Will YouTube Ever Run Out of URLs? Tom Scott Explains Why it's Practically Impossible
Each YouTube video has an 11 character unique code. Now, you might wonder just how many different possible combinations there are for 11 characters. It's hard to say, there are more possible combinations for a deck of cards then there are atoms in the universe, but that's a varying figure, YouTube's code length is fixed. Surely they will run out at some stage or another?
Well, in this fascinating video, presented in a single ongoing take by tech expert and big time YouTuber Tom Scott as he saunters around just outside Alexandra Palace, we find out how the system really works. I'll let the video do the talking, but in short, YouTube obviously had some idea of their site's potential scope when they started building it, because in order for them to even come close to running out of codes, the amount of content being uploaded would have to skyrocket in a major, borderline impossible way, and even then, all they would have to do is add an extra character.
It's all down the counting method that the codes use - base 64. Standard counting uses base 10, ie - 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 and 0, so it follows that base 64 uses 64 characters, the 10 digits plus the upper and lower case alphabet and two symbols to round it off, - and _ in YouTube's case. Simply put, the amount of possibilities that YouTube can contain within a small set is figures is so vast it's almost incomprehensible.
It's not directly mentioned in the video, but a lot of other sites have run into problems simply because they've failed to comprehend the scale of the internet's growth rate. Scott mentions that no website should ever use a numbered system that keeps all its content in an order, chronological or otherwise, because it's remarkably easy to tamper with and abuse, hence why YouTube's codes are random.
The notion of larger sites, or even the entire internet being bamboozled by data indiscrepancies is far from fictional. A lot of online time values are stored using a 32-bit integer, represented as the number of seconds since 00:00:00 1970. It's a simple, effective system, but on the 19th of January 2038, that system will run out of numbers. By then, hopefully most devices and systems will be operating on 64 bit, but anything on the old UNIX timecode will begin to malfunction, in some way or another, but we don't know for sure.
Whether or not the 2038 problem will actually cause any issue is still unclear, especially since the Y2K turned out to be a non-issue, but it aptly demonstrates that internet storage isn't necessarily future-proof. YouTube, for the most part, is, and it just took some elegant mathematics to make it so.
Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @Songbird_Callum
Will YouTube Ever Run Out of URLs? Tom Scott Explains Why it's Practically Impossible Reviewed by Callum Davies on Thursday, March 24, 2016 Rating: