How can two dates be compared in a shell?

Here is an example of how I would like to use this, though it does not work as-is:


if [ $todate -ge $cond ];

How can I achieve the desired result?

11 Answers 11


The right answer is still missing:

todate=$(date -d 2013-07-18 +%s)
cond=$(date -d 2014-08-19 +%s)

if [ $todate -ge $cond ];
  • 9
    Donno why someone downvoted this, it's pretty accurate and doesn't deal with concatenating ugly strings. Convert your date to unix timestamp (in seconds), compare unix timestamps. – Nicholi May 2 '15 at 23:16
  • 4
    This doesn't work with the date shipped with macOS. – Flimm Dec 8 '16 at 9:49
  • 7
    @Flimm With date on macOS, the equivalent is date -j -f "%F" 2014-08-19 +"%s". – Kusalananda Jan 30 '17 at 15:33
  • I think, me main advantage of this solution is, that you can do additions or subtractions easily. For example, I wanted to have a timeout of x seconds, but my first idea (timeout=$(`date +%Y%m%d%H%M%S` + 500)) is obviously wrong. – iGEL Jul 20 '18 at 9:59
  • 1
    date -d is non standard and does not work on a typical UNIX. On BSD it even attempts to set the kenel value DST.... – schily Dec 7 '18 at 10:13

You are missing the date format for the comparison:


todate=$(date -d 2013-07-18 +"%Y%m%d")  # = 20130718
cond=$(date -d 2013-07-15 +"%Y%m%d")    # = 20130715

if [ $todate -ge $cond ]; #put the loop where you need it
 echo 'yes';

You are missing looping structures too, how are you planning to get more dates?

  • This doesn't work with the date shipped with macOS. – Flimm Dec 8 '16 at 9:49
  • date -d is non standard and does not work on a typical UNIX. On BSD it even attempts to set the kenel value DST. – schily Dec 7 '18 at 10:13

Can use a standard string comparison to compare the chronological ordering [of strings in a year, month, day format].


if [[ "$date_a" > "$date_b" ]] ;
    echo "break"

Thankfully, when [strings that use the YYYY-MM-DD format] are sorted* in alphabetical order, they are also sorted* in chronological order.

(* - sorted or compared)

Nothing fancy needed in this case. yay!

  • Where is the else branch here? – Vladimir Despotovic Dec 15 '16 at 14:12
  • This is the only solution that worked for me on Sierra MacOS – Vladimir Despotovic Dec 15 '16 at 14:22
  • This is simpler that my solution of if [ $(sed -e s/-//g <<< $todate) -ge $(sed -e s/-//g <<< $cond) ]; … This date format was designed to be sorted using standard alpha numeric sort, or for - to be stripped and sorted numerically. – ctrl-alt-delor Apr 8 '17 at 17:59

This is not a problem of looping structures but of data types.

Those dates (todate and cond) are strings, not numbers, so you cannot use the "-ge" operator of test. (Remember that square bracket notation is equivalent to the command test.)

What you can do is use a different notation for your dates so that they are integers. For example:

date +%Y%m%d

will produce an integer like 20130715 for July 15th, 2013. Then you can compare your dates with "-ge" and equivalent operators.

Update: if your dates are given (e.g. you are reading them from a file in 2013-07-13 format) then you can preprocess them easily with tr.

$ echo "2013-07-15" | tr -d "-"

The operator -ge only works with integers, which your dates aren't.

If your script is a bash or ksh or zsh script, you can use the < operator instead. This operator is not available in dash or other shells that don't go much beyond the POSIX standard.

if [[ $cond < $todate ]]; then break; fi

In any shell, you can convert the strings to numbers while respecting the order of dates simply by removing the dashes.

if [ "$(echo "$todate" | tr -d -)" -ge "$(echo "$cond" | tr -d -)" ]; then break; fi

Alternatively, you can go traditional and use the expr utility.

if expr "$todate" ">=" "$cond" > /dev/null; then break; fi

As invoking subprocesses in a loop can be slow, you may prefer to do the transformation using shell string processing constructs.

todate_num=${todate%%-*}${todate#*-}; todate_num=${todate_num%%-*}${todate_num#*-}
cond_num=${cond%%-*}${cond#*-}; cond_num=${cond_num%%-*}${cond_num#*-}
if [ "$todate_num" -ge "$cond_num" ]; then break; fi

Of course, if you can retrieve the dates without the hyphens in the first place, you'll be able to compare them with -ge.

