Auto detect a time zone with JavaScript

by on June 8, 2007


This blog post will attempt to explain how to automatically detect your user’s time zone using JavaScript. If you’re in a hurry, you can skip directly to the demo or just grab the files

Previous attempts to solve this problem:

Server side:

Time is not included in an HTTP request. This means that there is no way to get your user’s time zone using a server side scripting language like PHP.

IP address geocoding:

Another method that people have used to address this problem is to geocode your visitors IP address. IP geocoding is what is used when you go to a website and are shown an ad to “meet other singles in Boulder”. Unfortunately, for simply detecting a timezone, IP geo-coding is an expensive way to go. Just check out the prices for Maxmind and ip2location. There’s no way I’m paying for that. I did find a free provider called hostip, but it is worthless as it couldn’t decide whether I live in CA or NC.

With JavaScript:

The common JavaScript that is used to detect a visitor’s timezone is:

var myDate = new Date();
document.write(myDate.getTimezoneOffset());

As I started reading up on the getTimezoneOffset code I realized it was too buggy to be used in any critical application. The function returned inconsistent results in different browsers and it never seemed to account for daylight savings time correctly. It quickly became clear that I was going to have to write my own script if I wanted this to work.

How I ended up doing it:

There are basically two things needed to figure out a visitors time zone. First, we need to determine the time offset from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). This can easily be done by creating two dates (one local, and one in GMT) and comparing the time difference between them:

var rightNow = new Date();
var jan1 = new Date(rightNow.getFullYear(), 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0);
var temp = jan1.toGMTString();
var jan2 = new Date(temp.substring(0, temp.lastIndexOf(" ")-1));
var std_time_offset = (jan1 - jan2) / (1000 * 60 * 60);

The second thing that you need to know is whether the location observes daylight savings time (DST) or not. Since DST is always observed during the summer, we can compare the time offset between two dates in January, to the time offset between two dates in June. If the offsets are different, then we know that the location observes DST. If the offsets are the same, then we know that the location DOES NOT observe DST.

var june1 = new Date(rightNow.getFullYear(), 6, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0);
temp = june1.toGMTString();
var june2 = new Date(temp.substring(0, temp.lastIndexOf(" ")-1));
var daylight_time_offset = (june1 - june2) / (1000 * 60 * 60);
var dst;
if (std_time_offset == daylight_time_offset) {
    dst = "0"; // daylight savings time is NOT observed
} else {
    dst = "1"; // daylight savings time is observed
}

Once, I had this code written, the next step was to compile a list of the various time zones around the world along with their opinions on DST. I actually ended up using the list of time zones from Microsoft Windows. It was rather time consuming to compile this list, so I hope you can make use of my work to save yourself some time.

Please let me know if you have any comments, questions or problems with this code. As with anything that I post on this blog, feel free to use this code however you want. Just don’t blame me if it breaks.

Update (06/27/07):

My code wasn’t correctly detecting timezones in the lower hemisphere. I have added hemisphere detection for all our Aussie friends out there. I also fixed a bug in the convert() function that was leaving off the + sign at certain offsets. Thanks Val for pointing this out and helping me with the fix.

Update (10/24/08):

Fixed the bug that Rama and Will pointed out in the comments.

Update (12/22/10):

Jon Nylander has taken my original code and written a a more robust solution. Use his version instead.