Adobe Flash was probably one of, if not the most, important multimedia platform on the internet. From browser games to live streaming it was essential for many things to work. However, it did have flaws. It could be tough to optimize, didn’t work with every kind of browser, had many problems with mobile phones, and most importantly, had security issues.
With the introduction of HTML5, Flash began to fall out of use, and out of favor with the internet. In July of 2017 Adobe warned that it would stop supporting the software at the end of 2020, specifically January 12th 2021. This would give people three years to make the switch, however this message didn’t seem to go far and wide enough. Many people didn’t seem to receive the message. Instead of just making old browser games obsolete, it brought an entire Chinese rail network to a halt.
Reported on first by Apple Daily, the problem occurred for Chinese Railway Shenyang in Dalian, Liaoning. Just after 8.00 a.m on Tuesday, January 12th (just as would be expected from Adobe’s announcement) it all shut down. The switching station of the rail network was not able to access the timetables for the railroad, which they normally did through a Flash-based browser interface. For the next half hour or so reports of similar failures and incidents poured in from all across the network, with an estimated 30 stations frozen, reported in a Chinese blog. This is what happens when you run an entire train network on Flash.
It was only after Chinese technicians went online to try and find a fix for their situation did officials learn of the global Flash shutdown. The news apparently was never able to penetrate the extremely censored Chinese internet. According to sources outlined by Github, software backups were able to restore some service around noon, but it was only temporary, with outages at several stations occurring at around 2:00 p.m. Later on Chinese Railway Shenyang put together a response team and reportedly began to explore older software systems, allegedly using an old pirated version of Flash without the January 12th 2021 expiration date. This was seemingly praised as a “technical innovation” by company officials, which obviously drew massive amounts of mockery from people online; from both inside and outside of China.
At around 1:00 a.m on the 13th Chinese Railway Shenyang apparently was able to successfully bring one of it’s stations online fully, and by 2:30 a.m, all but one was back in service. It is very likely that Adobe will not be happy to hear that it’s abandon-ware will continue to live on in a pirated form in an obsolete Chinese rail network, but legal action is extremely unlikely, as copyright laws in China are seemingly treated more like guidelines, or suggestions, rather than actual laws.