3. What are Time Zones?

Time Zones are a geographical world globe division of 15o each, starting at Greenwich, in England, created to help people know what time is it now in another part of the world.

Nowadays it is much more a political division than geographical, because sometimes people needs to have the same time as other people in not-so-far locations. And for energy savings reasons, we have today the Daylight Savings Time, that are also a Time Zone variation.

Time Zones are usually defined by your country government or some astronomical institute, and is represented by 3 or 4 letters. See Section 3.2 for examples.

Use the timezoneconverter.com to know what time is it now at any part of the globe.

3.1. Daylight Savings Time

For energy savings reasons, governments created the Daylight Savings Time. Our clocks are forwarded one hour, and this makes our days look longer. In fact, what really happens is only a Time Zone change. The primitive time (UTC) is still, and will allways be, the same.

Later we'll see how to enable and disable DST automatically in Linux.

3.2. Time Zones Examples

There is nothing better than examples:

Table 1. Brazilian Time Zones. Shifts relative to UTC

Name and ShiftDST Name and ShiftLocations
BREST -2:00BREDT -1:00Fernando de Noronha
BRST -3:00BRDT -2:00São Paulo, Rio, Brasilia, Minas Gerais, North East Region, South Region,etc
BRWST -4:00BRWDT -3:00West Region
BRAST -5:00BRADT -4:00Acre

Please send me contributions like this table for US Time Zones.

3.3. Time Zone Mechanism on Linux

Linux systems uses the GLIBC dynamic Time Zones, based on /etc/localtime. This file is a link to (or a copy of) a zone information file, usually located under /usr/share/zoneinfo directory.

From a geophysical perspective, there is only 360o/15o=24 Time Zones in the world. But to make things easy to people, and to accommodate all the political variations (like Daylight Savings Time), you'll find hundreds of zoneinfo files in /usr/share/zoneinfo, each for every world city, country, etc.

Some countries, like Brazil, don't have a fixed day to start Daylight Savings Time. It is defined every year, a couple of months before summer, and you may end up in a situation you'll have to change your zoneinfo file, which was compiled by zic from a text file like this.

Example 1. Brazilian Zone Info text file


# Brazil Time Zones
#
# Brazilian Time Zones are:
# BREST: East of Brasilia. Fernando de Noronha.
# BRST:  Brasilia, São Paulo, Rio, Northeast, South etc
# BRWST: West of Brasilia. Mato Grosso, Manaus
# BRAST: Acre.
#
# In daylight saving time, letter 'S' changes to 'D'.
#
# To install, make:
#
# # zic Brazil.txt
#
# Zone files will be installed in /usr/share/zoneinfo (depends on your
# distribution). Then, make a symbolic link from your zone to /etc/localtime:
#
# # ln -sf /usr/share/zoneinfo/Brazil/Brasilia /etc/localtime
#
#
# If you have updates and new standards to this file please send to
#
# Avi Alkalay <avi @ unix.sh>
#
# Last update: 18 Nov 2000
# This file is available at http://avi.alkalay.net/linux/zoneinfo/
#

# Rule  NAME    FROM  TO    TYPE  IN    ON   AT    SAVE   LETTER/S
Rule    Brazil  1931  1932  -     Oct   3    0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1932  1933  -     Mar   31   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1949  only  -     Dec   1    0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1950  only  -     Apr   30   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1950  1952  -     Dec   1    0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1951  only  -     Apr   16   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1952  only  -     Mar   31   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1953  only  -     Feb   28   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1963  only  -     Oct   23   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1964  only  -     Mar   1    0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1965  only  -     Jan   31   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1965  only  -     Mar   31   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1965  only  -     Dec   1    0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1966  1968  -     Mar   1    0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1966  1967  -     Nov   1    0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1984  only  -     Nov   2    0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1985  only  -     Mar   15   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1985  only  -     Nov   2    0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1986  only  -     Mar   15   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1986  only  -     Oct   25   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1987  only  -     Feb   14   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1987  only  -     Oct   25   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1988  only  -     Feb   7    0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1988  only  -     Oct   16   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1989  only  -     Jan   29   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1989  only  -     Oct   15   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1990  only  -     Feb   11   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1990  only  -     Oct   21   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1991  only  -     Feb   17   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1991  only  -     Oct   20   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1992  only  -     Feb   9    0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1992  only  -     Oct   25   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1993  only  -     Jan   31   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1993  only  -     Oct   17   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1994  only  -     Feb   20   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1994  only  -     Oct   16   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1995  only  -     Feb   19   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1995  only  -     Oct   15   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1996  only  -     Feb   11   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1996  only  -     Oct   06   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1997  only  -     Feb   16   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1997  only  -     Oct   06   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1998  only  -     Mar   01   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1998  only  -     Oct   11   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  1999  only  -     Feb   21   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  1999  only  -     Oct   03   0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  2000  only  -     Feb   27   0:00  0      S
Rule    Brazil  2000  only  -     Oct   8    0:00  1:00   D
Rule    Brazil  2001  only  -     Feb   18   0:00  0      S


