One of the problems I’ve encountered with a recent project is maintaining the integrity of Time and Date information going back and forth between a Rails server and a React client.

While the issue isn’t necessarily specific to React, it affects any sort of JavaScript client using JavaScript’s Date object.

The source of my frustration with this particular project is that the dates in the client are passed around in various different formats, and there is a lot of reformatting of the dates happening.

One of my sort of tenants of programming is to never format a date or time (or datetime, if you will) until it’s necessary to display it to the user. (This applies in general, but a lot for times.)

On the Rails side, as on most Unix-based systems, times are objects with an underlying float value with the integer part being the number of seconds since the Unix Epoc, 1970-01-01 at midnight UTC. (Often times one can see dates such as Dec 31, 1969 show up because of timezone conversions to North America. No, in fact, zero time is not on Wednesday everywhere.)

Rails has the ability to translate time in and out of storage quite well, but it’s sometimes tricky.

JavaScript has the ability create and parse dates and times, but it’s lousy at formatting nice date, which brings in the moment library which is quite popular.

What I’m talking about here, though, is the passing of time information back and forth between a Rails server and the JavaScript client.

Most of the time, when you serialize a Rails record, the time information is converted to a string, with the default format that looks like: "Wed, 28 Feb 2018 17:59:28 UTC +00:00" (the output of .to_s). In nearly every case, that’s not a very useful value to be passing to other programs, which is why I’m converting it to JSON, presumably.

So, the better conversion, to avoid all confusion about timezones, time formats, etc., is to convert it to milliseconds, both going out and coming back, and convert accordingly, e.g.:

(object.created_at.to_f * 1000).to_i

In GraphQL-land, this would be the lambda on the resolve entry for a field:

field :created_at_ms, "Time of creation in milliseconds" do
  resolve ->(object, _args, _context) { (object.created_at.to_f * 1000).to_i }

Or create a resolver class:

class TimeFieldMilliseconds

  def initialize(field)
    @field = field

  def call(object, _args, _context)
    (object.public_send(field) * 1000).to_i


And declare the field as:

field :created_at_ms, "Time of creation in milliseconds" { resolve }

On the client side, convert the milliseconds to a Date object as:

let createdAt = new Date(object.created_at_ms)

or when using moment:

let createdAt = moment(object.created_at_ms)