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How to create and work with timestamps in vanilla JS

A timestamp is a number used to represent a fixed point in a time.

Unlike date strings, which are relative to a specific timezone or location, a timestamp is absolute, and represents the same moment regardless of where a person lives.

Today, we’re going to look at how to work with timestamps in vanilla JS.

Unix time

Unix time is the amount of time that have elapsed since midnight on January 1, 1970, UTC.

It’s a commonly used measure of time in operating systems and programming, and provides a handy way to create timestamps.

Creating a timestamp with vanilla JS

Let’s say you want to record right now as the moment when something happened (like fetching data from an API).

First, you would create a new Date() instance. Then, you would call the Date.getTime() method, which returns a unix timestamp (sort of) for the date.

Most languages use seconds for their unix timestamps. JavaScript uses milliseconds.

var now = new Date();
var timestamp = now.getTime();

Here’s a demo.

Update: My buddy David Guttman let me know about the method, which does the same thing as the approach above.

var timestamp =;

It works in all modern browsers, and IE9 and up.

Alternatively, you can reduce the original code to one line like this.

var timestamp = new Date().getTime();

Getting the date from a timestamp

Let’s say some time later you wanted to get the date that something happened based on a timestamp.

You can pass the timestamp into a new Date() constructor.

var date = new Date(timestamp);

Here’s an updated demo.

Working with timestamps with other languages

JavaScript uses milliseconds for its timestamps. Most server-side languages—PHP, python, and so on—use seconds.

If you get a timestamp from the server, or need to send one back, you’ll first need to convert it.

To use a server-side timestamp with JS, you’ll want to multiply it by 1000 to convert it to milliseconds. Otherwise the date will be completely off.

// Using a server-side timestamp with JS
var date = new Date(serverTimestamp * 1000);

When sending timestamps back to a server, it’s a good idea to convert them to seconds for consistency. To do that, divide by 1000.

// Before sending a timestamp to a server
var now = new Date();
var timestamp = now.getTime();
var timestampInSeconds = timestamp / 1000;