  • Where is the else branch in this bash? – Vladimir Despotovic Dec 15 '16 at 14:12
  • This seems to be the most correct answer. Very helpful! – Mojtaba Rezaeian Oct 21 '18 at 0:50

I convert the Strings into unix-timestamps (seconds since 1.1.1970 0:0:0). These can compared easily

unix_todate=$(date -d "${todate}" "+%s")
unix_cond=$(date -d "${cond}" "+%s")
if [ ${unix_todate} -ge ${unix_cond} ]; then
   echo "over condition"

There is also this method from the article titled: Simple date and time calulation in BASH from unix.com.

These functions are an excerpt from a script in that thread!

date2stamp () {
    date --utc --date "$1" +%s

dateDiff (){
    case $1 in
        -s)   sec=1;      shift;;
        -m)   sec=60;     shift;;
        -h)   sec=3600;   shift;;
        -d)   sec=86400;  shift;;
        *)    sec=86400;;
    dte1=$(date2stamp $1)
    dte2=$(date2stamp $2)
    if ((diffSec < 0)); then abs=-1; else abs=1; fi
    echo $((diffSec/sec*abs))


# calculate the number of days between 2 dates
    # -s in sec. | -m in min. | -h in hours  | -d in days (default)
    dateDiff -s "2006-10-01" "2006-10-31"
    dateDiff -m "2006-10-01" "2006-10-31"
    dateDiff -h "2006-10-01" "2006-10-31"
    dateDiff -d "2006-10-01" "2006-10-31"
    dateDiff  "2006-10-01" "2006-10-31"
  • This doesn't work with the date that ships with macOS. – Flimm Dec 8 '16 at 9:51
  • If you install gdate on MacOS via brew this can be easily modified to work by changing date to gdate. – slm Oct 8 '18 at 20:40
  • 1
    This answer was very helpful on my case. It should rate up! – Mojtaba Rezaeian Oct 21 '18 at 0:40

dates are strings, not integers; you can't compare them with standard arithmetic operators.

one approach you can use, if the separator is guaranteed to be -:

read -ra todate <<<"$todate"
read -ra cond <<<"$cond"
for ((idx=0;idx<=numfields;idx++)); do
  (( todate[idx] > cond[idx] )) && break
unset IFS

This works as far back as bash 2.05b.0(1)-release.


You can also use mysql's builtin function to compare the dates. It gives the result in 'days'.

diff=$(mysql -u${DBUSER} -p${DBPASSWORD} -N -e"SELECT DATEDIFF('${date_today}','${from_date}');")

Just insert the values of $DBUSER and $DBPASSWORD variables according to yours.


specific answer

As I like to reduce forks and do permit a lot of tricks, there is my purpose:


Well, now:

{ read todate; read cond ;} < <(date -f - +%s <<<"$todate"$'\n'"$cond")

This will re-populate both variables $todate and $cond, using only one fork, with ouptut of date -f - wich take stdio for reading one date by line.

Finally, you could break your loop with


Or as a function:

myfunc() {
    local todate cond
    { read todate
      read cond
    } < <(
      date -f - +%s <<<"$1"$'\n'"$2"
    printf "%(%a %d %b %Y)T older than %(%a %d %b %Y)T...\n" $todate $cond

Using 's builtin printf wich could render date time with seconds from epoch (see man bash;-)

This script only use one fork.

  • Profiling bash contain a good demonstration for how using date -f - could reduce ressources requirement. – F. Hauri Feb 13 '17 at 0:02

FWIW: on Mac, it seems feeding just a date like "2017-05-05" into date will append the current time to the date and you will get different value each time you convert it to epoch time. to get a more consistent epoch time for fixed dates, include dummy values for hours, minutes, and seconds:

date -j -f "%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S" "2017-05-05 00:00:00" +"%s"

This may be a oddity limited to the version of date that shipped with macOS.... tested on macOS 10.12.6.

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