Network Time Protocol (NTP) is a networking protocol for synchronising time over a network. Basically, a client requests the current time from a server, and uses it to set its own clock.
Behind this simple description, there is a lot of complexity. There are tiers of NTP servers, with the tier one NTP servers connected to atomic clocks, and tier two and three servers spreading the load of actually handling requests across the Internet.
The client software is also a lot more complex than you might think. It has to factor out communication delays and adjust the time in a way that does not upset all the other processes that run on the server. Luckily, all that complexity is hidden from you!
By default, Ubuntu uses
timesyncd to synchronise time and users can optionally use chrony to serve the Network Time Protocol.
Synchronising your system’s time
Since Ubuntu 16.04,
timesyncd (which are part of
systemd) replace most of
timesyncd is available by default and replaces not only
ntpdate, but also the client portion of chrony (formerly
ntpd). So, on top of the one-shot action that
ntpdate provided on boot and network activation,
timesyncd now regularly checks and keeps your local time in sync. It also stores time updates locally, so that after reboots the time monotonically advances (if applicable).
If chrony is installed,
timedatectl steps back to let chrony do the timekeeping. This ensures that no two time syncing services are fighting. While use of
ntpd is no longer recommended, this also still applies to
ntpd being installed to retain any previous behavior/config that you had through an upgrade. However, it also implies that on an upgrade from a former release,
ntpdate might still be installed and therefore renders the new
systemd-based services disabled.
ntpdate is now considered deprecated in favor of
timedatectl (or chrony) and is no longer installed by default.
timesyncd will generally do the right thing keeping your time in sync, and chrony will help with more complex cases. But if you had one of a few known special
ntpdate use cases, consider the following:
If you require a one-shot sync, use:
If you require a one-shot time check (without setting the time), use:
The current status of time and time configuration via
timesyncd can be checked with
timedatectl status, which will produce output like this:
Local time: Fr 2018-02-23 08:47:13 UTC Universal time: Fr 2018-02-23 08:47:13 UTC RTC time: Fr 2018-02-23 08:47:13 Time zone: Etc/UTC (UTC, +0000) System clock synchronized: yes systemd-timesyncd.service active: yes RTC in local TZ: no
If chrony is running it will automatically switch to:
[...] systemd-timesyncd.service active: no
timedatectl, an admin can control the timezone, how the system clock should relate to the
hwclock and whether permanent synchronisation should be enabled. See
man timedatectl for more details.
timesyncd itself is still a normal service, so you can check its status in more detail using:
systemctl status systemd-timesyncd
The output produced will look something like this:
systemd-timesyncd.service - Network Time Synchronization Loaded: loaded (/lib/systemd/system/systemd-timesyncd.service; enabled; vendor preset: enabled) Active: active (running) since Fri 2018-02-23 08:55:46 UTC; 10s ago Docs: man:systemd-timesyncd.service(8) Main PID: 3744 (systemd-timesyn) Status: "Synchronized to time server 188.8.131.52:123 (ntp.ubuntu.com)." Tasks: 2 (limit: 4915) CGroup: /system.slice/systemd-timesyncd.service |-3744 /lib/systemd/systemd-timesyncd Feb 23 08:55:46 bionic-test systemd: Starting Network Time Synchronization... Feb 23 08:55:46 bionic-test systemd: Started Network Time Synchronization. Feb 23 08:55:46 bionic-test systemd-timesyncd: Synchronized to time server 184.108.40.206:123 (ntp.ubuntu.com).
The server from which to fetch time for
timesyncd can be specified in
/etc/systemd/timesyncd.conf. Additional config files can be stored in
/etc/systemd/timesyncd.conf.d/. The entries for
FallbackNTP= are space-separated lists. See
man timesyncd.conf for more details.
