Debian and the Millennium Bug

January 4th, 1998

Since there seems to be widespread panic about the millennium bug, it seems appropriate to tell you about how your Debian system might be affected.

Unix and Linux do not store 2-digit dates, although it is possible for an application to do so. They store dates as a count of seconds since New Year's Day 1970. This counter will overflow about 40 years from now, in early 2038, not 2000.

The few Debian applications that stored 2-digit dates have already been repaired, and Debian systems have passed testing with their dates set at 2000 and greater. There is one area in which Debian 1.3 is affected but our upcoming 2.0 release will not be. Your PC's BIOS may only allow you to set the PC's clock chip to a 2-digit date. This is a bug in your PC's BIOS ROM, but we will provide a work-around in Debian so that you don't have to buy a new motherboard. If you expect to run your 1.3 system through the millennium, you can get a copy of the hwclock program from 2.0 and replace the clock program presently on your system.

Before 2038 we must define time_t, to be a 64-bit variable instead of a 32-bit one, and recompile all programs. This is a very simple process compared to the anguish the non-Unix world is going through — we go through more work to produce a major release of Debian. Once time_t is a 64 bit variable, it's good for roughly another 292271023017 years. By then, there may be something better than Debian :-)