Everybody Panic: Unix Systems to Hit Time Bug in 2038

Posted on January 22, 2013 10:00 AM by Rob Williams

After the Y2K bug, isn’t it a little ridiculous to imagine that there exists a similar bug cued up for 2038? This one involves “Unix Time” – that is, the number of seconds that have passed since January 1, 1970. You might recall us talking about this a couple of years ago, when Unix Time reached the landmark 1234567890.


We’re dealing with simple numbers here, so what on earth could the bug be? It revolves around 32-bit signed integers, of course. This age-old “bug” and similar ones have caused headaches for many a programmer in the past, and until the world moves to a wholly 64-bit infrastructure, they will continue to exist. 32-bit signed integers top out at 2,147,483,647 – aka: January 19, 2038 03:14:07 UTC.

When 2,147,483,647 is reached, a turn-over happens, with the entire number becoming a negative. As you might be able to imagine, that could cause some major problems. While 25 years is a long time, it could end up affecting things like loans that span that length of time or longer. However, that assumes that there are companies out there who don’t recompile their software to get rid of the 32-bit limitation. For that, there is a lot of time.

  • RainMotorsports

    I can’t speak for other platforms. But on x86 64 bit registers came with the Pentium 1. 32 bit x86 computers have had support for a 64 bit date for a very long time. From the moment Unix based operating systems supported a 64 bit signed integer for time value (no familiarity of if/when) developers gained the opportunity to support it in their software. Its been possible for over a decade on many platforms so they have had more than the next 25 years to deal with it. Just all that antiquated legacy crap we keep around thats going to be the real problem.

Recent Tech News
Recent Site Content