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Easy EdgeDB · Chapter 5

Jonathan tries to leave the castle

DatetimeDescribing Types

Poor Jonathan is still inside Castle Dracula and is not having much luck. Here’s what happens to him in this chapter:

During the day, Jonathan decides to try to explore the castle but too many doors and windows are locked. He doesn’t know how to get out, and wishes he could at least send a letter to Mina in London. He wonders what Mina is doing right about now. What time is it in London, and is she okay?

He pretends that there is no problem, and keeps talking to Dracula during the night. One night he sees Dracula climb out of his window and down the castle wall, like a snake. Dracula is not a human, but a monster! Now Jonathan is very afraid.

A few days later he breaks one of the doors and finds another part of the castle. The room is very strange and he feels sleepy. When he opens his eyes, he sees three vampire women next to him. He is attracted to them and afraid of them at the same time. He wants to kiss them, but knows that he will die if he does. They come closer, and he can’t move…

Jonathan in Romania was thinking of Mina back in London, which is in a different timezone. This sounds like a good time to give the std::datetime type a try. To create a datetime, you can just cast a string in ISO 8601 format with <datetime>. The ISO 8601 format is YYYY-MM-DDTHH:MM:SSZ, which next to a concrete example looks like this:

Example: 2023-06-06T22:12:10Z

So a cast to an actual datetime looks like this:

select <datetime>'2023-06-06T22:12:10Z';

The T inside there is just a separator between date and time (in other words, T is where the Time starts), and the Z at the end stands for “zero timeline”. That means that it has no offset — no difference — from UTC: in other words, it is UTC.

One way to set a timezone is to change the Z to an offset: the hour difference between the current time zone and UTC. Our query above returns the time “22:12:10Z”, so 10:12 PM in London. Let’s change the Z to +09:00 (the timezone for Korea and Japan) and see what happens:

select <datetime>'2023-06-06T22:12:10+09:00';

The output shows us the time in UTC again. In other words, it’s 1:12 pm in London when it’s 10:12 pm in Korea and Japan.


One other way to get a datetime is to use the to_datetime() function. Here are its signatures, which show that there are six ways to make a datetime with this function depending on how you want to make it. EdgeDB will know which one of the six function signatures you have chosen depending on what input you pass in.

(Keep that point in mind, by the way! It’s a hint for when we learn to write our own functions in Chapter 11.)

Let’s do a quick detour before getting back to datetime. Inside one of the to_datetime() function signatures you might have noticed one unfamiliar type called a decimal. A decimal is a float with “arbitrary precision”, meaning that you can give it as many numbers after the decimal point as you want. The decimal type exists because float types on computers become imprecise after a while thanks to rounding errors. This example shows the problem that floats have after too much precision:

db> select 6.777777777777777; # Good so far
db> select 6.7777777777777777; # Add one more digit...
{6.777777777777778} # Where did the 8 come from?!

To avoid this imprecision you can use a <decimal> cast, or just add an n to the end. This will return a decimal type which will be as precise as it needs to be. Now the rounding errors are gone:

db> select 6.7777777777777777n;
db> select 6.7777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777777n;

Similarly, there is a bigint type that also uses n for an arbitrary size. That’s because even int64 has a limit: it’s 9223372036854775807.

db> select 9223372036854775807; # Good so far...
db> select 9223372036854775808; # But add 1 and it will fail
edgedb error: NumericOutOfRangeError: std::int64 out of range

Here as well you can just add an n and it will create a bigint that can accommodate any size.

db> select 9223372036854775808n;

Now that we know all the numeric types, let’s get back to the six signatures for the to_datetime() function:

std::to_datetime(s: str, fmt: optional str = {}) -> datetime
std::to_datetime(local: cal::local_datetime, zone: str) -> datetime
std::to_datetime(year: int64, month: int64, day: int64,
  hour: int64, min: int64, sec: float64, timezone: str) -> datetime
std::to_datetime(epochseconds: decimal) -> datetime
std::to_datetime(epochseconds: float64) -> datetime
std::to_datetime(epochseconds: int64) -> datetime

The last signature works well if you want to know the datetime right now and are getting the epoch seconds (the number of seconds since 1970) from your computer’s system time. It’s also kind of fun to just experiment with:

db> select to_datetime(0);
db> select to_datetime(100);
db> select to_datetime(9879879870);
db> select to_datetime(87623);
db> select to_datetime(98723987213);

But the easiest signature is probably the third if you find ISO 8601 unfamiliar or you have a bunch of separate numbers to make into a date. Let’s give that signature a try.