Serve the Network Time Protocol
In addition to synchronising your system, if you also want to serve NTP information then you need an NTP server. Between chrony,
open-ntp there are plenty of options, but the recommended solution is chrony.
chronyd, the NTP daemon
The NTP daemon
chronyd calculates the drift and offset of your system clock and continuously adjusts it, so there are no large corrections that could lead to inconsistent logs, for instance. The cost is a little processing power and memory, but for a modern server this is usually negligible.
chrony, run the following command from a terminal prompt:
sudo apt install chrony
This will provide two binaries:
chronyd- the actual daemon to sync and serve via the Network Time Protocol
chronyc- command-line interface for chrony daemon
/etc/chrony/chrony.conf to add/remove server lines. By default these servers are configured:
# Use servers from the NTP Pool Project. Approved by Ubuntu Technical Board # on 2011-02-08 (LP: #104525). See http://www.pool.ntp.org/join.html for # more information. pool 0.ubuntu.pool.ntp.org iburst pool 1.ubuntu.pool.ntp.org iburst pool 2.ubuntu.pool.ntp.org iburst pool 3.ubuntu.pool.ntp.org iburst
man chrony.conf for more details on the configuration options available. After changing any part of the config file you need to restart chrony, as follows:
sudo systemctl restart chrony.service
Of the pool,
ntp.ubuntu.com also support IPv6, if needed. If you need to force IPv6, there is also
ipv6.ntp.ubuntu.com which is not configured by default.
Enable serving the Network Time Protocol
You can install chrony (above) and configure special Hardware (below) for a local synchronisation
and as-installed that is the default to stay on the secure and conservative side. But if you want to serve NTP you need adapt your configuration.
To enable serving NTP you’ll need to at least set the
allow rule. This controls which clients/networks you want chrony to serve NTP to.
An example would be:
See the section “NTP server” in the man page for more details on how you can control and restrict access to your NTP server.
You can use
chronyc to see query the status of the chrony daemon. For example, to get an overview of the currently available and selected time sources, run
chronyc sources, which provides output like this:
MS Name/IP address Stratum Poll Reach LastRx Last sample =============================================================================== ^+ gamma.rueckgr.at 2 8 377 135 -1048us[-1048us] +/- 29ms ^- 2b.ncomputers.org 2 8 377 204 -1141us[-1124us] +/- 50ms ^+ www.kashra.com 2 8 377 139 +3483us[+3483us] +/- 18ms ^+ stratum2-4.NTP.TechFak.U> 2 8 377 143 -2090us[-2073us] +/- 19ms ^- zepto.mcl.gg 2 7 377 9 -774us[ -774us] +/- 29ms ^- mirrorhost.pw 2 7 377 78 -660us[ -660us] +/- 53ms ^- atto.mcl.gg 2 7 377 8 -823us[ -823us] +/- 50ms ^- static.220.127.116.11.cli> 2 8 377 9 -1503us[-1503us] +/- 45ms ^- 18.104.22.168 2 8 377 137 -11ms[ -11ms] +/- 117ms ^- 22.214.171.124 3 7 377 10 -3274us[-3274us] +/- 70ms ^- bagnikita.com 2 7 377 74 +3131us[+3131us] +/- 71ms ^- europa.ellipse.net 2 8 377 204 -790us[ -773us] +/- 97ms ^- tethys.hot-chilli.net 2 8 377 141 -797us[ -797us] +/- 59ms ^- 66-232-97-8.static.hvvc.> 2 7 377 206 +1669us[+1686us] +/- 133ms ^+ 126.96.36.199 1 8 377 205 +175us[ +192us] +/- 12ms ^* 46-243-26-34.tangos.nl 1 8 377 141 -123us[ -106us] +/- 10ms ^- pugot.canonical.com 2 8 377 21 -95us[ -95us] +/- 57ms ^- alphyn.canonical.com 2 6 377 23 -1569us[-1569us] +/- 79ms ^- golem.canonical.com 2 7 377 92 -1018us[-1018us] +/- 31ms ^- chilipepper.canonical.com 2 8 377 21 -1106us[-1106us] +/- 27ms
You can also make use of the
chronyc sourcestats command, which produces output like this:
