We survived today, next doomsday is 2038 with the Unix Millenium Bug

While some were overjoyed to just wake up today, others are cautiously awaiting midnight to breathe a sigh of relief that the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar has not yet come. We survived Y2K and 12-21-12. The next day you can start worrying about includes an exact time. January 19th, 2038 at 03:14:08 UTC will mark the roll-over of the Unix time clock. This is sometimes referred to as the Unix Millenium Bug.

There has been no universally decided upon solution.┬áTo put this in reality though, this “doomsday” is still 26 years away. However, the limitation has had some impact already. The Year 2038 Problem on Wikipedia tells one issue that AOL experienced in 2006:

In May 2006, reports surfaced of an early manifestation of the Y2038 problem in the AOLserver software. The software was designed with a kludge to handle a database request that should “never” time out. Rather than specifically handling this special case, the initial design simply specified an arbitrary time-out date in the future. The default configuration for the server specified that the request should time out after one billion seconds. One billion seconds (approximately thirty-two years) after 9:27.28 pm on 12 May 2006 is beyond the 2038 cutoff date. Thus, after this time, the time-out calculation overflowed and returned a date that was actually in the past, causing the software to crash. When the problem was discovered, AOL server managers had to edit the configuration file and set the time-out to a lower value.

The biggest threat comes down to embedded systems that might prove difficult to update or implement a proposed solution. They could very well be expected to last through the year 2038 depending on their application.

The image below depicts how the clock would be interpreted as it rolls over:

Year 2038 problem illustrated with animation.

For more information, visit Wikipedia’s page on the Year 2038 Problem and start stocking up your canned goods.

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