Let’s imagine that it’s May 12. It’s a bright morning at 10:35 in Castle Dracula. The sun is up, Dracula is asleep in a coffin somewhere, and Jonathan is trying to use the time during the day to find a way to send Mina a letter. In Romania the timezone is ‘EEST’ (Eastern European Summer Time), and the year is (probably) 1893. We’ll use to_datetime() to generate this.

select to_datetime(1893, 5, 12, 10, 35, 0, 'EEST');

And get the following output:


The 07:35:00 part shows that it was automatically converted to UTC, which is London where Mina lives.

We can also use this to see the duration between events. EdgeDB has a duration type that you can get by subtracting a datetime from another one. Let’s practice by calculating the exact number of seconds between one date in Central Europe and another in Korea:

select to_datetime(2003, 5, 12, 8, 15, 15, 'CET')
     - to_datetime(2003, 5, 12, 6, 10, 0,  'KST');

This takes May 12 2003 8:15:15 am in Central European Time and subtracts May 12 2003 6:10 in Korean Standard Time. The result is: {<duration>'10:05:15'}, so 10 hours, 5 minutes, and 15 seconds.

Now let’s try something similar with Jonathan as he tries to escape Castle Dracula. It’s May 12 at 10:35 am in the EEST timezone. On the same day, Mina was in London at 6:10 am, drinking her morning tea. How many seconds passed between these two events? They are in different timezones, which makes the calculation a bit annoying. Fortunately, we don’t need to calculate it ourselves! We can just specify the timezone and EdgeDB will do the rest.

select to_datetime(1893, 5, 12, 10, 35, 0, 'EEST')
     - to_datetime(1893, 5, 12, 6,  10, 0, 'UTC');

The answer is 1 hour and 25 minutes: {<duration>'1:25:00'}.

To make the query easier for us to read, we can also use the with keyword to create variables. We can then use the variables in select below. We’ll make one called jonathan_wants_to_escape and another called mina_has_tea, and subtract one from another to get a duration. With variable names it is now a lot clearer what we are trying to do:

  jonathan_wants_to_escape := 
    to_datetime(1893, 5, 12, 10, 35, 0, 'EEST'),
  mina_has_tea := 
    to_datetime(1893, 5, 12, 6,  10, 0, 'UTC'),
select jonathan_wants_to_escape - mina_has_tea;

The output is the same: {<duration>'1:25:00'}. As long as we know the timezone, the datetime type does the work for us when we need a duration.

Besides subtracting a datetime from another datetime, you can also just cast to make a duration. To do this, just write the number followed by the unit: microseconds, milliseconds, seconds, minutes, or hours. It will return a number including a number of seconds, or a more precise unit if necessary. For example, select <duration>'2 hours'; will return {<duration>'2:00:00'}, and select <duration>'2 microseconds'; will return {<duration>'0:00:00.000002'}.

You can include multiple units as well. For example:

select <duration>'6 hours 6 minutes 10 milliseconds 678999 microseconds';

This will return {<duration>'6:06:00.688999'}.

EdgeDB is pretty forgiving when it comes to inputs when casting to a duration. It will ignore plurals, will recognize abbreviations, and so on:

edgedb> select <duration>'2 milliseconds';
edgedb> select <duration>'2 hour';
edgedb> select <duration>'1 seconds';
edgedb> select <duration>'1 H';

It even ignores symbols and irrelevant characters so even this horrible input will work:

select <duration>'1 hours, 8 minute ** 5 second ()()()( //// 6 milliseconds'
     - <duration>'10 microsecond 7 minutes %%%%%%% 10 seconds 5 hour';

The result: {<duration>'-3:59:04.99401'}.

