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Why does Linux keep time from Jan. 1, 1970?

Linux always maintains time with respect to January 1, 1970. what is the significance of this date?

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I think I can answer that question for you, but I owe credit to Brian Hatch and James Lee, the authors of Hacking Linux Exposed. According to their Linux overview, Linux is following the tradition set by Unix of counting time in seconds since its official "birthday," -- called "epoch" in computing terms -- which is Jan. 1, 1970.

A more complete explanation can be found in this Wired News article. It explains that the early Unix engineers picked that date arbitrarily, because they needed to set a uniform date for the start of time, and New Year's Day, 1970, seemed most convenient.

You may also be interested in reading about the "2038 bug," a problem in 32-bit Unix systems similar to the Y2K bug. You can read more about the 2038 bug here.

- Answer by Amy Kucharik, Assistant Editor

This was first published in March 2005

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