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A time switch (also called a timer switch, or simply timer) is a timer that operates an electric switch controlled by the timing mechanism. The switch may be connected to an electric circuit operating from mains power, including via a relay or contactor; or low voltage, including battery-operated equipment in vehicles.

The timer may switch equipment on, off, or both, at a preset time or times, after a preset interval, or cyclically. A countdown time switch switches power, usually off, after a preset time. A cyclical timer switches equipment both on and off at preset times over a period, then repeats the cycle; the period is usually 24 hours or 7 days.

For example, a central heating timer may supply heat for a specified period during the morning and evening every weekday, and all day on weekends. A timer for an unattended slow cooker may switch on automatically at a time and for a period suitable to have food ready at mealtime. Likewise, a coffee maker may turn itself on early in the morning in time for awakening residents to have fresh coffee already brewed for them.

Timers may do other processing or have sensors; for example, a timer may switch on lights only during hours of darkness, using a seasonal algorithm or light sensor. Combining the two allows a light to come on at sundown and go off at midnight, for example.

An astronomical (or astronomic) timer calculates dawn and dusk times for each day of the year based on the latitude and longitude (or just north/central/south and time zone on more cheaply made ones), and the day of the year (month and date), programmed by the user upon installation in addition to the usual time of day, except in the case of GPS enabled astronomic timers wherein all programming is fully automatic. This eliminates the need for a photocell (which may be repeatedly triggered on and off by the light which it operates) or for repeatedly re-setting a regular timer for seasonal changes in the length of day or for daylight-saving time. This allows exterior lighting like a porch light fixture to be controlled by simply replacing its indoor wall switch, or doing the same for a lamp in a dark interior corner (away from a window) by simply plugging-in a self-adjusting lamp timer.