Twitter's own 'Y2K' problem

By John Bowman,

Back on Blog Watch a few months ago, I wrote about how Unix computer systems tell time by counting the number of seconds since midnight on Jan. 1, 1970, and how in 2038, that number will no longer fit into a 32-bit integer.

Well, Twitter is going to be hitting that limit a lot sooner than that.

Each post on Twitter is given a unique identifying number and Twitter is running out. Once Twitterers create more than 2,147,483,647 posts, Twitter will start giving them negative ID numbers: -1, -2, -3. And third-party apps will likely crash as a result.

According to, Twitter is quickly approaching 1.85 billion tweets. Martin Dufort and Fred Brunel of WhereCloud, the Montreal developers behind the site, told the Montreal Gazette that Twitter could hit the 32-bit limit sometime in June.

WhereCloud set up as a marketing campaign for its iPhone app, Reportage, which is still awaiting approval by Apple.

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Marc B


Why is this such a big deal? If Twitter was originally built with a signed-32bit integer as their tweet primary key, then we can say at least one or more of the following:

a) Twitter never expected to get this big
b) The developers lacked the knowledge/foresight/intelligence to at least used an UNSIGNED integer as their primary key
c) The developers were too cheap to spend the extra 4 bytes of disk space per tweet to make the primary key 64bit

Posted May 19, 2009 06:08 PM

François Caron

Are you certain of that? It could be a 32 bit unsigned integer. Or if Twitter is running on a 64 bit operating system, the theoretical limit will be reached some 2 BILLION years from now, assuming the same rate of growth.

Posted May 19, 2009 06:53 PM


So you make one unique identifier for the user, and another for the post of that user, thus exponentially increasing the limit, it's easy. There are actually hundreds of different ways of dealing with this problem.

This, is just a publicity stunt. People will join, and post, to try and "crash" twitter, but it will never happen, and their user base will increase.

Posted May 25, 2009 02:58 PM

Chris Thomson

Twitter's not going to be setting status_ids to negative numbers. As Matt Sanford, a Twitter API developer, has said:

"There is no change to the format of responses and the number will continue to grow upward."

Some clients that cannot properly interpret 32-bit signed ints so large will have an issue with negative numbers.

Posted June 12, 2009 05:32 PM

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