The year 2038 is still more than two decades away, but LWN.net editor and longtime Linux kernel chronicler Jon Corbet believes software developers should be thinking about that date now, particularly in the Linux world.
Corbet raised the issue at his annual "Kernel Report" talk at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit in Santa Rosa, California this week. "Time to start worrying," he said.
The issue is similar to the dreaded Y2K bug, in that a longstanding deficiency in the way some computers record time values is due to wreak havoc in all manner of software, this time in 2038.
This latest problem comes down to the "time_t" time codes used by Linux and other Unix-compatible operating systems. Because they were specified as 32-bit values – back in the early days of Unix, when 2038 was almost a century away – they're eventually going to run out of bits with which to tick off seconds. Specifically, that's going to happen at exactly 03:14:07 GMT on January 19, 2038.
So why worry now, when we still have decades to fix the problem?