Java 101: Catching up with the Java Date and Time API

Get to know the java.time classes you're most likely to use in Java 8

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Instant and Duration

The java.time package's Instant and Duration classes provide a machine view of the timeline, which is a single, continually incrementing number. Instant stores a point in time relative to the epoch; Duration stores a time-based amount of time, like 25.8 seconds.

Use cases for machine time classes

You could use Instant to record event timestamps and Duration to record animation cycle lengths.

Instant stores an instant relative to the epoch as a number of seconds in a long integer field and as a number of nanoseconds beyond the last second (i.e., nanosecond-of-second) in an integer field. Duration stores a time-based amount of time similarly.

Instantiating Instant and Duration

Instant and Duration declare a number of constants that describe pre-created Instants and Durations:

  • EPOCH is an Instant representing the epoch.
  • MAX is an Instant that identifies the largest possible (i.e., far future) instant.
  • MIN is an Instant that identifies the smallest possible (i.e., far past) instant.
  • ZERO is a Duration representing a duration of zero.

Instant and Duration also declare several fluent factory methods for instantiating these classes:

  • Instant now() returns an Instant from the system clock using the UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) time zone.
  • Instant ofEpochSecond(long epochSecond) returns an Instant identifying the instant epochSecond seconds past the epoch. The nanosecond-of-second field is set to zero.
  • Instant parse(CharSequence text) returns an Instant from an ISO-8601 text string such as 2007-12-03T10:15:30Z. If the string doesn't represent a valid instant in UTC, this method throws an instance of the java.time.format.DateTimeParseException runtime exception class. (ISO-8601 specifies T as the time designator that precedes the time components in the formatted string representation, and it specifies Z to indicate UTC.)
  • Duration ofSeconds(long seconds) returns a Duration identifying seconds seconds and setting the nanosecond-of-second field to 0.
  • Duration parse(CharSequence text) returns a Duration from an ISO-8601 text string such as PT3M20S. (ISO-8601 specifies P -- which historically stood for "period" -- to signify a duration. It also specifies M to indicate minutes and S to indicate seconds.)

Machine time classes: A demo

Listing 1 demonstrates the above-listed constants and fluent factory methods in a simple application that outputs constant values and the results of calls to these methods.

Listing 1. (version 1)

import java.time.Duration;
import java.time.Instant;

public class MachineTimeDemo
   public static void main(String[] args)
      System.out.printf("EPOCH = %s%n", Instant.EPOCH);
      System.out.printf("MAX = %s%n", Instant.MAX);
      System.out.printf("MIN = %s%n", Instant.MIN);

      System.out.printf("Now = %s%n",;
      System.out.printf("50 seconds past epoch = %s%n",
      System.out.printf("Parsed = %s%n",

      System.out.printf("ZERO = %s%n", Duration.ZERO);

      System.out.printf("30-second duration = %s%n",
      System.out.printf("Parsed = %s%n",

Note in Listing 1 that Instant, Duration (and other java.time classes) provide a toString() method that returns a string representation of the object's value in ISO-8601 format. This method is automatically called by System.out.printf().

If you compile this application (javac and run it (java MachineTimeDemo) your output should be similar to what's shown below:

EPOCH = 1970-01-01T00:00Z
MAX = +1000000000-12-31T23:59:59.999999999Z
MIN = -1000000000-01-01T00:00Z
Now = 2013-03-24T00:33:20.986Z
50 seconds past epoch = 1970-01-01T00:00:50Z
Parsed = 2007-12-03T10:15:30Z
30-second duration = PT30S
Parsed = PT3M20S
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