What Is Unix Timestamp

The digital realm operates on precise timings, and understanding how computers measure time can be fascinating. One common term you might come across is "Unix timestamp". But what is it? Let's simplify this concept for beginners.

Defining Unix Timestamp

A Unix timestamp, also known as Epoch time or POSIX time, represents the number of seconds that have elapsed since 00:00:00 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), Thursday, 1 January 1970, excluding leap seconds. Essentially, it's a way to track time as a running total of seconds.

Why Use Unix Timestamps?

  • Uniformity. Regardless of time zones or Daylight Saving Time adjustments, the Unix timestamp is universal. It provides a consistent point of reference.
  • Simplicity. It's easier to perform arithmetic operations (like adding or subtracting) on a single number than manipulating date formats.
  • Compactness. Storing a single integer for date and time can be more space-efficient than storing detailed date-time strings.

Converting Unix Timestamps

To humanize this number for readable date and time, many programming languages and software provide functions or methods to convert a Unix timestamp. For instance, in many programming languages, there are built-in functions that will transform the timestamp into a more familiar "day, month, year, hour, minute, second" format.

Origin of the Unix Timestamp

Why start counting from 1970? This date, termed as the "Unix Epoch", is essentially an arbitrary starting point chosen by Unix system developers in the early days of computing. As Unix-based systems spread, so did the use of this timestamp method.

While it might initially seem complex, the Unix timestamp is merely a standardized, universal method for computers to track time. It underscores the importance of simplicity and uniformity in computing, even for something as universal as time.