It won’t just accept anything, however, so there is a limit:

edgedb> select <duration>'three howers';
edgedb error: InvalidValueError: invalid input syntax for type std::duration: 
"three howers"

The scene in the book today takes place on the 16th of May, 15 days after Jonathan Harker left London. Jonathan Harker was kind enough to even mark down the time of day during his first journal entry, which gives us a good idea of how much time has gone by since then. Here are the two relevant journal entries:

3 May. Bistritz.—Left Munich at 8:35 P. M., on 1st May, arriving at 
Vienna early next morning;
The Morning of 16 May.—God preserve my sanity, for to this I am reduced...
All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the 
ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made
me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear.

Let’s imagine that our PC named Emil Sinclair has been accomplishing some missions during this time in order to build up experience and get involved with the events in the book. It would be nice to let the player know how much time has elapsed since the game started. If the player clock currently says 8:03:17 am right now, we can calculate the duration as we did just before:

  game_start := to_datetime(1893, 5, 3, 20, 35, 0, 'UTC'),
  today      := to_datetime(1893, 5, 16, 8, 3, 17, 'EEST'),
select today - game_start;

That gives us a duration of {<duration>'296:28:17'}. That’s very precise, but it would be nice to show the player these units in more readable units. EdgeDB added a type called relative_duration in 2021 to do exactly this. A relative_duration will show up when you add or subtract local dates and local datetimes. Here is a quick example:

select <cal::local_datetime>'2023-05-18T08:00:00'
     - <cal::local_datetime>'2023-05-16T04:06:55';

This gives the output {<cal::relative_duration>'P2DT3H53M5S'}, which has done all the calculating for us and is easy to split up into parts. Adding a few spaces makes it easy to read: P 2D T 3H 53M 5S. In other words:

  • P - period (i.e. a period of time). This is from the ISO8601 standard.

  • 2D - two days

  • T - delimiter between days and time

  • 3H = three hours

  • 53M - 53 minutes

  • 5S - 5 seconds

So let’s make a relative_duration for our PC. Here we will use a function called cal::to_local_datetime which turns a datetime into a local_datetime by entering the datetime to convert and the timezone we want it to show the time of.

The player is currently in Romania so we will choose the EEST timezone. The code looks like this:

  game_start := to_datetime(1893, 5, 3, 20, 35, 0, 'UTC'),
  today      := to_datetime(1893, 5, 16, 8, 3, 17, 'EEST'),
    cal::to_local_datetime(today, 'EEST') 
  - cal::to_local_datetime(game_start, 'EEST');

This gives us an output of {<cal::relative_duration>'P12DT8H28M17S'}. Perfect! Now our game can display something like Time elapsed: 12 days, 8 hours, 28 minutes, 17 seconds and we don’t need to do any calculations to do so.

Another type called date_duration is useful when you only care about day to day duration. If we change the above code from cal::to_local_datetime to cal::to_local_date then we will cut off the time information and get a date_duration that only shows the number of days passed. So if we type this query:

  game_start := to_datetime(1893, 5, 3, 20, 35, 0, 'UTC'),
  today      := to_datetime(1893, 5, 16, 8, 3, 17, 'EEST'),
    cal::to_local_date(today, 'EEST') 
  - cal::to_local_date(game_start, 'EEST');

We will get the output {<cal::date_duration>'P13D'}. So even though only about 12 days and 8 hours have gone by, in terms of changes to the date it is 13 days. Then we could add one to it and have this output for the character playing the game:

Day 14 of your quest...

