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I have some code that executes in header.php as follows:

  if (is_author()) {
      $curauth = (isset($_GET['author_name'])) ? get_user_by('slug', $author_name) : get_userdata(intval($author));
      $date = $curauth->user_registered;
  }

I've tried to get this user information out of this code in a few different ways and can't seem to get the user object itself at all. It is null.

I was thinking maybe the user object isn't available at this stage at where it's being called, but Wordpress is accurately getting into is_author() code based on determining the current page is an author template.

What am I doing wrong?

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If you are using this on author pages or in loop then you can simply use this.

echo the_author_meta( 'user_registered' );

This will output registration date of author.

So your function will become.

if ( is_author() ) {
    $curauth = ( isset($_GET['author_name']) ) ? get_user_by( 'slug', $author_name ) : get_userdata( intval($author) );
    $date = the_author_meta( 'user_registered' );
}

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