210 Number of sources = 20 Name/IP Address NP NR Span Frequency Freq Skew Offset Std Dev ============================================================================== gamma.rueckgr.at 25 15 32m -0.007 0.142 -878us 106us 2b.ncomputers.org 26 16 35m -0.132 0.283 -1169us 256us www.kashra.com 25 15 32m -0.092 0.259 +3426us 195us stratum2-4.NTP.TechFak.U> 25 14 32m -0.018 0.130 -2056us 96us zepto.mcl.gg 13 11 21m +0.148 0.196 -683us 66us mirrorhost.pw 6 5 645 +0.117 0.445 -591us 19us atto.mcl.gg 21 13 25m -0.069 0.199 -904us 103us static.188.8.131.52.cli> 25 18 34m -0.005 0.094 -1526us 78us 184.108.40.206 25 10 32m +0.412 0.110 -11ms 84us 220.127.116.11 24 12 30m -0.983 0.173 -3718us 122us bagnikita.com 17 7 31m -0.132 0.217 +3527us 139us europa.ellipse.net 26 15 35m +0.038 0.553 -473us 424us tethys.hot-chilli.net 25 11 32m -0.094 0.110 -864us 88us 66-232-97-8.static.hvvc.> 20 11 35m -0.116 0.165 +1561us 109us 18.104.22.168 26 11 35m -0.054 0.390 +129us 343us 46-243-26-34.tangos.nl 25 16 32m +0.129 0.297 -307us 198us pugot.canonical.com 25 14 34m -0.271 0.176 -143us 135us alphyn.canonical.com 17 11 1100 -0.087 0.360 -1749us 114us golem.canonical.com 23 12 30m +0.057 0.370 -988us 229us chilipepper.canonical.com 25 18 34m -0.084 0.224 -1116us 169us
chronyc commands are privileged and cannot be run via the network without explicitly allowing them. See the Command and monitoring access section in
man chrony.conf for more details. A local admin can use
sudo since this will grant access to the local admin socket
Pulse-Per-Second (PPS) support
Chrony supports various PPS types natively. It can use kernel PPS API as well as Precision Time Protocol (PTP) hardware clocks. Most general GPS receivers can be leveraged via GPSD. The latter (and potentially more) can be accessed via SHM or via a socket (recommended). All of the above can be used to augment chrony with additional high quality time sources for better accuracy, jitter, drift, and longer- or shorter-term accuracy. Usually, each kind of clock type is good at one of those, but non-perfect at the others. For more details on configuration see some of the external PPS/GPSD resources listed below.
As of the release of 20.04, there was a bug which - until fixed - you might want to add this content to your
Example configuration for GPSD to feed Chrony
For the installation and setup you will first need to run the following command in your terminal window:
sudo apt install gpsd chrony
However, since you will want to test/debug your setup (especially the GPS reception), you should also install:
sudo apt install pps-tools gpsd-clients
GPS devices usually communicate via serial interfaces. The most common type these days are USB GPS devices, which have a serial converter behind USB. If you want to use one of these devices for PPS then please be aware that the majority do not signal PPS via USB. Check the GPSD hardware list for details. The examples below were run with a Navisys GR701-W.
When plugging in such a device (or at boot time)
dmesg should report a serial connection of some sort, as in this example:
[ 52.442199] usb 1-1.1: new full-speed USB device number 3 using xhci_hcd [ 52.546639] usb 1-1.1: New USB device found, idVendor=067b, idProduct=2303, bcdDevice= 4.00 [ 52.546654] usb 1-1.1: New USB device strings: Mfr=1, Product=2, SerialNumber=0 [ 52.546665] usb 1-1.1: Product: USB-Serial Controller D [ 52.546675] usb 1-1.1: Manufacturer: Prolific Technology Inc. [ 52.602103] usbcore: registered new interface driver usbserial_generic [ 52.602244] usbserial: USB Serial support registered for generic [ 52.609471] usbcore: registered new interface driver pl2303 [ 52.609503] usbserial: USB Serial support registered for pl2303 [ 52.609564] pl2303 1-1.1:1.0: pl2303 converter detected [ 52.618366] usb 1-1.1: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0
We see in this example that the device appeared as
ttyUSB0. So that
chrony later accepts being fed time information by this device, we have to set it up in
/etc/chrony/chrony.conf (please replace
USB0 with whatever applies to your setup):
refclock SHM 0 refid GPS precision 1e-1 offset 0.9999 delay 0.2 refclock SOCK /var/run/chrony.ttyUSB0.sock refid PPS
Next, we need to restart
chrony to make the socket available and have it waiting.
sudo systemctl restart chrony
We then need to tell
gpsd which device to manage. Therefore, in
/etc/default/gpsd we set:
It should be noted that since the default use-case of
gpsd is, well, for gps position tracking, it will normally not consume any CPU since it is just waiting on a socket for clients. Furthermore, the client will tell
gpsd what it requests, and
gpsd will only provide what is asked for.
