hour clock, or a precise date in the proleptic Gregorian calendar, optionally with a time and a time-zone offset.

The format is very simple:

<time>2009-11-13</time>
 <!-- without @datetime content must be a valid date, time, or precise datetime -->
<time datetime="2009-11-13">13<sup>th</sup> November</time>
 <!-- when using @datetime the content can be anything relevant -->
<time datetime="20:00">starting at 8pm</time>
 <!-- time example -->
<time datetime="2009-11-13T20:00+00:00">8pm on my birthday</time>
 <!-- datetime with time-zone example -->
<time datetime="2009-11-13T20:00Z">8pm on my birthday</time>
 <!-- datetime with time-zone “Z” -->

When using the datetime attribute you can have whatever you want between the tags.

Note that the last two examples show the use of a timezone offset, which is required for a date + time. Timezones range from -12:00 to +14:00. You can use “Z” to represent Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is the same as +00:00.

The fly in the ointment

The only trouble with <time> is that it must contain a positive date on the Proleptic Gregorian calendar, meaning you can’t encode a date before the Christian Era. Neither can you encode imprecise dates such as “July 1904″. Microformats, however, aren’t subjected to this restriction and are often employed to mark up, for example, very old events on Wikipedia or imprecise dates on museum websites. It’s likely that authors will continue using the current, more flexible microformat patterns unless the restrictions on the <time> element are lifted. (The HTML5 working group has been continually petitioned to remove their arbitrary restrictions and widen the scope of time, but with no success).

Unfortunately current microformat clients can’t consume microformats such as hCalendar if they’re coded to use <time>. Stefan Schipor wrote to us saying:

The problem is that I need to parse the site with H2VX or any other similar thing for exporting. Sadly, H2VX doesn’t seem to read the datetime attribute in the <time> elements. Nor does the FF add-on Tails. I tried the microformats IRC channel and the microformateers twitter account but I didn’t get any response. Do you know if there is any support for this? It would kill me to add <abbr> elements just for it to work.

For more on this problem refer to Oli’s comment below, and our article Extending HTML5 — Microformats.

Indicating publication date

In previous drafts of the spec, there was a pubdate attribute to show that this particular date is the publication date for the text associated with it. This was removed. It’s generally a good practice to add a date to articles, so users can judge its relevance. If you want to expose that with markup, you can use schema.org’s BlogPosting schema and HTML5 microdata.

My personal site is marked up:

<article role="article"
  itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/BlogPosting">
<header>
<h2>Heading</h2>
<time itemprop="dateCreated" datetime="2013-10-30"> Wednesday 30 October 2013</time>
</header>
…
</article>

Where could time be used?

The uses of unambiguous dates in web pages aren’t hard to imagine. A browser could offer to add events to a user’s calendar. A Thai-localised browser could offer to transform Gregorian dates into Thai Buddhist era dates. A Japanese browser could localise <time>16:00</time> to “16:00時”. Content aggregators can produce visual timelines of events.

Search engines can produce smarter search results. For example, in the recent heavy snow in the UK, I searched for school closures in my town and discovered my kids’ school was closed. After receiving a phone call from the school asking me where my kids were, I re-examined the webpage. In small print at the bottom of the page were the words "Published 5 January 2008". I expect that operators of search engines would rank more current pages more highly on searches connected with current events.

Please note that since this was written, <time>, datetime have been made more powerful. Doctor Bruce has the low-down in his blogpost The best of <time>s.

78 Responses on the article “The time element (and microformats)”

Arnout Kazemier says

The time element is really simple to be used. I’m currently transforming my static resume in to HTML5 powered mini site. The only issue i ran in to and in my point of view the biggest downfall of the time element is that it doesn’t allow you to specify time or date ranges. You will need to create 2 separated time elements.

For example my resume has a work experiance sections that displays my previouse jobs with the dates ” Jun 2000 – Present

It would be more secematic if i could do <time datetime=”2000-06-20/2010-02-08″> Jun 2000 – Present </time>

instead of
<time datetime=”2000-06-20″> Jun 2000 </time> – <time datetime=”2010-02-08″> Present </time>

But thats just my 2 cents :). Nice article though

Oli says

Spiffing article, old chap!

It’s a pity that current Microformats tools can’t access <time>, but it seems like it’ll be included in future Microformats specs, so I expect (well, hope) support will be forthcoming.

For the … foreign among us, if you need to add a timezone, add “+” followed by the offset in hours at the end. For Japan it’s 9 hours, or +09:00. A proper example is “<time datetime="2010-11-13T020:00+09:00">8PM on my birthday—in Tokyo</time>!”

Toodle pip!

Bruce Lawson says

Capital, Oli, old bean, capital!

Added an example of the timezone offset. Don’t know how I forgot it.

God save the Queen!

Gonzo says

@Arnout Kazemier, I think that’s the idea of the <time> element – to specify exact moment in time. A time period is defined by the start and end times, so if you want to be semantic and precise, you should use two elements, like the hCalendar spec suggests.

In one of the first projects where I used hCalendar I tried to use <time> instead of <abbr> to address the accessibility issues, but I discovered that none of the microformats parsing tools and some of them did not allow <span title=”"> to be used either. I had to go back to the <abbr>.

At the end it is the way developers use HTML5 that matters, not what the standards bodies say. When faced with real time problems, we can twist the specs the way it suits our needs. So writing something like <time datetime=”1910-05-00″< or <time datetime=”350BC”> wont break the web or someone’s browser (hopefully).

Jeremy Keith says

The problem with the microformats tools that don’t parse the time element right now is that they use Tidy. Because Tidy has a whitelist of HTML elements it uses to “clean up” the mark it’s fed, any elements that are new to HTML5 will get stripped out.

This isn’t just a problem with the time element. If you want to put a microformat class name (such as “vcard” or “vevent”) onto a new HTML5 element like section or article, the same tools won’t be able to parse them.

If anybody has any experience of hacking Tidy (or knows of a more extensible alternative), you’re help would be much appreciated: http://microformats.org/wiki/h2vx#HTML5_support

Andy Mabbett says

A useful round-up Bruce, thank you.

The microformat model would render “pubdate” as, say, <time datetime=”2010-01-20″ class=”published”> (from the hAtom spec) in the same way as a start date: <time datetime=”2010-01-20″ class=”dtstart”> or birth-date: <time datetime=”2010-01-20″ class=”bday”> and so on.

Whether or not microformats can be used meaningfully for non-Greorian dats is a matter for debate, not least on Wikipedia. This might be resolved by the very interesting (I must get out more…) Extended Date Time Format efforts based at the USA’s Library of Congress; whose mailing list I would urge anyone intersted in this matter, to join.

Andy Mabbett says

P.S. I wholeheartedly support calls for broadening the specification of the <time> element in HTML5 to cover use-cases such as those described above. And I can spell “Gregorian”.

jethro larson says

HTML5Doctor is creating HTML5 for me more-so than W3C. Keep up the good work.

They’ll listen eventually.

Aaron T. Grogg says

Nice timing, Bruce, am presenting on MFs at work tomorrow and this came in just in time to help boost my opinion!

And, seriously, is there such a thing as too much Guinness??

Cheers,
Atg

Bruce Lawson says

Jeremy – thanks for clarifying why microformat parsers and HTML5 don’t currently play nicely.

Aaron – it’s counter-intuitive, I agree, but my waistline is a testament that “too much Guinness” is a possibility,

Nathan Peretic says

Bruce,

It appears the pubdate attribute should not be used in a list of articles since no ancestor <article&rt; element is present. (Ex. an unordered list of headlines and publication dates each linking the the specified article.) If that is the correct reading of the spec, it seems counter-intuitive to me. Perhaps pubdate should not default to entire article in the absence of an article ancestor element. The question then is how to make the relationship between the article headline and the publication date, both of which, again, are enclosed in a single <a&rt;.

Nathan Peretic says

I wish I could edit the previous comment. Please excuse the entity typos. Also, the second to last sentence should read, “Perhaps pubdate should not default to the entire document in the absence of an article ancestor element.”

Bruce Lawson says

Hi Nathan, the answer is in a bit of the spec I didn’t quote. If you have a series of articles, each with its pubdate, heading and a link to the page with the full article is on, there is no problem. Each article has its own pubdate. An element can only have one pubdate-time child, otherwise it’s an error:

For each article element, there must no more than one time element with a pubdate attribute whose nearest ancestor is that article element. Furthermore, for each Document, there must be no more than one time element with a pubdate attribute that does not have an ancestor article element.

Nathan Peretic says

Thanks for the clarification, Bruce. I should have consulted the spec before asking.

We have been using HTML5 exclusively since August. HTML5 Doctor has been a valuable resource. Keep up the good work.

bractus says

Is there any SEO benefit using this tag (in terms of expiration date of content)?

Aaron T. Grogg says

@bractus:

Perhaps not immediately, but there have been a few recent developments from Palo Alto that might make you want to look more deeply at Microformats:
http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/05/introducing-rich-snippets.html
http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/10/help-us-make-web-better-update-on-rich.html
http://googlecustomsearch.blogspot.com/2009/05/enabling-rich-snippets-in-custom-search.html

Although <time> is not explicitly addressed yet, I would be very surprised if it were not something they were already working on.

Atg

Oli says

An update on @Jeremy Keith’s comment—it seems that HTML5 support in Tidy won’t be forthcoming anytime soon, unless someone takes it on and submits a patch. Tidy doesn’t appear to be under … active development (ahem) really either. Another contender is html5lib, which is being actively developed, and has usable Ruby & Python versions. There’s a PHP version too, but it’s still 0.1.

I asked @Tantek about html5lib — he maintains the PHP-based H2VX service which allows you to auto-generate vcard and ical files for download from Microformats. He’s keen to use Microformats with HTML5 structural elements too. He’s prolly going to check out html5lib-php-0.1 sometime soon, and is also considering other methods that don’t rely on Tidy or html5lib (ie no validation so up to you to submit well-formed code). For me a lack of an HTML5-friendly service like H2VX is probably the biggest stumbling block atm.

The upshot is currently uF with new HTML5 elements may fail, but I expect they’ll work with end-user tools in the near to mid future. I also suspect (well, hope (again)) that search engines who currently process uF will support HTML5+uF more quickly.

Ștef says

I’ve noticed that Google’s Rich Snippets Testing Tool works well with and hCalendars for example. http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets

Does anybody know someone from Google that might want to help share the solution with us? :)

pligg.com says

The time element (and microformats) | HTML5 Doctor…

Microformats are a way of adding extra semantic information to a webpage using HTML classes — information like an event’s date and time, a person’s phone number, an organisation’s email address, etc. They aren’t a “standard” per se, but they are a wide…

Linda Sandvik says

The W3C validator doesn’t seem to like
<time datetime="2010-11-13T020:00Z">8PM on my birthday</time>
However if I remove the “0″ it seems happy. Probably just a typo but worth mentioning I thought.

Oli Studholme says

@Linda — thanks for that, it was indeed a typo. It seems @Bruce actually has at least 100 hours in every day, which must be why he’s so productive! I’ve corrected the article and added some further explanation about timezones. HTH

HTML 5 & CSS « Erizal0910194's Blog says

[...] dengan tag HTML 5, sebagai contoh Microformat datetime-design-pattern dapat diganti dengan element time. Namun demikian selama stadard HTML 5 belum diterapkan secara luas maka microformat masih sangat [...]

Today’s Readings | Aaron T. Grogg says

[...] new development on the HTML5/Microformats front from Bruce Lawson, writing at HTML5Doctor.  The <time> element, now with Microformats, thusly: <time datetime="2010-01-20" [...]

Charlie says

Bruce, do any of the browsers actually render time-tag? I’m not really interested in microformat clients just a nice way to avoid having to worry about localisation of dates and times.

And it looks like you no longer use the pubdate attribute on your blog.

Bruce Lawson says

Charlie

all browsers render the time element — that’s kind of the point of html5 to be backwards compatible. So the content of the element – the text between the tags – displays even in IE5. No browsers do anything special with the datetime attribute, however.

