Getting ahead of time… 2038 may be a bad year for computers

Thursday, 10 January, 2013

Tuesday, 19 January, 2038 could be another red letter date, of sorts, in the history of computing. That is the day the “Year 2038 problem” is expected to reset the date of some computer software from 2038 to 1901. Telecommunication and transportation systems in particular stand to be impacted by the problem at this stage.

The problem affects all software and systems that both store system time as a signed 32-bit integer, and 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 1901 rather than 2038.

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