SQL is a programming language we use to interact with relational databases. SQL databases contain tables, which contain rows of data. These tables can contain a wide range of data types.

In this article, you'll learn how MySQL functions help make date management very easy.

These functions help perform various tasks. Some perform simple tasks like adding days to dates, finding how many days are between two dates, or even more complicated tasks like how to tell how far into a year a date is by number of days.

Before proceeding, keep in mind that this article was written on 2023-01-24. So your results on running the queries here might be slightly different based on when you read it.

How to Use the CURRENT_DATE Function in SQL

This function returns today's date in the format 'YYYY-MM-DD'. It is one of the simplest MySQL functions to use. It takes no arguments at all.

-- Returns 2023-01-24
MySQL to get today's date

This function has synonymous functions that work just the way it does: CUR_DATE and CURRENT_DATE() will return the exact same result as CURRENT_DATE.

How to Use the ADDDATE Function in SQL

This functions performs additions, or subtractions, on date values. It takes an interval that can be in days, or months, or even years. This interval can be positive or negative. The function takes this format:

ADDDATE(date/expr, INTERVAL expr unit);

Here, the date/expr refers to the base date value to be added to or subtracted from. And the INTERVAL is a constant keyword that has to come before the expr that is used to set the value of the increment in numbers. Finally, you have the unit, which can be day, week,  month, quarter or even year.  The unit can also be a smaller value like second or even microsecond. Check the MySQL docs for more possible values.

This functions works exactly the same as the DATE_ADD and you can use them interchangeably.

Using ADDDATE, you can find the date of 45 days from today like this:

-- Returns 2023-03-10

To get the date of the day 7 months and 3 weeks ago, use the ADDDATE like this:

-- Returns 2022-06-03

Here, we called the ADDDATE function twice. First, to get the date of 7 months ago. Then, we called it again to get the date of 3 weeks before that time.

A common use case of ADDDATE in real life applications is to get data values to be used in a WHERE clause as a range.

For example, if you had an employees table with a hiredate field that stores their resumption date. To see all employees that resumed in the past year (where hiredate > the date of a year ago), use ADDDATE like this:

FROM employees 

Another common case would be when you have to filter by a time range. In a songs table with a released field, to fetch all songs released in the last three weeks except for the ones released this week, use ADDDATE like this:

FROM songs 
WHERE released 

How to Use the DATEDIFF Function in SQL

This function returns the number of days between two dates. It takes in the two dates to be subtracted. Let's use DATEDIFF to find the number of days between today and 2023-03-10.

-- Returns 45

Rearranging the dates and calling the function again results in a difference in the response:

-- Returns -45

You can use this function with the ABS function to get the absolute value and not have issues with the negative sign or value.

-- Returns 45

This is very useful when you have to return data with respect to time. `For example, in many blogs, you see a part that says something like 'Posted 7 days ago'. You can use the DATEDIFF to get this value easily.

How to Use the DATE_FORMAT Function in SQL

This function lets you present your data anyhow you want it. This is a very useful function. It takes in the date to be formatted, and also a string representing the desired format. The function takes this format:

DATE_FORMAT(date, format)

The format string can be of any length and each character in it defines a specific format and must be prefixed by the percentage symbol, %. For example, given the date 2023-03-10, you can present this as Fri 10th March, 2023 like so:

SELECT DATE_FORMAT('2023-03-10', '%a %D %M, %Y');

Here, we passed in the format string '%a %D %M, %Y'. But, what does this truly mean? Here's a few things to note:

  • The provided format string, '%a %D %M, %Y', is exactly the same shape as the result, Fri 10th March, 2023. This means you can shape the result anyhow you like – even the space characters matter. Every character in the format string is returned as part of the result, except it is prefixed using the percentage sign, then it is read as a format character. For example, rewriting the format string to '45 days from today is %a, %D day of %M, %Y' will result in 45 days from today is Fri, 10th day of March, 2023.
  • The a used results in the abbreviated weekday name, Fri.
  • The D returned the day of the month with English suffix, 10th.
  • The M returned the name of the month, March.
  • The Y returned the year, 2023.

There are many more characters that you can use in the format string, and you can find them here.

How to Use the MAX and MIN Functions in SQL

While these functions aren't limited or specific to date data type, they are very useful when working with dates. You can use the MAX to find the latest record in a table. You can use the MIN to find the oldest record in a table.

In a table of employees, with a birthday field storing their date of birth, you can find the oldest employee using the MAX function like this:

FROM employees
WHERE birthday = (SELECT MAX(birthday) from employees);

Or alternatively, like this:

FROM employees
ORDER BY birthday DESC

You could get the youngest employee using the MIN function:

FROM employees
WHERE birthday = (SELECT MIN(birthday) from employees);
FROM employees
ORDER BY birthday


I hope you now understand the MySQL date functions we discussed here, their variations and arguments, and when to use them so you can write better queries. You can find more of these functions here.

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