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Chapter 22. Configuring NTP Using ntpd

22.1. Introduction to NTP

The Network Time Protocol (NTP) enables the accurate dissemination of time and date information in order to keep the time clocks on networked computer systems synchronized to a common reference over the network or the Internet. Many standards bodies around the world have atomic clocks which may be made available as a reference. The satellites that make up the Global Position System contain more than one atomic clock, making their time signals potentially very accurate. Their signals can be deliberately degraded for military reasons. An ideal situation would be where each site has a server, with its own reference clock attached, to act as a site-wide time server. Many devices which obtain the time and date via low frequency radio transmissions or the Global Position System (GPS) exist. However for most situations, a range of publicly accessible time servers connected to the Internet at geographically dispersed locations can be used. These NTP servers provide Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Information about these time servers can found at
Accurate time keeping is important for a number of reasons in IT. In networking for example, accurate time stamps in packets and logs are required. Logs are used to investigate service and security issues and so timestamps made on different systems must be made by synchronized clocks to be of real value. As systems and networks become increasingly faster, there is a corresponding need for clocks with greater accuracy and resolution. In some countries there are legal obligations to keep accurately synchronized clocks. Please see for more information. In Linux systems, NTP is implemented by a daemon running in user space. The default NTP daemon in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 is ntpd.
The user space daemon updates the system clock, which is a software clock running in the kernel. Linux uses a software clock as its system clock for better resolution than the typical embedded hardware clock referred to as the Real Time Clock (RTC). See the rtc(4) and hwclock(8) man pages for information on hardware clocks. The system clock can keep time by using various clock sources. Usually, the Time Stamp Counter (TSC) is used. The TSC is a CPU register which counts the number of cycles since it was last reset. It is very fast, has a high resolution, and there are no interrupts. On system start, the system clock reads the time and date from the RTC. The time kept by the RTC will drift away from actual time by up to 5 minutes per month due to temperature variations. Hence the need for the system clock to be constantly synchronized with external time references. When the system clock is being synchronized by ntpd, the kernel will in turn update the RTC every 11 minutes automatically.