A Postgres-friendly time comparison assertion for Go

Oct 4, 2023

Three major problems with trying to compare time values in Go:

  • Times in Go carry a monotonic component, so attempting to compare them directly will more often than not produce the wrong result (e.g. using testify’s require.Equal helper).

  • Times in Go are precise down to the nanosecond, whereas Postgres stores times to microsecond-level precision, so comparing a time to one round-tripped from Postgres will fail (say with the use of the built-in time.Equal).

  • Times in Go are structs, so comparison failures that print a difference will produce an eyesore wall of text that’s totally incomprehensible to an average person not already deeply familiar with time package internals.

My workaround was usually to pre-format times to RFC3339, which was verbose and ugly:


I finally got around to adding a helper to make time comparisons easier and more reliable. It’s not much code:

// EqualTime compares two times in a way that's safer and with better fail
// output than a call to `require.Equal` would produce.
// It takes care to:
//   - Strip off monotonic portions of timestamps so they aren't considered for
//     purposes of comparison.
//   - Truncate nanoseconds in a functionally equivalent way to how pgx would do
//     it so that times that have round-tripped from Postgres can still be
//     compared. Postgres only stores times to the microsecond level.
//   - Use formatted, human-friendly time outputs so that in case of a failure,
//     the discrepancy is easier to pick out.
func EqualTime(t testing.TB, t1, t2 time.Time) {
	// Note that leaving off the nanosecond portion will have the effect of
	// truncating it rather than rounding to the nearest microsecond, which
	// functionally matches pgx's behavior while persisting.
	const rfc3339Micro = "2006-01-02T15:04:05.999999Z07:00"


Notably, although nanoseconds are truncated, we still compare all the way to the microsecond level. This helps to root out tests that are accidentally not using a stable clock value, and would otherwise occasionally produce an off-by-one second assertion failure. It’s rare to accidentally get the same value to the microsecond with two calls to time.Now(), so those tests will tend to fail every time instead of intermittently.

And a test case to show that it works and exercise edges:

func TestEqualTime(t *testing.T) {

	t1 := time.Now()

	// Strip off milli/micro/nanosecond portion and add back our own test
	// version. This guarantees that adding some nanoseconds (which is done
	// below) won't ever accidentally roll time over to the next microsecond and
	// also helps adding some better stability to the tests.
	// We don't use Round/Truncate because we want to keep the monotonic portion
	// of the time to show that it's ignored during comparison (Round/Truncate
	// would otherwise strip it off).
	t1 = t1.Add(-time.Duration(t1.Nanosecond()))
	t1 = t1.Add(123_456_789)

	// Exactly equivalent time, but Truncate has the effect of stripping the
	// monotonic component off. This lets us verify that it's not considered for
	// purposes of comparison.
	t2 := t1.Truncate(time.Nanosecond)

	// Log times to help visual what's happening. Using `-test.v` you can see
	// the monotonic portion of t1 remains, but has been stripped from t2.
	t.Logf("t1 = %+v", t1)
	t.Logf("t2 = %+v", t2)

	// These will look identical.
	t.Logf("As time.RFC3339Nano:")
	t.Logf("t1 = %+v", t1.Format(time.RFC3339Nano))
	t.Logf("t2 = %+v", t2.Format(time.RFC3339Nano))

	prequire.EqualTime(t, t1, t2)

	// Comparison only happens to the microsecond level to better allow for
	// round trips back from Postgres.
	prequire.EqualTime(t, t1, t2.Truncate(time.Microsecond))

	// Basically the same thing again. Comparison passes even with some extra
	// nanosecond padding.
	prequire.EqualTime(t, t1, t2.Add(100*time.Nanosecond))

	// Fail: difference at second level.
	expectFailure(t, func(t testutil.TestingT) {
		prequire.EqualTime(t, t1, t2.Add(1*time.Second))

	// Fail: difference at millisecond level.
	expectFailure(t, func(t testutil.TestingT) {
		prequire.EqualTime(t, t1, t2.Truncate(time.Millisecond))

	// Fail: difference at microsecond level.
	expectFailure(t, func(t testutil.TestingT) {
		prequire.EqualTime(t, t1, t2.Add(1*time.Microsecond))

Did I make a mistake? Please consider sending a pull request.