ISO 8601 and the horrible "T"

Misha Wolf misha.wolf at
Fri Jun 27 18:36:37 UTC 1997

Stu Weibel has given me permission to quote from his private mail:

> Where you have YYYY-MM-DDThh:mm-hh:mm, is it possible to interpose a
> seperator other than T that makes it clearer to the human eye where 
> the date ends and Time begins?  I suspect the answer to this is that 
> such a separator would knock the profile out of whack with 8601, but 
> I thought I'd ask anyhow.

The "T" is, I think, the most despised aspect of the ISO 8601 standard
but I think we're stuck with it.  Some relevant quotes from the

   [T] is used as a time designator to indicate the start of the 
   representation of the time of day in combined date and time of day 

   The space character shall not be used in the representations.

The only suggestion I have seen for getting rid of the "T" is a kind of
trick: We say that we are representing not a "combined date and time"
but rather a separate date and a time.  We then place them next to each
other, separated by our favourite character.  If "*" represents our
favourite character, we get:


instead of:


The problem with this solution is precisely that it is a trick.  In
reality, we are dealing with a single date-with-time and it confuses
things to pretend that we're not.  Also, there must be lots of software
out there which is ISO 8601-conformant and would choke on our favourite

I suggest we decide that this stuff isn't primarily for human
consumption and make use of it, warts and all.

Misha Wolf            Email: misha.wolf at     85 Fleet Street
Standards Manager     Voice: +44 171 542 6722           London EC4P 4AJ
Reuters Limited       Fax  : +44 171 542 8314           UK

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