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Beyond 2038: Debian Strengthens 32-Bit Builds with Critical Patches

No worries. Your 32-bit packages won’t break after 2038 since the Debian team already started working on it.

To future-proof the “Universal operating system”, the Debian project is actively patching 32-bit software to accommodate dates beyond the notorious 2038 time bug. Historically, Unix and Unix-like systems, including Linux, have employed a 32-bit integer to represent time, counting seconds since the start of 1970. However, this approach reaches its limit in 2038, posing a challenge for systems reliant on 32-bit architectures.

The Debian project’s initiative is part of a broader transition, with the 64-bit time_t underway in Debian experimental. The primary goal is to equip 32-bit architectures in Debian 13 “Trixie” (upcoming release) to handle timestamps referring to times beyond 2038 seamlessly. This transition aims to be as non-disruptive as possible for existing 32-bit systems.

The implementation plan, discussed on debian-devel mailing list, involves mass Non-Maintainer Uploads (NMUs) of over 1200 library packages to accommodate presumed ABI-breaking changes. As of the latest update, approximately 500 libraries have already been uploaded to the experimental branch.

The plan further includes uploading dpkg to unstable with “abi=time64” enabled by default. Following this, NMUs will be initiated to unstable, addressing any packages that couldn’t be uploaded to experimental initially due to conflicting versions. Once built, binary NMUs will be triggered for all reverse dependencies.

A noteworthy aspect of this transition is the inclusion of library packages whose ABI’s impact from the 64-bit time_t shift hasn’t been definitively proven. The decision to include these packages stems from the pragmatic approach of prioritizing efficiency over exhaustive analysis, given the engineering cost involved in scrutinizing each package.

Maintainers who receive an NMU for their package to experimental, which they deem unnecessary, are encouraged to provide a fix. This allows Debian maintainers to thoroughly analyse the package’s headers, proving that the library’s ABI remains unaffected by the 64-bit time_t shift.

If you are impacted or assess the impact of your projects, visit the official thread in the mailing list. You can also post in debian-devel for any query.

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