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For example, for an epoch date of midnight UTC () on January 1, 1900, and a time unit of a second, the time of the midnight () between January 1 and 2, 1900 is represented by the number 86400, the number of seconds in one day.

When times prior to the epoch need to be represented, it is common to use the same system, but with negative numbers.

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Epochs are generally chosen to be convenient or significant by a consensus of the time scale's initial users, or by authoritarian fiat.

Therefore, when the number of time units that have elapsed since a system's epoch exceeds the largest number that can fit in the space allotted to the time representation, the time representation overflows, and problems can occur.

While a system's behavior after overflow occurs is not necessarily predictable, in most systems the number representing the time will reset to zero, and the computer system will think that the current time is the epoch time again.

These representations of time are mainly for internal use.

If an end user interaction with dates and times is required, the software will nearly always convert this internal number into a date and time representation that is comprehensible to humans.

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