| Beat the Clock

Will e-mails fall through the Net? In spite of some incorrectly dated
transmissions, the Internet will not collapse after midnight on Dec. 31.

The Internet Engineering Task Force has studied the matter and concluded, after a
systematic review of protocols, that the Net will survive the century rollover.

The task force’s Year 2000 Working Group inventoried hundreds of Internet
protocols documented in the IETF Request for Comment Series and gave most of them a clean
bill of health. Only a few older implementations that use two-digit years turned up in the
working draft of the investigative results.

The Network News Protocol and UseNet News Message Format are problematic, however,
because they specify a two-digit year format. IETF has formed a group to update those

Minor date problems. The investigators flagged all protocols that make any reference to
Universal Coordinated Time and UCTTimeSyntax, which permit either two- or four-digit year
representations. These ambiguous formats appear in the Hypertext Transfer Protocol 1.1 and
Hypertext Markup Language 2.0.

The Year 2000 Working Group has notified the HTTP and HTML working groups and has
recommended making the four-digit year format mandatory in revised versions of the two RFC
specifications. The group believes about one-fifth of current HTTP traffic on the Internet
is coming from servers that send in the obsolete two-digit year format.

But IETF investigators mainly found reasons not to worry about an Internet collapse.
The Boot Protocol and Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol are clean, they said. Nor do any
serious problems affect the directory services protocols—Whois, Rwhois, Whois++ and
the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol—although some of them permit optional
two-year date representations.

Potential missorts. All current e-mail standards require four-digit years and are not
vulnerable to 2000 failures. Very old mail systems still using two-digit years in their
Simple Mail Transfer Protocol headers are not likely to shut down, but their message
stores and user agents might missort the mail. Messages stored on obsolete Internet
Messaging Access Protocol 2.0 servers or clients could be missorted or prematurely
deleted. But the working group found IMAP 4.0, which has no year 2000 issues, to be nearly

The epochal year for the Internet is not 2000 but 2038. On Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2038, many
Internet protocols would find their time-stamp counters rolling over to zero if the IETF
were not making revisions now.

—Florence Olsen
Internet: [email protected]


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