For the use case of
gpsd as a PPS-providing-daemon, you want to set the option to:
Immediately start (even without a client connected). This can be set in
Enable the service itself and not wait for a client to reach the socket in the future:
sudo systemctl enable /lib/systemd/system/gpsd.service
gpsd will now initialize the PPS from GPS and in
dmesg you will see:
pps_ldisc: PPS line discipline registered pps pps0: new PPS source usbserial0 pps pps0: source "/dev/ttyUSB0" added
If you have multiple PPS sources, the tool
ppsfind may be useful to help identify which PPS belongs to which GPS. In our example, the command
sudo ppsfind /dev/ttyUSB0 would return the following:
pps0: name=usbserial0 path=/dev/ttyUSB0
Now we have completed the basic setup. To proceed, we now need our GPS to get a lock. Tools like
gpsmon need to report a 3D “fix” in order to provide accurate data. Let’s run the command
cgps, which in our case returns:
... │ Status: 3D FIX (7 secs) ...
You would then want to use
ppstest in order to check that you are really receiving PPS data. So, let us run the command
sudo ppstest /dev/pps0, which will produce an output like this:
trying PPS source "/dev/pps0" found PPS source "/dev/pps0" ok, found 1 source(s), now start fetching data... source 0 - assert 1588140739.099526246, sequence: 69 - clear 1588140739.999663721, sequence: 70 source 0 - assert 1588140740.099661485, sequence: 70 - clear 1588140739.999663721, sequence: 70 source 0 - assert 1588140740.099661485, sequence: 70 - clear 1588140740.999786664, sequence: 71 source 0 - assert 1588140741.099792447, sequence: 71 - clear 1588140740.999786664, sequence: 71
gpsd is now running, the GPS reception has found a fix, and it has fed this into
chrony. Let’s check on that from the point of view of
gpsd has started or before it has a lock, these sources will be new and “untrusted” - they will be marked with a “?” as shown in the example below. If your devices remain in the “?” state (even after some time) then
gpsd is not feeding any data to
chrony and you will need to debug why.
chronyc> sources 210 Number of sources = 10 MS Name/IP address Stratum Poll Reach LastRx Last sample =============================================================================== #? GPS 0 4 0 - +0ns[ +0ns] +/- 0ns #? PPS 0 4 0 - +0ns[ +0ns] +/- 0ns
chrony will classify all of the unknown sources as “good” or “bad”.
In the example below, the raw GPS had too much deviation (± 200ms) but the PPS is good (± 63us).
chronyc> sources 210 Number of sources = 10 MS Name/IP address Stratum Poll Reach LastRx Last sample =============================================================================== #x GPS 0 4 177 24 -876ms[ -876ms] +/- 200ms #- PPS 0 4 177 21 +916us[ +916us] +/- 63us ^- chilipepper.canonical.com 2 6 37 53 +33us[ +33us] +/- 33ms
Finally, after a while it used the hardware PPS input (as it was better):
chronyc> sources 210 Number of sources = 10 MS Name/IP address Stratum Poll Reach LastRx Last sample =============================================================================== #x GPS 0 4 377 20 -884ms[ -884ms] +/- 200ms #* PPS 0 4 377 18 +6677ns[ +52us] +/- 58us ^- alphyn.canonical.com 2 6 377 20 -1303us[-1258us] +/- 114ms
The PPS might also be OK – but used in a combined way with the selected server, for example. See
man chronyc for more details about how these combinations can look:
chronyc> sources 210 Number of sources = 11 MS Name/IP address Stratum Poll Reach LastRx Last sample =============================================================================== #? GPS 0 4 0 - +0ns[ +0ns] +/- 0ns #+ PPS 0 4 377 22 +154us[ +154us] +/- 8561us ^* chilipepper.canonical.com 2 6 377 50 -353us[ -300us] +/- 44ms
If you’re wondering if your SHM-based GPS data is any good, you can check on that as well.
