Get Ready for the Year 2038 Problem - The Unix Millennium Bug

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Get Ready for the Year 2038 Problem - The Unix Millennium Bug

What is it?

Very simply, it is when the computer software can't interpret the date properly past the year 2038 and it reverts back to December 13, 1901. It will cause the software to fail. It is caused because the system time is a 32-bit integer. It is often referred to as the Unix Milennium Bug.

According to Wikipedia the software will "interpret this number as the number of seconds since 00:00:00 UTC on Thursday, 1 January 1970. The furthest time that can be represented this way is 03:14:07 UTC on Tuesday, 19 January 2038. Times beyond this moment will "wrap around" and be stored internally as a negative number, which these systems will interpret as a date in December 13, 1901 rather than January 19, 2038. This is caused by integer overflow. The counter "runs out" of usable digits, "increments" the sign bit instead, and reports a maximally negative number (continuing to count up, toward zero). This is likely to cause problems for users of these systems due to erroneous calculations."

Will affect you?

Most new computers use a 64-bit system and should not have an issue with the programs that run in 64-bit mode. However, older computers, 64-bit computers that have programs running in 32-bit mode, or embedded systems that use dates to compute or run diagnostics will verly likely be affected by the Unix Milennium Bug (2038 bug). Transportation systems and cars have embedded systems. Basically, anything with a computer embedded in it that uses dates, can suffer from this. Think of all of the objects around us that have a computer chip in it.

So why worry now? It is only 2014.

Any embedded system that is 32-bit and uses future dates 24 years in the future must be fixed by 2014.

What do you do?

There is no panacea for the Year 2038 Bug. The only real solution is to upgrade your equipment to 64-bit systems before the problem affects you. While your own personal equipment may not cause you any issues, the major concern is everything around you. Transportation systems, streetlgihts, etc...  Starting to remind you of the Year 2000 Bug? As with the Y2K problem, there will be those trying to profit from our fears. In the end, the hype most likely out weigh the actual problem.