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Y2K problems riddle Web, expert says

August 24, 1999
Web posted at: 1:48 p.m. EDT (1748 GMT)

by Paul Brislen
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand (IDG) -- With just over 100 days left before the year 2000 (Y2K) problem is upon us, Web programmers are still using noncompliant code, says Y2K specialist Jocelyn Amon.

"I spent six hours searching Internet Web pages for Y2K errors and was easily able to find over 300," says Amon. The errors listed include hard-coding 19 so the rollover from 1999 becomes 19100 instead of 2000, along with numerous errors with the Leap Day, as well as something Amon calls the "booby trap", where programmers assume "the non-four-digit year value in 2000 will be 00."

In fact, says Amon, it will be 100 because that's how many years there are since 1900. She points to almost 70 examples of this problem alone.

The bugs aren't in any one language. Amon found examples of date-related errors in code written in C, C++, Perl, Java and JavaScript.
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"The excuse given for Y2K is often that the programmer had no space, or the program was written so long ago the programmer thought it wouldn't be in use by the year 2000," says Amon, who believes these are only excuses for poor coding, and says these sites were written in the past year or so using modern languages.

"[Most of] these Web pages were created or modified last year (37 percent) or this year (33 percent)," says Amon.

A lot of the examples were found on sites offering code for other programmers to use or in online tutorials.

"Many programmers are amateurs. Because of the changing nature of computing, we are frequently only beginners in whatever language we are developing in," Amon said.

Amon believes coders don't rely on manuals, often learning from each other, and are lacking in peer review processes. "We rarely have our code reviewed by our peers, not even, it seems, when it is published on the Web for all to see," she says.

Amon has received a lot of criticism from within the programming community for being so outspoken on the issue of Y2K.

"One of the most vocal programming groups who resent any mention of Y2K on their newsgroup are developers using the Perl programming language," she said.

Amon has also had arguments online about the "booby trap" issue and many coders claim it isn't a Y2K problem but a regular "bug" and so somehow doesn't count.

"Programmers can be very sensitive about their mistakes," she says. "Programmers should know by now. There is no excuse. We've been hammered with information about Y2K."

However, she says programmers can't take the full blame for Y2K. "I would hate to see programmers taking the blame for this -- it goes well beyond them alone."

Paul Brislen writes for Computerworld New Zealand.

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