ArcGIS AllSource

Spatiotemporal methods with ArcGIS AllSource - Part 1: Time-enabling layers

This blog is the first in a multipart blog about using, analyzing, and visualizing datetime data in intelligence analysis. This first part introduces you to some concepts, helps solve common data preparation issues, and walks you through time-enabling layers.

Some initial concepts

It is not uncommon to receive intelligence data from a vendor or other source that includes one or more fields of date, time, or both. These fields might be a sensor log time stamp, when a report was submitted, when a feature was last edited, or when an event is planned to start and end. The values in these fields may contain both a date and a time or just one of the two. Additionally, the date and time may be separated into two fields. In this section, you will learn some concepts of how dates and times are patterned and the possible variations you might come across.

Datetime fields in a feature attribute table

Date fields typically provide the year, month, and date of month, but not necessarily in that order. (I say “typically” because there are many ways to describe a date.) This is often referred to as the Julian date, but it is more correctly the ordinal date. You will also see a typical date pattern in the United States as 6/8/2020 for June 8, 2020. Elsewhere, including many countries in Europe, you will see the pattern 8/6/2020 for the same date. There are also many national and international standards for specifying dates, such as International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 8601: “Additionally, since the beginning of computing, dates have been changed for storage efficiency—specifically, Unix time (or POSIX time), which is the number of seconds since January 1, 1970.” Using the previous example of June 8, 2020, UNIX time would be 1591574400. Representing a date as the number of seconds in UNIX time blurs the lines between date and time.

Time fields also have their share of different representation patterns. You will find they are shared in a typical layout of hours, minutes, and seconds. But like with dates, the formatting can vary significantly. Some common variations in time use a 12-hour or 24-hour clock, time zone definition differences, or even number of seconds since midnight. You will find a typical time pattern in the United States as 1:45:22 p.m., meaning one forty-five and twenty-two seconds in the afternoon. A 24-hour clock uses the same pattern, but a different number range for hours, with 13:45:22 meaning thirteen forty-five and twenty-two seconds (and sometimes as thirteen hundred forty-five). Combining date and time gives you a more complete way to sequence events that happened in the past, are happening now, or will happen in the future. ArcGIS AllSource supports several datetime format patterns. Later in this article, you will learn a few methods for converting datetime from other format patterns.

A few of the supported datetime format patterns are as follows:

Y = year, M = month, D = day, h = hour, m = minute, s = second

Typical data contains event information as either single datetime events or two datetime range events. Single-date events store a single datetime field representing when something occurred. You might store a datetime of when a record was last updated, or when a device was at a specific x,y location. Datetime range events have two dates for the start datetime and the ending datetime. These are events that have a duration, which means they last for a certain period of time. For example, if you are scheduling a meeting that starts at 8:00 a.m. and ends at 10:00 a.m., it lasts two hours.

Preparing data for datetime fields

While the example datetime format patterns listed above are the target format used by ArcGIS AllSource, this isn’t necessarily the pattern in which time will be stored in your source data. To time-enable these fields, you will need to convert the field into a supported format. This section discusses common issues in preparing datetime fields for use in ArcGIS AllSource.

What if my datetimes are in a string field?

In addition to date field types, both string and numeric fields are supported. If you find that the field doesn’t translate nicely or is in a different format, you can use some of the methods below to convert the field to a new datetime field type to fit a new format pattern. Specifically, the Convert Time Field tool will work.

What if my date is in one field and times are in another field?

It is not uncommon to have a date stored in one field and a corresponding time stored in a separate field. These can be used independently, but it is a better practice to store them in the same field. Any of the visualizations or analysis done individually can be done on the combined field. You can concatenate the two fields into a single field using the Add Field and Calculate Field geoprocessing tools. Say you have a datefield and a separate timefield. To combine them, do the following:

  1. Create a field with Add Field of type DATE.
  2. Use the Calculate Field tool to combine the two fields into the new field with an expression such as the following:

datetime.datetime.strptime(“{} {}”.format(!datefield!, !timefield!), “%Y/%m/%d %H:%M:%S”)

This expression uses a Python library datetime to read the incoming datefield and timefield and pass them out in a supported format. The format patterns can be configured to output several options, but not all are supported by ArcGIS AllSource.

