It’s bad but not as bad as you think.
The way we write dates is very different among cultures and technologies. Even countries of the same language family might have totally different notions where to put the year, where to put the month, where to put the day when writing down a date in numbers. Apart from the order, we might use hyphen
. or slash
/ to mark the sections. Leading zero yes or no. It gets much worse when writing out a date, like “Vlad was born on the 13th of June” or “Monday, October 10 I will have a barbecue”. Mix in different languages and different ways to abbreviate Monday as “Mo”, “Mon”, “M”.
The PHP-native ways to deal with date math and date formatting are a little quirky and best wrapped in some code that hides away the nasty details but exposes useful capabilities.
The horde/date library has been around for ages and it does its job. Due to changes in the PHP 8.1+ engine, it requires some internal re-engineering. As it is also due for a conversion to namespaces and PSR-4, I decided to think about the interface a little more. These are rough ideas and I am still figuring what will be fun and safe to work it and what is possibly over-thinking it.
It’s DateTime all right.
PHP provides internal data types to store and manipulate a date: DateTime and DateTimeImmutable. Horde_Date behaves similar to DateTimeImmutable but implements a lot of intricate math on its own. Still, it uses DateTime for some conversions. It makes sense to delegate most mutation math to the DateTimeImmutable class and make it also hold most state. No need to manually manage minutes, hours, days of weeks etc in most cases. Preferring Immutable safes us some clone magic.
Wrap it up or extend it?
There are two possible approaches to dealing with the builtin type: Either extend it or hide it in a wrapper. The third option would be to implement the interface but this is not possible.
Extending any of the two DateTime types would be handy as it is the lingua franca between different library ecosystems. We could simply inject our Horde Date type into any library that uses it. There are down sides to this approach though. While DateTimeInterface is reasonably small and mostly useful, DateTime and DateTimeImmutable expose a lot of functionality. Some of it is awkwardly named. Some of it would have to be wrapped in extending to avoid inconsistencies in our own object. Some of it possibly clashes with own naming schemes and blocks us from using preferred signatures. Some of it might not fit into our own notion of what belongs where. There is also a risk of exposing different functionality based on PHP versions. This is undesirable. Extending is not the way to go. Hiding away the DateTimeImmutable object and exposing it explicitly might seem a little verbose. It offers some interesting applications.
Clock Date – Now is the right time.
A clock date type always emits now. Asking it again at a later point will yield a later time without having to manipulate the object. This is useful for tracing duration of processes or for emitting status messages. We can also make this clock the second element of a time span. Its duration will automatically expand. We can add a Stop method to the clock which will return a regular, fixed date for further processing.
No Date – When it’s not right for you.
Sometimes we cannot rely on a date being present in the input. It might be optional. It might be required by the current data model but used to be optional or malformed. Traditional options would be expressing the non-date as null value, throwing an exception or silently assuming no date means now. These are appropriate, good solutions in many cases. Sometimes you may prefer to have the “no date” information behave a little like a date – until it reaches a point where it cannot. For example, a “not a date” can be formatted many ways. It can be serialized to the backend, provided the backend can deal with it. It can however not be calculated, mutated or cast to a DateTimeImmutable. I am not yet sure how to handle this. Maybe it should be confined to Formatters and Readers.
In The Zone.
PHP provides an own finite list of Time Zone identifiers. Wrapping PHP’s timezone objects allow dealing with well known but unsupported timezone names. We can map them to known names. We can safe the originally provided name for later usage. We might not carry a PHP timezone at all but signal the other parts of the library that some custom code must be applied.
In Good Format.
There are a plethora of ways to express a given date. There are three builtin date renderers in PHP, IntlDateFormatter (not always installed), strftrime (deprecated) and DateTimeInterface::format (English only). You might add your own. Each has its own dependencies, arguments, requirements.
It is much simpler if there is a Formatter type. Implementations can just configure it and load it with a date. Consumers have a simple interface to work with them regardless of how they are implemented.This also allows to keep the dependency footprint of the core date library low and makes adding more output formats very easy. The same is true for reading data. Reading values from various formats should not be the Date object’s concern. Another object should turn arbitrary string, integer or other data into dates – including legacy Horde_Date objects.