chrony will not only tell you if the data is classified as good or bad – using
sourcestats you can also check the details:
chronyc> sourcestats 210 Number of sources = 10 Name/IP Address NP NR Span Frequency Freq Skew Offset Std Dev ============================================================================== GPS 20 9 302 +1.993 11.501 -868ms 1208us PPS 6 3 78 +0.324 5.009 +3365ns 41us golem.canonical.com 15 10 783 +0.859 0.509 -750us 108us
You can also track the raw data that
gpsd or other
ntpd-compliant reference clocks are sending via shared memory by using
ntpshmmon. Let us run the command
sudo ntpshmmon -o, which should provide the following output:
ntpshmmon: version 3.20 # Name Offset Clock Real L Prc sample NTP1 0.000223854 1588265805.000223854 1588265805.000000000 0 -10 sample NTP0 0.125691783 1588265805.125999851 1588265805.000308068 0 -20 sample NTP1 0.000349341 1588265806.000349341 1588265806.000000000 0 -10 sample NTP0 0.130326636 1588265806.130634945 1588265806.000308309 0 -20 sample NTP1 0.000485216 1588265807.000485216 1588265807.000000000 0 -10
In Chrony 4.0 (which first appeared in Ubuntu 21.04 Hirsute) support for Network Time Security “NTS” was added.
To set up your server with NTS you’ll need certificates so that the server can authenticate itself and, based on that, allow the encryption and verification of NTP traffic.
In addition to the
allow statement that any
chrony (while working as an NTP server) needs there are two mandatory config entries that will be needed. Example certificates for those entries would look like:
ntsservercert /etc/chrony/fullchain.pem ntsserverkey /etc/chrony/privkey.pem
It is important to note that for isolation reasons
chrony, by default, runs as user and group
_chrony. Therefore you need to grant access to the certificates for that user, by running the following command:.
sudo chown _chrony:_chrony /etc/chrony/*.pem
Then restart chrony with
systemctl restart chrony and it will be ready to provide NTS-based time services.
A running chrony server measures various statistics. One of them counts the number of NTS connections that were established (or dropped) – we can check this by running
sudo chronyc -N serverstats, which shows us the statistics:
NTP packets received : 213 NTP packets dropped : 0 Command packets received : 117 Command packets dropped : 0 Client log records dropped : 0 NTS-KE connections accepted: 2 NTS-KE connections dropped : 0 Authenticated NTP packets : 197
There is also a per-client statistic which can be enabled by the
-p option of the
sudo chronyc -N clients -k
This provides output in the following form:
Hostname NTP Drop Int IntL Last NTS-KE Drop Int Last =============================================================================== 10.172.196.173 197 0 10 - 595 2 0 5 48h ...
For more complex scenarios there are many more advanced options for configuring NTS. These are documented in the chrony man page.
Note: About certificate placement
Chrony, by default, is isolated via AppArmor and uses a number of
systemd. Due to that, there are not many paths chrony can access for the certificates. But /etc/chrony/* is allowed as read-only and that is enough.
/etc/apparmor.d/usr.sbin.chronydif you want other paths or allow custom paths in
The client needs to specify
server as usual (
pool directives do not work with NTS). Afterwards, the server address options can be listed and it is there that
nts can be added. For example:
server <server-fqdn-or-IP> iburst nts
One can check the
authdata of the connections established by the client using
sudo chronyc -N authdata, which will provide the following information:
Name/IP address Mode KeyID Type KLen Last Atmp NAK Cook CLen ========================================================================= <server-fqdn-or-ip> NTS 1 15 256 48h 0 0 8 100
Again, there are more advanced options documented in the man page. Common use cases are specifying an explicit trusted certificate.
Bad Clocks and secure time syncing - “A Chicken and Egg” problem
There is one problem with systems that have very bad clocks. NTS is based on TLS, and TLS needs a reasonably correct clock. Due to that, an NTS-based sync might fail. On hardware affected by this problem, one can consider using the
nocerttimecheckoption which allows the user to set the number of times that the time can be synced without checking validation and expiration.
See the Ubuntu Time wiki page for more information.