Django's auto_now and auto_now_add Explained: Keeping Your Model Time Stamps Up-to-Date


Understanding auto_now and auto_now_add

In Django models, auto_now and auto_now_add are field options used with DateTimeField or DateField to automatically set timestamps when saving model instances. They leverage the datetime module in Python to handle date and time operations.

Key Differences:

  • auto_now:
    • Updates the field's value every time the model instance is saved (creates or updates).
    • Useful for tracking the last modified time of an object.


  1. Import DateTimeField (or DateField) and timezone:

    from django.db import models
    from django.utils import timezone
  2. Define your Model with Timestamp Fields:

    class MyModel(models.Model):
        created_at = models.DateTimeField(auto_now_add=True)  # Creation time
        updated_at = models.DateTimeField(auto_now=True)     # Last modified time
        # ... other model fields


  • When a new instance is saved for the first time:
    • created_at is automatically set to the current datetime using
    • updated_at will also be set to the same value since auto_now is used.
  • In subsequent updates:
    • created_at remains unchanged.


  • These options work best for tracking timestamps. If you need more granular control or custom logic, consider a custom save() method in your model.
  • auto_now and auto_now_add are convenient, but be aware of their behavior to avoid unexpected results.


# Create a new instance
obj = MyModel()

# Print timestamps (assuming current time is 2024-04-22 11:32 PDT)
print(obj.created_at)  # Output: 2024-04-22 11:32:00 (or similar)
print(obj.updated_at)  # Output: 2024-04-22 11:32:00 (or similar)

# Modify a field and save again
obj.some_field = "New value"

# Print timestamps again
print(obj.created_at)  # Output: (unchanged from first save)
print(obj.updated_at)  # Output: 2024-04-22 (current time, possibly with more precise seconds)

In summary, auto_now and auto_now_add provide a handy way to manage timestamps in Django models, simplifying your code for tracking creation and modification times.

from django.db import models
from django.utils import timezone

class Article(models.Model):
    A model representing a news article with creation and modification timestamps.

    title = models.CharField(max_length=200)
    content = models.TextField()

    # Use auto_now_add for creation time
    created_at = models.DateTimeField(auto_now_add=True)

    # Use auto_now for last modified time
    updated_at = models.DateTimeField(auto_now=True)

    def __str__(self):
        return self.title

class User(models.Model):
    A model representing a user with a signup timestamp (creation time).

    username = models.CharField(max_length=50, unique=True)
    email = models.EmailField(unique=True)

    # Use auto_now_add for signup time (creation time)
    signup_at = models.DateTimeField(auto_now_add=True)

    def __str__(self):
        return self.username


  1. Imports: We import models from django.db to define model classes and timezone from django.utils to handle time zones (recommended for consistency).
  2. Article Model:
    • title and content are regular fields.
    • created_at is a DateTimeField with auto_now_add=True, ensuring it's set only once during creation.
    • updated_at is a DateTimeField with auto_now=True to update automatically on every save.
    • An optional __str__() method provides a human-readable representation for the model.
  3. User Model:
    • username and email are user-related fields.
    • signup_at is a DateTimeField with auto_now_add=True to record signup time (creation) only once.


# Create an Article
article = Article.objects.create(title="My First Article", content="This is some content.")
print(article.created_at)  # Current datetime when the article is created
print(article.updated_at)   # Same as created_at initially

# Modify the article and save
article.content = "Updated content"
print(article.created_at)  # Remains unchanged
print(article.updated_at)   # Updated to the current datetime

# Create a User
user = User.objects.create(username="johndoe", email="[email protected]")
print(user.signup_at)      # Current datetime when the user signs up

This code demonstrates how auto_now and auto_now_add work in different scenarios. Feel free to adapt these examples to your specific Django models!

Default Values:

You can set a default value for the timestamp field using a callable (function or lambda) that returns the current datetime. This is similar to auto_now_add (sets the value only at creation) but allows for more complex logic within the function.

from datetime import datetime

def current_datetime():

class MyModel(models.Model):
    created_at = models.DateTimeField(default=current_datetime)
    # ... other fields

Custom save() Method:

Override the save() method in your model to explicitly set the timestamps as needed. This offers the most flexibility but requires more code.

from django.db import models
from datetime import datetime

class MyModel(models.Model):
    created_at = models.DateTimeField(blank=True, null=True)
    updated_at = models.DateTimeField(blank=True, null=True)
    # ... other fields

    def save(self, *args, **kwargs):
        if not self.created_at:
            self.created_at =
        self.updated_at =
        super().save(*args, **kwargs)


Use Django's pre_save or post_save signals to trigger actions before or after a model instance is saved. This allows you to update timestamps or perform other logic based on the save event.

from django.db.models.signals import pre_save, post_save
from django.dispatch import receiver
from datetime import datetime

@receiver(pre_save, sender=MyModel)
def set_created_at(sender, instance, **kwargs):
    if not instance.created_at:
        instance.created_at =


Choosing the Right Method:

  • For simple creation timestamps, auto_now_add is often sufficient.
  • For more granular control or custom logic, consider default values, a custom save() method, or signals.
  • If you need to track both creation and modification times, a custom save() method or signals might be more suitable.

Remember to weigh the trade-off between convenience and flexibility when selecting a method for managing timestamps in your Django models.

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