Google Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge browsers are all old enough that they’re reaching version 100 soon. And while that may not sound like a big deal, that version numbers could cause a Y2K for web browsers and break all of our favorite websites, as the internet isn’t quite ready to handle those big numbers yet.
For those that don’t remember the Y2K bug, back in 1999, researchers realized that most computers based their clocks on the last two digits of a year, and on January 1st, would think that the year 2000 is 1900. It was a huge mess, but global software initiatives saved the day.
Now, web browsers of today could be facing a somewhat similar situation. The inevitable move to version 100 may result in bugs or compatibility issues on some websites not ready to read triple-digit user-agent strings. Until now, these strings of code only contained two digits, and it turns out that tons of websites won’t be able to read three, which may cause several bugs and problems.
“When browsers first reached version 10 a little over 12 years ago, many issues were discovered with User-Agent parsing libraries as the major version number went from one digit to two,” explains the developer team at Mozilla. We could face something similar later this year.
As a result, Mozilla has put a ton of effort behind the scenes to fix it. Plus, along with Google, have reportedly been issuing warnings to web developers for months.
Both Chrome and Edge will reach browser version 100 in March, followed by Firefox in May. As explained by BleepingComputer, a user-agent is a string used by a web browser that shares info about the software, including the browser name, its version number, and the technology it uses. When you visit a website, the browser’s user-agent is sent along with the request for a web page. This allows the web page to check the visitor’s browser version and modify its response based on the features the browser supports. If websites aren’t able to read this string, they may not work at all, or at least be severely broken.
Chrome and Mozilla teams have been running tests looking for breakages or finding a solution, and there’s currently a short-running list of issues. According to Engadget, a few large sites are affected including HBO Go, Bethesda, and Yahoo.
A Temporary Solution
Web developers can enable a special flag in current Chrome, Edge, and Firefox versions to make the browsers report as version 100. This way they can check for problems or help find a fix. Considering Chrome version 100 won’t come out until March 29th and Firefox v100 on May 3rd, developers still have some time.
For now, the backup plan or temporary solution is to freeze version numbers at 99 to mitigate any issues, especially if changes aren’t successful in solving the upcoming problem. Or, issue hotfix updates on the fly to change the code for affected websites. So, if the internet starts “breaking” for you in late March or early May, now you know why.