Meta’s engineering team has proposed doing away with leap seconds.
Time Lords at the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service occasionally decree to add a leap second – usually a 3601st second in an hour – to reflect the changing speed of the Earth’s rotation and ensure that our measurements of time remain accurate.
But leap seconds are surprisingly hard for computers to digest, as was amply demonstrated in 2012 when the lack of allowances for leap seconds in the Linux kernel caused glitches galore. Another leap second, in 2015, coincided with similar issues.
A 2016 leap second gave Cloudflare some grief.
The International Telecommunication Union will debate doing away with leap seconds in 2023.
Ahead of that decision, Facebook has announced that it thinks leap seconds have had their day.
“Introducing new leap seconds is a risky practice that does more harm than good, and we believe it is time to introduce new technologies to replace it,” wrote Meta production engineer Oleg Obleukhov and research scientist Ahmad Byagowi in a post dated July 25.
South Korean regulator fears Meta’s collecting too much data with revised T&Cs
Windows Server 2019 tweaked to stop it getting clock-blocked
Meta’s Giphy buy could be back on after watchdog agrees to reboot investigation
If your apps or gadgets break down on Sunday, this may be why: Gpsd bug to roll back clocks to 2002
The pair raised the prospect of a negative leap second being adopted, which they argued would be even harder to deal with than the positive leap seconds that caused the mayhem described above.
Meta’s preferred leap second alternative is “smearing” – a practice that spreads the leap second across 17 hours so that systems add the extra second but don’t ever have to insert a leap second.
As the post explains, smearing is very complex, and those like Meta that practice it can’t easily contribute their work to public network time protocol servers – although Google offers smeared time as a service.
Meta’s Obleukhov and Byagowi didn’t propose an alternative to leap seconds, but stated that “As engineers at Meta, we are supporting a larger community push to stop the future introduction of leap seconds.”
The Register hopes they succeed – it will mean less time for Facebook to slurp data.
But that decision is out of our hands. Instead, it will be discussed some 41.5 million seconds after the publication of this article, when the ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 convenes in November 2023. ®