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The reason was that the return type represents a moment in time, relative to some point (startup). So time can be both positive and negative, even if this function only ever returns positive values. This is similar to time_t being signed on most systems even though time() always returns positive values, unless one has a time machine. With a 64-bit type, loss of one bit of range would not matter in practice, plus arithmetic with signed types is less error prone.
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