What is Y2K bug?

Weird Internet Things: What is Y2K?

Since late 2020, the keyword “Y2K” has been increasingly trending on Google Trends until the time this article was written. Though nowadays this keyword is more associated with fashion style and aesthetics from the late 1990s to early 2000s, the original Y2K was once a major disaster for all computers worldwide.

y2k fashion

What kind of disaster is Y2K exactly and how did it become so well known throughout the history of the internet? This article in the Weird Internet Things series will tell you more. Grab your popcorn, fasten your seatbelt, and enjoy the wild ride!

What does Y2K mean?

Y2K is an abbreviation for “Year 2000” which refers to the time when the bug will potentially hit all of the computers in the entire world on January 1st, 2000.

“Wait, a bug you said?” you might wonder.

y2k is a computer bug

Yes, Y2K was perhaps one of the most discussed bugs ever on the internet. The impact was so massive and none like the world has ever seen at that time. We’ll explain more about this shortly.

Understanding the Y2K bug

Before delving into the Y2K topic, let’s take a step back at the history of computers. Back in the 1950s – 1960s when the first computer programs were written, computer memory was very limited and expensive. Because of that, programmers would create efforts to save as much memory as possible including writing two-digit years instead of four, e.g.; 98 instead of 1998. It did make a difference at that time because it takes only 16 bytes to store 2 digits but 32 bytes to store 4 digits.

a retro computer

A few decades later, people began to notice the problem caused by this. Due to the two-digit year system, there are cases where computers couldn’t differentiate whether the dates refer to the time in the 21st century or 20th century. For example, computers couldn’t tell whether the year 00 in the system refers to the year 2000, 1900, or 1000. One of the most famous examples is when Steward Cheifet, the host of “Computer Chronicles” received a credit card with an expiration date of year 1000 in the early 1990s.

Potential consequences of the Y2K bug

Despite an early warning made by Bob Bemer – a computer scientist who worked for IBM in 1958, big institutions and governments only started to understand the potential consequences of the Y2K bug towards the late 1990s.

When a computer system couldn’t tell the correct year once the date turned to January 1st, 2000 there were concerns that critical systems which are heavily reliant on computers would fail to operate. In turn, this might create a massive power outage, transportation systems to stop working, banks to close, and eventually lead to chaos in the society.

Essential services such as banking, communications, utilities, manufacturing, and government operations were considered as the areas where it would hit the hardest. On top of that, there were also concerns about all of the electronic devices running on computer chips failing to run.

Y2K remedial effort

There were extensive efforts made by the governments and businesses to prevent the above problems from happening. Remedial efforts include replacing outdated hardware and software, program code analysis followed by replacement or rewriting when needed, and also hardware testing. All of these are done to make sure that all of the potentially affected technologies are Y2K Compliant (Y2KC).

Towards late 1998, Bill Clinton passed the “Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act” to encourage sharing information about Y2KC efforts and to protect from false compliance statements and limited liability for companies. In December 1998, the United Nations even held an international conference on Y2K for members to share information and give updates on their remedial efforts.

Post January 1st, 2000

Because of extensive efforts done by the government and businesses, the Y2K disaster was able to be avoided. There were various errors reported including a Y2K glitch at a nuclear plant in the United States. However, the impact was considered minor compared to the potential magnitude of the problems if the Y2K bug wasn’t addressed at all.

Ironically, the success of Y2K remedial efforts also led to theories that Y2K was a hoax or the danger of Y2K was hugely exaggerated by people with opposing views.


Y2K was an abbreviation of the Year 2000 bug. This term refers to the bug caused by a two-digit year writing system in computers and causes them to fail to recognize the correct year once the date is set to January 1st, 2000. Nowadays though, Y2K is quite often used to describe the aesthetic and fashion style from the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Hope you enjoyed this article! If you’re interested in weird internet things related, be sure to check our other articles in this series below: