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Timezone aware web application

I recently had the chance to work on a web application targetting people from different timezones. To enable the users to have a similar experience, I had to take up the strategy to deal with different timezones. Below is how I went about solving it.

  • Store the dates and times in UTC format i.e. 0 timezone offset
  • On the client side, convert this UTC time to user’s local timezone using Javascript.

Timezones and PHP

PHP’s DateTime is supported in >=5.2 versions and is really powerful. Below, I show some examples of how to convert from one timezone to another. I am going to take my current timezone into account which is Asia/Karachi and is GMT+5.


// Convert from some Timezone to UTC
$clientDateTime = new DateTime('2015-01-19 07:00', new DateTimeZone('Asia/Karachi'));
$clientDateTime->setTimezone(new DateTimeZone('UTC'));
$utcDateTime = $clientDateTime->format("Y-m-d H:i A");

echo $utcDateTime;   // Prints 2015-01-19 02:00 AM

As you can see the date and time which, according to my timezone (GMT+5), is 2015-01-19 07:00 has been converted to UTC/GMT+0 i.e. 5 hours minus my date which becomes exactly 2015-01-19 02:00 AM. In a very similar fashion, UTC date can be converted to anyother timezone


// Convert from some UTC to someother Timezone
$utcDateTime = new DateTime('2015-01-19 02:00', new DateTimeZone('UTC'));
$utcDateTime->setTimezone(new DateTimeZone('Asia/Karachi'));
$clientDateTime = $utcDateTime->format("Y-m-d H:i A");

echo $clientDateTime;   // Prints 2015-01-19 07:00 AM

Also, one might want to generate a dropdown or a list of timezones. Instead of grabbing it from somewhere else, I would suggest to have PHP generate that for you. Below is how:


$timezones = DateTimeZone::listIdentifiers(DateTimeZone::ALL);

It will return an array consisting of the timezones.

Timezones and MySQL

Although, I handled the time conversions etc in my application logic, let me state a few points about MySQL here as well. To get timestamp in UTC, use UTC_TIMESTAMP() instead of NOW(). Also, it is recommended that you always use UTC_TIMESTAMP() rather than NOW() for dates etc and the reason for that is NOW() returns the current local time of the server and the server can be in any timezone.

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