A leap year (also known as an intercalary year or bissextile year) is a calendar year that contains an additional day (or, in the case of a lunisolar calendar, a month) added to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical year or seasonal year. Because astronomical events and seasons do not repeat in a whole number of days, calendars that have the same number of days in each year drift over time with respect to the event that the year is supposed to track. By inserting (called intercalating in technical terminology) an additional day or month into the year, the drift can be corrected. A year that is not a leap year is a common year.
For example, in the Gregorian calendar, each leap year has 366 days instead of 365, by extending February to 29 days rather than the common 28. These extra days occur in each year which is an integer multiple of 4 (except for years evenly divisible by 100, which are not leap years unless evenly divisible by 400). Similarly, in the lunisolar Hebrew calendar, Adar Aleph, a 13th lunar month, is added seven times every 19 years to the twelve lunar months in its common years to keep its calendar year from drifting through the seasons. In the Bahá’í Calendar, a leap day is added when needed to ensure that the following year begins on the March equinox.
The term leap year probably comes from the fact that a fixed date in the Gregorian calendar normally advances one day of the week from one year to the next, but the day of the week in the 12 months following the leap day (from March 1 through February 28 of the following year) will advance two days due to the extra day, thus leaping over one day in the week. For example, Christmas Day (December 25) fell on a Tuesday in 2012, Wednesday in 2013, Thursday in 2014, and Friday in 2015, but then leapt over Saturday to fall on a Sunday in 2016.
The length of a day is also occasionally corrected by inserting a leap second into Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) because of variations in Earth’s rotation period. Unlike leap days, leap seconds are not introduced on a regular schedule because variations in the length of the day are not entirely predictable.
Leap years can present a problem in computing, known as the leap year bug, when a year is not correctly identified as a leap year or when February 29 is not handled correctly in logic that accepts or manipulates dates.