ArcGIS AllSource pattern Python datetime format pattern
YYY/MM/DD datetime.datetime.strptime(“{} {}”.format(!datefield!, !timefield!), “%Y/%m/%d”)
datetime.datetime.strptime(“{} {}”.format(!datefield!, !timefield!), “%Y-%m-%d”)


datetime.datetime.strptime(“{} {}”.format(!datefield!, !timefield!), “%Y/%m/%d %H:%M:%S”)


datetime.datetime.strptime(“{} {}”.format(!datefield!, !timefield!), “%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S”)

What if my dates are in a different format?

This question gets a bit more complicated, because the first thing you need to know is what format they are in now. At best, you should be able to find the field definition in the data vendor’s metadata, describing the datetime pattern used. At worst, you might have to review possible patterns and see whether any of them fit what you have. With this in mind, there are a few tools to help.

What if my datetimes are in a different time zone?

If you have datetime data that was collected with time values in a different time zone—for example, data logged in the Pacific time zone from data collected on the East Coast may have a three-hour difference—use the Convert Time Zone tool to correct the time zone difference. You will need to specify the origin and destination time zones as well as options for daylight saving time.

Convert Time Zone tool

Time layers in ArcGIS AllSource

You now have datetime data formatted in a supported format. Now what? The next step is to set which datetime fields ArcGIS AllSource uses for the time slider, timeline, and some geoprocessing tools. This is essentially what is called time-enabling your data in ArcGIS AllSource. Since features or tables can have many datetime fields, you must specify which one (or ones) to use for a specific layer. If your layer has more datetime fields you need to represent in a map (three or more), you will need to add the dataset to the map for each single datetime or pair of start-end ranges you want to visualize.

To enable time on a layer in ArcGIS AllSource, do the following:

  1. Right-click the layer in Contents and select Time Properties.
  2. For Layer Time, select Each feature has a single time field or Each feature has start and end time fields.
  3. Select fields for Time Field or Start Time Field and End Time Field.
  4. Optionally, select a Time Extent to modify the overall start and end time for the layer, or select Calculate to automatically set the earliest and latest times.
Time layer properties for single field and start-end range fields

Your layer is time-enabled, and the time slider should be active on the map (as denoted by the Time button in the upper right corner of the map). The time slider and timeline will be covered in a later part of this article.

With a time-enabled layer, one thing you can start doing immediately is selecting features in your layer using the datetime fields. One helpful tool is Select Layer By Date And Time. With Select Layer By Date And Time, you can use the datetime fields to make advanced datetime queries. For example, you can do the following:

This tool is part of the Crime Analysis and Safety Tools toolbox in ArcGIS Pro. To make it easier for you to find them in ArcGIS AllSource, these tools are located on the Map tab under Select By.


Select Layer By Date And Time dialog box

To select by date and time, do the following:

  1. Select your Input Rows and choose either a single time field or time range start and end fields.
  2. The Selection Options section allows you to choose one or more ways to select datetime options:
    • Date – Choose a single date or date range. You have a nice calendar picker option here as well.
    • Time – Choose a starting time and ending time.
    • Day of Week – Choose the day or days of the week.
    • Month – Choose the month or months
    • Year – Choose one year or a list of years (separated by commas).


In this part of the article, you learned about the formats of date and time fields and different patterns they can take, methods for fixing common problems using different tools and libraries, and how to enable time on your map layers and make some basic selections using datetime options. In part 2, you will take time-enabled layers and track-like data and analyze the data to look for patterns. For this, you will use the Movement tools found in ArcGIS AllSource in the AllSource Tools toolbox.

Relevant links

Banner photo by Jiyeon Park on Unsplash


About the authors

Matt Funk

Matt has been with Esri for over 25 years most recently as a Senior Product Engineer on ArcGIS AllSource. His work includes building solution capabilities into ArcGIS AllSource, including Geoprocessing tools and documentation.

James Jones

Product Owner for ArcGIS AllSource. Lover of all things python, link analysis, and intelligence analysis.

Stephen Kredel is a Product Engineer on the ArcGIS AllSource team. He joined Esri in 2022 and focuses on technical writing and help documentation. He has four years experience as a Geospatial Intelligence Imagery Analyst in the U.S. Army and earned his B.A. in history from the University of Redlands.

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