Thanks for the note r/e pubdate on my blog. Have restored it; must have been a version control beastie.

Charlie says

Bruce,

legacy browsers just ignore the element. What I’m referring to is this from the spec (and by extension your examples).

Small tasks
Published .
I put a bike bell on his bike.


Here is the same thing but with the time included only. Because the element is empty, legacy user agents will not show anything useful; user agents that implement this specification, on the other hand, would show the date and time in a locale-specific manner.

I haven’t found a UA that does the above. Is is just me or wouldn’t it be extremely useful to delegate this rendering to the browser? But if this is the case, what about formatting directives? Are they to be handled by CSS or in Javascript?

Bruce Lawson says

Charlie, legacy browsers render the contents of the time element fine. Try my blog in IE5.

You need to escape angle brackets to post them here.

Charlie says

Hi Bruce,

I understand that the contents will be rendered – can’t test anywhere with IE 5 anymore, IE6 is the lowest I can go! But I was referring to the case where there are no element contents just a datetime attribute.

<time datetime="2010-08-22"></time>

Shouldn't an HTML5 capable browser display that date?

Bruce Lawson says

Charlie,

yes- that;s what the spec says: “Because the element is empty, legacy user agents will not show anything useful; user agents that implement this specification, on the other hand, would show the date and time in a locale-specific manner.”

But what’s the use case for not putting any content in the element?

Charlie says

Bruce,

So, the reason nothing is displayed (at the moment) is that no browser currently implements the specification?

The main reason for not putting in the content in the element would be localisation. But as I said in my previous post this invites some form of formatting – ISO, long, short, etc. which isn’t possible, it seems.

Extending HTML5 | Programming Blog says

[...] or later. Finally there are microformats. As Dr. Bruce touched on microformats in his article on the <time> element, let’s delve a little deeper into what microformats are and how to use them in [...]

Mark A. says

I don’t seem to understand the purpose of this element.
I was hoping that <TIME></TIME> would return the current time and/or date
and <TIME datetime=”2010-12-25″></TIME> would return Christmas day.
With <TIME..>A date for HTML4</TIME> displayed as ‘A date for HTLM4′ with browsers that don’t support the TIME element.
But <TIME datetime=”2010-12-25″>3rd of September, 1752</TIME> always returns ’3rd of September, 1752′?
So is there a difference between <TIME> and <SPAN> or <DIV>?

With a search engine it mighgt find “2010-12-25″ from the datetime= value, but you could use <!– 2010-12-25 –>

Mark A. says

P.S. Tested <Time> tag tith a number of HTML5 browsers with <!DOCTYPE html>
at the top of the page.

natevw says

In the current W3C spec, the time zone is *NOT* optional. The string must be either a date, a time or a fully qualified date time. Parsing is defined to fail if it finds both a date and a time but no timezone, so many of your examples won’t (or at least shouldn’t) work in conforming browsers.

Oli Studholme says

@Mark A. — as quoted in the article the spec states “The time element represents either a time on a 24 hour clock, or a precise date in the proleptic Gregorian calendar, optionally with a time and a time-zone offset.”

“I was hoping that <time></time> would return the current time and/or date” — you’re thinking of a programming language like <?php echo date(DATE_RFC822); ?>. HTML5 doesn’t have a way to do this.

“and <time datetime=”2010-12-25″></time> would return Christmas day.” — in current browsers this won’t display anything. In supporting browsers this will display a localised date, for example “2010年12月25日” in a Japanese browser. This would only display “Christmas Day” in a Christian English-localised browser, which doesn’t exist.

“But <time datetime=”2010-12-25″>3rd of September, 1752</time> always returns ‘3rd of September, 1752’?” — ummm, this makes no sense to me. “3rd of September, 1752” is in no way a relevant expression of 2010-12-25.

“So is there a difference between <time> and <span> or <div>?” — in current browsers, no. In supporting browsers, search engines etc, the difference is <time> is the semantic representation of a time, with the datetime written in a machine-parsable way.