# Zone  NAME                          GMTOFF  RULES/SAVE    FORMAT  [UNTIL]
Zone    Brazil/DeNoronha              -2:00   Brazil        BRE%sT
Zone    posix/Brazil/DeNoronha        -2:00   Brazil        BRE%sT
Zone    right/Brazil/DeNoronha        -2:00   Brazil        BRE%sT
Zone    Brazil/East                   -2:00   Brazil        BRE%sT
Zone    posix/Brazil/East             -2:00   Brazil        BRE%sT
Zone    right/Brazil/East             -2:00   Brazil        BRE%sT

Zone    America/Sao_Paulo             -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    America/Rio_de_Janeiro        -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    America/Brasilia              -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    posix/America/Sao_Paulo       -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    posix/America/Rio_de_Janeiro  -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    posix/America/Salvador        -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    posix/America/Brasilia        -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    posix/Brazil/Central          -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    posix/Brazil/Brasilia         -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    posix/Brazil/Sao_Paulo        -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    posix/Brazil/Salvador         -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    posix/Brazil/Rio_de_Janeiro   -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    right/America/Sao_Paulo       -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    right/America/Rio_de_Janeiro  -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    right/America/Salvador        -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    right/America/Brasilia        -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    right/Brazil/Central          -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    right/Brazil/Brasilia         -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    right/Brazil/Sao_Paulo        -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    right/Brazil/Salvador         -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    right/Brazil/Rio_de_Janeiro   -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    Brazil/Central                -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    Brazil/Brasilia               -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    Brazil/Sao_Paulo              -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    Brazil/Rio_de_Janeiro         -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT
Zone    Brazil/Salvador               -3:00   Brazil        BR%sT

Zone    Brazil/West                   -4:00   Brazil        BRW%sT
Zone    Brazil/Manaus                 -4:00   Brazil        BRW%sT
Zone    Brazil/Rondonia               -4:00   Brazil        BRW%sT
Zone    Brazil/Roraima                -4:00   Brazil        BRW%sT
Zone    Brazil/Mato_Grosso            -4:00   Brazil        BRW%sT
Zone    posix/Brazil/Manaus           -4:00   Brazil        BRW%sT
Zone    posix/Brazil/Mato_Grosso      -4:00   Brazil        BRW%sT
Zone    right/Brazil/Manaus           -4:00   Brazil        BRW%sT
Zone    right/Brazil/Mato_Grosso      -4:00   Brazil        BRW%sT
Zone    posix/America/Manaus          -4:00   Brazil        BRW%sT
Zone    right/America/Manaus          -4:00   Brazil        BRW%sT

Zone    Brazil/Acre                   -5:00   Brazil        BRA%sT
				

The Rule block defines the date and time we change the Time Zone, while in the Zone block we reference the Rule will manage it. Note that the Zone name is actually the file name under /usr/share/zoneinfo directory, and here we defined several different names for the same Time Zone, just to be easyer for people to find their zone.

This file's comments explains how to install these time zones, using the zic zoneinfo compiler (which already installs them also). To make it effective, you only have to link (or copy) the zoneinfo file to /etc/localtime. In some distributions, there is a higher level (and preferred) way to set the Time Zone, described in Section 4.1.

After making /etc/localtime pointing to the correct zoneinfo file, you are already under that zone rules and DST changes are automatic -- you don't have to change time manually.

The following command sequence shows Linux Time Zone mechanics dynamism. Note they were all issued in less than one minute:

bash$ ls -al /etc/localtime
lrwxrwxrwx  1 root root 35 May 22  2001 /etc/localtime -> /usr/share/zoneinfo/Brazil/Brasilia
bash$ date
Fri Mar 29 20:13:38 BRST 2002
bash# ln -sf /usr/share/zoneinfo/GMT /etc/localtime
bash$ date
Fri Mar 29 23:13:47 GMT 2002
bash# ln -sf /usr/share/zoneinfo/Brazil/Brasilia /etc/localtime
bash$ date
Fri Mar 29 20:14:03 BRST 2002

At 20:13, I was in my default brazilian Time Zone (BRST), then I switched to GMT and my system time changed to 23:13! When your Time Zone enters DST, you'll see a similar effect, but the rules are all inside your Time Zone (/etc/localtime link doesn't change like this example).

An application running in this machine (eg. web-server generating access logs) will feel this change, so it is very important for developers to remember that the full Time Concept is the current time plus current Time Zone, as described in Section 2.

In the end, I switched back to my correct Time Zone.