Date / Time and Internationalization for Enterprise Application - Development Guidelines

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Together with another developer, I have embarked on a journey to create a hosted 'CRM Style' application that will cater to enterprise level businesses. These businesses will be accessing our application remotely and so the hosted nature of the application will require certain features. For example, to guarantee a level of professional service the following things must be true:

  • internationalization requires multiple languages and presentation of date/time for various timezones and locales
  • transactional capability for batch processing of tasks and rollback capabilities
  • security concerns for keeping data safe and remote invocations secure from attack
  • etcetera, the list goes on and on

Due to these concerns and my role as the developer most responsible for the server side development, I am very interested in the choices I make early on. Regarding timezones and languages for example, are there issues related to my choice of database or data fields? Do I choose to use a UTC timestamp or date field throughout the application and if so is there a standard format for that? Also, regarding different languages, am I supposed to ensure the data is stored in the database as UTF-8 or unicode?

I really want to avoid laying down the infustructure of the system only to discover later that a fundamental decision was incorrect or not big enough, wide enough, smart enough, etc. Can someone point me in the right direction regarding these basic 'early' decisions?

EDIT _ Ok I appreciate the broad responses and now I see my question was a little too non-specific. I'd like to focus on the more specific elements that WERE present in the question, such as how to choose the proper format for storing a UTC Date/Time or how to save my text data (do I specify a UTF format?)


What you are discussing is called a multi-tenant application wherein you have the same code base used by multiple customers (tenants) with logical or physical separation of data. Remember the fundamental rule of development: flexibility is relational to complexity. The more flexible you make the system, the more complicated it will be.

RE: UTC

For a CRM application that stores things like when calls were made and when meetings took place, I would definitely store all those in UTC and let the user set their local timezone. However, you might run into dates which are timezone agnostic and for those, I would store whatever date was entered.

RE: Unicode

Yes, I would use Unicode for all user-entered data. However, that will not get you localization. If for a single company for example, you have a user in Hong Kong entering text in Chinese and user in Amsterdam entering text in Dutch, you are not going to get automatic translation. Things like dates and number formats can be localized, but raw text like names used in drop lists and such can be a chore to localize.