Unix & Linux Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for users of Linux, FreeBSD and other Un*x-like operating systems. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Why does Unix time start at 1970-01-01? Why not 1971-01-01 or any other date?

share|improve this question
See also on SO: Why is 1/1/1970 the "epoch time"? – Michael Mrozek Dec 6 '11 at 20:34
up vote 12 down vote accepted

I wouldn't have known the answer except google was there for me:

From Here (needs free subscription):

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.

share|improve this answer

Because Unix was born in 1970. So no file can be created before 1970-01-01. Therefore 1970-01-01 is an ideal start time.

share|improve this answer

I like the question :-)

Let me attempt to answer it (ofcourse source: internet)

Unix Time is represented by a 32 bit whole number (an integer) that can be positive or negative (signed). Unix was originally developed in the 60s and 70s so the "start" of Unix Time was set to January 1st 1970 at midnight GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) - this date/time was assigned the Unix Time value of 0. This is what is know as the Unix Epoch.

A 32 bit signed integer can represent whole numbers between -2147483648 and 2147483647. Since Unix Time starts at 0, negative Unix Time values go back in time from the Epoch and positive numbers go forward in time. This means that Unix Time spans from Unix Time value of -2147483648 or 20:45:52 GMT on December 13th 1901 to Unix Time value of 2147483647 or 3:14:07 GMT on January 19 in 2038. These dates represent the beginning, the pre-history and the end of Unix Time.

The end of Unix Time will occur on January 19, 2038 03:14:07 GMT. On January 19, 2038 03:14:08 GMT all computers that still use 32 bit Unix Time will overflow. This is known as the "Year 2038 problem". Some believe this will be a more significant problem than the "Year 2000 problem". The fix for the Year 2038 problem is to store Unix Time in a 64 bit integer. This is already underway in most 64 bit Operating Systems but many systems may not be updated by 2038.

share|improve this answer
Only one paragraph of this actually addresses the question, and it's somewhat inaccurate (the epoch was originally in 1971; it was moved later) – Michael Mrozek Dec 6 '11 at 20:33
Also see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unix_time – Nikhil Mulley Dec 6 '11 at 20:34
Thats Right Michael. From Wikipedia: The earliest versions of Unix time had a 32-bit integer incrementing at a rate of 60 Hz, which was the rate of the system clock on the hardware of the early Unix systems. The value 60 Hz still appears in some software interfaces as a result. The epoch also differed from the current value. The first edition Unix Programmer's Manual dated 3 November 1971 defines the Unix time as "the time since 00:00:00, Jan. 1, 1971, measured in sixtieths of a second". – Nikhil Mulley Dec 6 '11 at 20:35
@Nikhil I still don't get why 1970, only because Unix was developed that time? Why not 1960? or different month different day? – Templar Dec 6 '11 at 20:41
@Nikhil or it doesn't really matter? Just first month first day looks better and it was made in 1971 so 1970 would look better too? – Templar Dec 6 '11 at 20:44

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.