The difftime R Function | 3 Examples (Return Time Difference in Days, Seconds or Weeks)


Basic R Syntax:

difftime(time_1, time_2)


The difftime R function calculates the time difference of two date or time objects. The basic syntax for difftime in R is shown above.

In the following article, I’ll show you 3 examples for the usage of difftime in R. Let’s do this!


Example 1: R difftime – Calculate the Time Difference in Days

As default, the difftime R code calculates the time difference in days. Let’s illustrate that with some example data (i.e. two time characters):

time_1 <- "2019-08-25 19:09:24"                # First time object
time_2 <- "2019-08-30 23:09:24"                # Second time object

Now, we can apply the R difftime command to these two time characters:

difftime(time_1, time_2)                       # Apply difftime in R
# Time difference of -5.166667 days

The RStudio console returns the sentence: “Time difference of -5.166667 days”. Easy interpretation: there is a difference between our two time characters of 5.166667 days. The minus sign in front implies that the second time character is at a later point in time than the first time character.

On my YouTube channel, I have released a video that is explaining the R code of this example in some more detail.



Example 2: R Convert difftime to Seconds

Let’s assume that for our task we need to return the time difference in seconds. No problem for the difftime R function:

difftime(time_1, time_2, units = "secs")       # Apply difftime in seconds
# Time difference of -446400 secs

The time difference of our two dates is 446400 secs. Again, the minus indicates that the second date is after the first date.


Example 3: Time Difference in Minutes… Hours… Weeks…

Actually, difftime enables the user to calculate the time difference in five different time metrics. Check out the help documentation of the difftime R function:

?difftime                                      # Check help documentation of difftime



Graphic 1: Screenshot of the difftime Help Documentation in R – Highlighting the available Time Metrics.


As you can see in the highlighted area: difftime provides the time date difference in seconds (as shown in Example 2)…

difftime(time_1, time_2, units = "secs")       # Apply difftime in seconds
# Time difference of -446400 secs


difftime(time_1, time_2, units = "mins")       # Apply difftime in minutes
# Time difference of -7440 mins


difftime(time_1, time_2, units = "hours")       # Apply difftime in hours
# Time difference of -124 hours

…days (the default as shown in Example 1)…

difftime(time_1, time_2, units = "days")       # Apply difftime in days
# Time difference of -5.166667 days

…and weeks:

difftime(time_1, time_2, units = "weeks")       # Apply difftime in weeks
# Time difference of -0.7380952 weeks


Handling Dates – Video Instructions

In general, handling dates in R is a special topic. If you are struggling with the conversion or the handling of date data objects, I can recommend the following video tutorial of the YouTuber Vincent Knight:



Further Reading


Subscribe to the Statistics Globe Newsletter

Get regular updates on the latest tutorials, offers & news at Statistics Globe.
I hate spam & you may opt out anytime: Privacy Policy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.