Home / Google News / Top Story: December 31 could break the internet – Does Google have a solution?

Top Story: December 31 could break the internet – Does Google have a solution?

This is such a great time of year! I feel like the holidays lift my spirits, beginning on Halloween and running all the way through New Year’s Day.

If you also love the holidays, I have some great news. New Year’s Eve is going to last longer this year, if even for a very short time. However, this could cause a problem in the computer world.

What we’re talking about is the fact that there will be a ‘leap second’ added to the end of 2016. This happens occasionally due to the shifting rotation of the Earth. It’s when one second of time is added so clocks stay synchronized with the Earth’s slowing rotation.

On December 31, clocks will read 23:59:60 before turning over to 00:00:00 January 1. The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) said this is necessary to ensure the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is accurate. The UTC is the international time standard, which is in charge of regulating clocks around the world.

Why adding a leap second affects computers

Leap seconds started being added back in 1972 and it’s happened 26 times since. The last time a leap second was added was June 30, 2015.

Some companies are worried about what effect adding time will have on computer systems. During one leap second adjustment in 2012, some websites reportedly crashed. LinkedIn, Reddit and Yelp all went down for an undisclosed amount of time.

The problem is, computer systems are not designed to deal with minutes that contain 61 seconds. So Google is trying to come up with a solution.

Instead of adding one second to one minute, Google is spreading that second out over a 20-hour period. It’s being referred to as ‘smeared time.’

In 20 hours, there are 72,000 seconds. The tech giant will make all 72,000 of those seconds 0.0014 percent longer. This will be applied to Google’s Network Time Protocol (NTP).

That will allow all machines using Google’s servers to keep accurate time, without forcing any one minute to have more than 60 seconds. Without smeared time, machines could see the leap second as time going in reverse, causing a system error and crashing computers.

A Google spokesperson said, “No commonly used operating system is able to handle a minute with 61 seconds, and trying to special-case the leap second has caused many problems in the past. Instead of adding a single extra second to the end of the day, we’ll run the clocks 0.0014 percent slower across the ten hours before and ten hours after the leap second, and ‘smear’ the extra second across these 20 hours.”

We’ll have to wait and see if Google’s smeared time is the solution to this problem. Keep checking our Happening Now section and we’ll let you know of any updates.

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