Peter Marklund

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Wed Aug 16 2006 04:48:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

Rails Recipe: A Timezone Aware Datetime Picker

NOTE! Only follow this recipe if you are using an earlier version of Rails than 2.1. As of Rails 2.1 timezone support is built into Rails in a way that makes it much easier to create timezone aware applications.

Quite often in web applications we display dates and times and also have users input them and store them in our databases. If your users are spread across the globe you really want to be able display times in the users own timezone. How do we accomplish this with Rails?

First off, as Scott Baron has pointed out, you want to grab a copy of the TZInfo Ruby timezone library. We need TZInfo since it can deal with daylight savings time (summer/winter hourly adjustments), something that the Timezone library that ships with Rails is not able to do. Installation is as simple as downloading the latest tgz file from RubyForge, extracting it into vendor/tzinfo, and requiring the library from config/environment.rb. We also add some new settings:

# In config/environment.rb
ActiveRecord::Base.default_timezone = :utc # Store all times in the db in UTC
require 'tzinfo/lib/tzinfo' # Use tzinfo library to convert to and from the users timezone
ENV['TZ'] = 'UTC' # This makes return time in UTC

The strategy we are adopting here is that times in the UI when shown to or entered by the user are in the users own timezone. In the application on the other hand, i.e. in Ruby code and in the database, times are always kept in the UTC timezone. Our job then becomes to allow the user to select a timezone, and then to convert back and forth between this timezone and the UTC timezone as needed. To store the user timezone we can add a time_zone string column to the users table and use the composed_of macro just like Scott Baron describes:

class User < ActiveRecord::Base
  composed_of :tz, :class_name => 'TZInfo::Timezone', 
              :mapping => %w(time_zone time_zone)

Then add a timezone select on a "Set Timezone" preference page that the user can access:

<% # Select using TZInfo timezone names such as "Europe - Amsterdam"
   # In the controller on submit you can then do 
   # =[:user][:timezone_name])
<%= time_zone_select 'user', 'timezone_name', TZInfo::Timezone.all.sort, :model => TZInfo::Timezone %>

If you prefer the timezone names of the Rails Timezone class you can use them instead and then convert to a TZInfo timezone object:

<% # Select using the Rails Timezone names such as "(GMT+01:00) Amsterdam". Will require a
   # conversion to the TZInfo timezone on submit. %>
<%= time_zone_select 'user', 'timezone_name' %>

# Helper method in the controller
def tzinfo_from_timezone(timezone) 
  TZInfo::Timezone.all.each do |tz|
    if tz.current_period.utc_offset.to_i == timezone.utc_offset.to_i
      return tz
  return nil   

# On submit in the controller we convert from Rails Timezone to TZInfo timezone via the UTC offset
# and store the user timezone in the database. = tzinfo_from_timezone([:user][:timezone_name])

Now when displaying times in the UI we can consistently convert them to the users timezone with a helper like this:

  def format_datetime(datetime)
    return datetime if !datetime.respond_to?(:strftime)
    datetime = if @user
    datetime.strftime("%m-%d-%Y %I:%M %p")

To have the user enter a date and a time in a user friendly fashion you can install the bundled_resource plugin and use its JavaScript based calendar date picker. When displaying the date to the user in an HTML form we use to convert from UTC to the users timezone, and when receiving a date from a form submit we convert back to UTC with

# The new action:
def new
  @email =
  @email.schedule_date = # Default schedule date in local time

# new.rhtml
<%= dynarch_datetime_select('email', 'schedule_date', :select_time => true) %>

# The create action that the new form submits to
def create
  @email =[:email])
  # Convert the local schedule date from the form to UTC time
  @email.schedule_date =

# The edit action
def edit
  @email = BulkEmail.find_by_id_and_group_id(id, session[:group_id])
  # Show scheduled date in local time
  @email.schedule_date = 

# The update action that edit submits to
def update
  @email = BulkEmail.find_by_id_and_group_id(id, session[:group_id])
  @email.attributes = params[:email]
  @email.schedule_date =


Apparently there is also a Ruby on Rails TZInfo plugin that I discovered only now as I was writing this post and I haven't looked into using it yet. A very helpful page when dealing timezones is the World Clock.

Testing of the functionality described here is left as an exercise for the reader...