HTH

Oli Studholme says

@natevw — thank you for pointing that out. We’ve changed the incorrect example, and rewritten parts of the article to make this clear.

u1amo01 says

Terminpläne übersichtlich anzeigen mit CSS…

Das Smashing Magazine veröffenlicht ausgezeichnete Artikel rund ums Webdesign. Gestern erschien dort der Beitrag Technical Web Typography: Guidelines and Techniques von Harry Roberts. Neugierig habe ich mich auf dessen Homepage umgesehen. Und den für m…

w3 says

there is no requirement for a time zone in . the requirement is to include a time zone IF you include the time itself in the

October 22, 2009

if you want to include a time too, add the letter T after the date, then the time in 24-hour format, then a timezone offset.

October 22, 2009 1:59pm EDT

both are valid.

Oli Studholme says

@w3 — I find your lack of reading comprehension … disturbing. Also please try not to pretend to be a representative of the World Wide Web Consortium, or if you do at least use the &lt; and &gt; entities so it’s not so blatant :p

[...] attribute in these examples. pubdate is an optional boolean attribute that may be added to one time element within the <article>. If present it indicates that the <time> element is the date the [...]

ryanve says

I’ve starting to incorporate the tag into photo captions, where I often refer to the date a photo was taken and/or an event date. I think it would be great to see some additional standardized attributes to the effect of imgdate and eventdate. Is there anything like that already in the spec? To cover more media types, consider the potential use of figdate, audiodate, videodate, or an all-encompassing mediadate.

Bruce Lawson says

Ryanve

These seem like highly specialised attributes. It would be better to allow datetime as an attribute to img, audio, video etc.

But what would be the purpose of it?

Charlie says

@ryanve – one the great things about HTML 5, especially in comparison with the xHTML 2 and xForms fiasco is, is the inclusion of generally useful semantics (navigation, time, form inputs). These elements are useful for the browser as a client but only as long as they are so generic – a client can interpret a date or time, for example indicate that it is in the past or show a calendar or simply localise the value in the appropriate language or calendar. I think it’s difficult to argue against the general usefulness of this.

I would argue that what you suggest is fairly specialised and available through xHTML namespaces which are great for a defined area of use, such as say on photography website. But, it can also be argued that what you suggest is entirely redundant because the EXIF vocabulary is so extensively supported within image formats or MP3 tags for audio and video. No need to bloat the source of a page with stuff that “might be useful”.

From a technical point of view XML is not a particularly good data interchange format which is why JSON has become so popular. JSON is possibly an even better solution than the proprietary formats I’ve just referred to and you can see some interesting things done along those lines with data attribute.

Bakura says

Hi,

I have a list of but I don’t show the date they were published. However, is it allowed to specified it without any textual element inside :

Am I sure that no browser will display something in the future ?

Bruce Lawson says

you don’t need to have content for the time element, no

Bakura says

Thanks a lot :).

Andy Mabbett says

@Oli – I’d take a backup of older articles before you change them, if I were you, just in case this gets arbitrarily flipped back again ;-)

@Bruce – One use-case or a datetime attribute in IMG might be for discoverability: “find me all images from 1 April 2009″; but Charlie’s point about EXIF has merit.

Trond Husø says

Bruce. Looking at the tag it seems turned around. And your example does shows that not make sense at all.

I mean:
In the example you are showing a date inside a time tag.
In the next example you are doing the same, saying that the value in the tag is a datetime.

It would be better if the tag was
and that atleast one attribute was required either date or time
so that you could do:
Starting at 8pm
Starting at 8pm on November 13, 2009
Starting at 8pm on November 13, 2009

I do believe it is a need for a time/date tag in HTML. It is a welcoming suggestion for articles / CRM systems where you can both mark up the time and date of the article, and also time and date of any update.

Keep up the good work with the spec.

Trond

Trond Husø says

eh, the tags above was <datetime> where it should be mandatory with one attribute.