Our MinorVampire type extends Person, and so does Vampire. Types can continue to extend other types, and they can extend more than one type at the same time. The more you do this, the harder it can be to try to picture it all together in your mind. Or you might be in the middle of using the REPL and don’t want to switch to the schema file to get some information about a type. EdgeDB has a keyword called describe that can help in this case. There are four ways to use describe:

  • describe type MinorVampire - this will give the DDL (data definition language) description of a type. DDL is the lower level language that we have seen in our migration files that end in .edgeql such as 00001.edgeql, 00002.edgeql, and so on. If we type describe type MinorVampire into the REPL, we will see the following output:

  'create type default::MinorVampire extending default::Person {
    create required link master: default::Vampire;

The create keyword shows that DDL is a series of quick commands, which is why the order is important. In other words, SDL is declarative (it declares what something will be without worrying about order), while DDL is imperative (it’s a series of commands to change the state). Also, because it only shows the DDL commands to create it, it doesn’t show us all the Person links and properties that it extends. So we probably don’t want that. The next method is:

  • describe type MinorVampire as sdl - same thing, but in SDL.

The output is almost the same too, just the SDL version of the above. It’s also not enough information for what we want now:

  'type default::MinorVampire extending default::Person {
    required master: default::Vampire;

This output is basically the same as our SDL schema, just a bit more detailed when it comes to module paths: type default::MinorVampire instead of type MinorVampire, and so on.

  • The third method is describe type MinorVampire as text. Now the output shows almost everything we need to know inside the type, including from the types that it extends. Here’s the output:

  'type default::MinorVampire extending default::Person {
    required single link __type__: schema::Type {
        readonly := true;
    optional single link lover: default::Person;
    required single link master: default::Vampire;
    optional multi link places_visited: default::Place;
    required single property id: std::uuid {
        readonly := true;
    required single property name: std::str;

If you want a bit more information, you can add the keyword verbose to make the command describe type MinorVampire as text verbose. This will look similar to the previous output, except it also includes constraints and annotations. (We’ll learn about annotations in Chapter 14.) Here is the output:

  'type default::MinorVampire extending default::Person {
    required single link __type__: schema::ObjectType {
        readonly := true;
    optional single link lover: default::Person;
    required single link master: default::Vampire;
    optional multi link places_visited: default::Place;
    required single property id: std::uuid {
        readonly := true;
        constraint std::exclusive;
    required single property name: std::str;

The parts that say readonly := true are parts of each type that are automatically generated and which we can’t change (hence the word readonly). The next part we want to scan for is required, giving us the minimum we need to create an object. For MinorVampire, we can see that we need a name and a master, and could add a lover and places_visited for these MinorVampires.

The most interesting readonly part of an object is __type__, which is a link that every object type has to information about itself. We will learn more about this in Chapters 8 and 13, but if you are curious about what is inside then give it a try with the splat operator:

select Person.__type__ {*};

For a really long output using describe, try typing describe schema or describe module default (with as sdl or as text if you want). You’ll get an output showing the whole schema we’ve built so far.

So if we can use describe to learn about a type or our schema, are there other things we can describe? Indeed there are: we can describe an object, annotation, constraint, function, link, module, property, scalar type, or type.

If you don’t want to remember them all, just go with object: it will match anything inside your schema (except modules). So describe scalar type SleepState and describe object SleepState will both return the same thing.

Here is all our code so far up to Chapter 5.

Practice Time
  1. What do you think select to_datetime(3600); will return, and why?

    Hint: check the function signatures above (or in the docs) and see which one EdgeDB will pick when you enter 3600.

    Show answer
  2. Will select <int16>9 + 1.06n is decimal; work? And if it does, will it return {true}?

    Show answer
  3. How many seconds went by between 5:00 am on Christmas Day 2003 in Turkmenistan (TMT) and 7:00 pm on New Year’s Eve for the same year in Uzbekistan (UZT)?

    Show answer
  4. The query select <datetime>'2023-05-18T10:56:00+09:00' - <datetime>'2020-09-10T05:00:00+00:00'; returns {<duration>'23516:56:00'} which is hard to read. How can we display how many days have passed without having to do the math ourselves?

    Show answer
  5. How would you write the same query using with for each of the two times?

    Show answer
  6. What’s the best way to describe a type if you only want to see how you wrote it?

    Show answer

Up next: One of the women vampires to her sisters: “He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all…”