<datetime datetime="2009-11-13T20:00+00:00"> Starting at 8pm on November 13, 2009</datetime>
<datetime date="2009-11-13"> November 13, 2009</datetime>
<datetime time="20:00"> Starting at 8pm</datetime>
<datetime date="2009-11-13" Time="20:00"> Starting at 8pm on November 13, 2009</datetime>

Charlie says

Trond,

you’re mixing semantics – the time tag only makes sense if the only content within it is a representation of the attribute, ie. it really is a data item albeit with one of far greater relevance than many of the others. I think the big problem with time is, as you suggest, that the attribute must be mandatory with the representation as a backwardly compatible option. Formatting would default to the long format for the browser’s locale. Not sure whether this should be overridable by CSS – what would be the other use cases? or a format attribute. That kind of specification would have made implementation a lot more straightforward and that would have encouraged adoption.

Oli Studholme says

@Andy Mabbett — it’s a good thing we’re lazy huh ;)

@Trond Husø — the datetime attribute can contain dates and/or times. No need to overly complicate things with three attributes when one will do.

@anon — for more information see our article Goodbye time, datetime, and pubdate. Hello data and value.

Ryan Benson says

When the datetime attribute is used, is it essentially ignored by assistive technology? That is if a screen reader hit
I am going swimming at 8pm on my birthday. Will a screen reader announce “I am going swimming at 8pm on my birthday” or “I am going swimming at 2009 dash 11dash 13T20:00plus00colon00″? Since users cannot get the latest version of assistive technology always, what versions were tested?

Tantek says

Oli, not sure how I missed this the first time around – but H2VX does have development support (which at this point is quite stable, and I’m going to push live to the main service when I get the chance) that supports the <time> element.

Use: dev.h2vx.com

E.g. http://dev.h2vx.com/ics/sub/microformats.org/wiki/events

Please give it a try and let me know if you find *any* problems with HTML5 support. It should work any shiny new fancy semantic HTML5 elements you’re using in your workflow.

Thanks,

Tantek

Jay says

So there seems to be alot of controversy regarding the pubdate attribute. When i validate my site i get

Attribute pubdate not allowed on element time at this point.

Can some explain to me how to work around this?

Many thanks in advance
J

Tantek says

Attribute pubdate not allowed on element time at this point. Can some explain to me how to work around this?

Jay, what’s the use-case you’re trying to achieve?

If you’re simply trying to express publication date semantics, use hAtom:

http://microformats.org/wiki/hatom

You’ll likely find hAtom solves any overall things you’re trying to achieve better than a lone pubdate attribute.

If you have any further questions, come on by the #microformats IRC channel on Freenode.

Good luck, and hope that helps.

Tantek

O elemento ARTICLE da HTML5 | ReWeb says

[...] atributo pubdate em exemplos anteriores. Trata-se de um atributo booleano a ser adicionado a um elemento time contido em <article>. Se presente, esse atributo indica que no elemento <time> a data [...]

Full Post says

[...] more on this problem refer to Oli’s comment below, and our article Extending HTML5 — [...]

Steven Vachon says

What if we had a time, but no date and wanted to define a time zone? Since I couldn’t find any examples here or on w3c.org, I went ahead with <time datetime="10:00-05:00">10am</time> but am getting validation errors. It’s possible that the incomplete HTML5 validator is to blame, but you’re the one to ask.

Bruce Lawson says

Steven,

I didn’t know, so I asked Hixie, who said

“You’d use two <time> elements, one for the time and one for the time zone offset. (Spec is very explicit about what is allowed.)”

Which seems horribly clunky to me.

Juan says

Hi.

I noticed that in one of your examples, you have

<time datetime="2009-11-13T20:00+00:00">

but, according to http://www.w3.org/wiki/User:Mtanalin/time_element, one should,

Avoid “T” as date/time separator, and use space character (U+0020) instead.

Anyway, I wasn’t too sure about the time separator either.

David Knowles says

How can I use the time tag to define NOW: the present.

Currently using the code underneath, but next year this won’t be accurate


<time datetime="2013">Present</time>

Looking at the spec, it doesn’t seem possible to define ‘NOW’. That’s a nuisance. Any ideas on how to approach this?

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Join the discussion.

Some HTML is ok

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title="">
<abbr title="">
<b>
<blockquote cite="">
<cite>
<del datetime="">
<em>
<i>
<q cite="">
<strong>

You can also use <code>, and remember to use &lt; and &gt; for brackets.