Managing Accurate Date and Time
Copyright © 2002,2003 Avi Alkalay
1.0.6 :: 2004-02-25
|Revision 1.0.6||25 Feb 2004||Revised by: avi|
|Included credits and link to russian translation.|
|Revision 1.0.5||05 Jul 2003||Revised by: avi|
|Changed public time servers list URL. Added pool.ntp.org.|
|Revision 1.0.4||21 Dec 2002||Revised by: avi|
|Added japanese translation link and credits.|
|Revision 1.0.3||24 Aug 2002||Revised by: avi|
|Fixed wrong screen and programlisting widths.|
|Revision 1.0.2||04 Aug 2002||Revised by: avi|
|Link to public time servers page.|
|Revision 1.0.1||07 May 2002||Revised by: avi|
|Final XML conversion. Files reorganization.|
|Revision 1.0||28 Apr 2002||Revised by: avi|
|Revision 0.8||27 Apr 2002||Revised by: avi|
|Switched from ntpdc example to ntpq, based on contributions.|
|Revision 0.8.1||20 Apr 2002||Revised by: avi|
|Improved graphic. Links to other doc locations.|
|Revision 0.8||14 Apr 2002||Revised by: avi|
|Beter tunning of NTP graphic.|
|Revision 0.76||13 Apr 2002||Revised by: avi|
|Inclusion of architecture graphic.|
|Revision 0.75||10 Apr 2002||Revised by: avi|
|Spell checked. Using DocBook XSLT 1.50.|
|Revision 0.65||31 Mar 2002||Revised by: avi|
|Upgraded to XML 4.1.2 DocBook format|
|Revision 0.6||29 Mar 2002||Revised by: avi|
|Finished timezone mechanism on Linux. Created appendix. Now only drawings are needed.|
|Revision 0.4||24 Mar 2002||Revised by: avi|
|All skeleton defined. All command examples written.|
|Revision 0.2||19 Mar 2002||Revised by: avi|
|First DocBook version|
1. Computer Global Date and Time Concept
To determine the current time for some planet region, a computer needs exactly this two informations:
Correct UTC (universal time as in Greenwich, but not GMT) time
Region's current Time Zone
For computers, there is also the hardware clock, which is used as a base by the OS to set his time.
OS date and time (we'll use only date or time from now on) is set on boot, by some script that reads the hardware clock, makes Time Zone calculations (there is no time zone data stored in BIOS) and sets the OS. After this synchronization, BIOS and OS time are completely independent. So after a while they may have some seconds of difference. Which one is correct? If you don't make special configurations, none.
We'll discuss here how to make them both globally 100% accurate.
2. What are Time Zones?
Time Zones are a geophysical world globe division of 15o each, starting at Greenwich, in England, created to help people know what time is it now in another part of the world.
Nowadays it is much more a political division than geophysical, because sometimes people needs to have the same time as other people in not-so-far locations. And for energy savings reasons, we have today the Daylight Savings Time, that are also a Time Zone variation.
Time Zones are usually defined by your country government or some astronomical institute, and is represented by 3 or 4 letters. See Section 2.2 for examples.
If you want to know what time is it now in a different world region, you can use the timezoneconverter.com website.
2.1. Daylight Savings Time
For energy savings reasons, governments created the Daylight Savings Time. Our clocks are forwarded one hour, and this makes our days look longer. In fact, what really happens is only a Time Zone change. The primitive time (UTC) is still, and will allways be, the same.
Later we'll see how to enable and disable DST automatically in Linux.
2.2. Time Zones Examples
There is nothing better than examples:
Table 1. Brazilian Time Zones. Shifts relative to UTC
|Name and Shift||DST Name and Shift||Locations|
|BREST -2:00||BREDT -1:00||Fernando de Noronha|
|BRST -3:00||BRDT -2:00||São Paulo, Rio, Brasilia, Minas Gerais, North East Region, South Region,etc|
|BRWST -4:00||BRWDT -3:00||West Region|
|BRAST -5:00||BRADT -4:00||Acre|
Please send me contributions like this table for US Time Zone.
2.3. Time Zone Mechanism on Linux
Linux systems uses the GLIBC dynamic Time Zones, based on /etc/localtime. This file is a link to (or a copy of) a zone information file, usually located under /usr/share/zoneinfo directory.
From a geophysical perspective, there is only 360o/15o=24 Time Zones in the world. But to make things easy to people, and to accommodate all the political variations (like Daylight Savings Time), you'll find hundreds of zoneinfo files in /usr/share/zoneinfo, each for every world city, country, etc, and its not complete (it can never be).
Some countries, like Brazil, don't have a fixed day to start Daylight Savings Time. It is defined every year, a couple of months before summer, and you may end up in a situation you'll have to change your zoneinfo file, which was compiled by zic from a text file like this.
Example 1. Brazilian Zone Info text file
# Brazil Time Zones
# Brazilian Time Zones are:
# BREST: East of Brasilia. Fernando de Noronha.
# BRST: Brasilia, São Paulo, Rio, Northeast, South etc
# BRWST: West of Brasilia. Mato Grosso, Manaus
# BRAST: Acre.
# In daylight saving time, letter 'S' changes to 'D'.
# To install, make:
# # zic Brazil.txt
# Zone files will be installed in /usr/share/zoneinfo (depends on your
# distribution). Then, make a symbolic link from your zone to /etc/localtime:
# # ln -sf /usr/share/zoneinfo/Brazil/Brasilia /etc/localtime
# If you have updates and new standards to this file please send to
# Avi Alkalay <avi @ unix.sh>
# Last update: 18 Nov 2000
# This file is available at http://avi.alkalay.net/linux/zoneinfo/
# Rule NAME FROM TO TYPE IN ON AT SAVE LETTER/S
Rule Brazil 1931 1932 - Oct 3 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1932 1933 - Mar 31 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1949 only - Dec 1 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1950 only - Apr 30 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1950 1952 - Dec 1 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1951 only - Apr 16 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1952 only - Mar 31 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1953 only - Feb 28 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1963 only - Oct 23 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1964 only - Mar 1 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1965 only - Jan 31 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1965 only - Mar 31 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1965 only - Dec 1 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1966 1968 - Mar 1 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1966 1967 - Nov 1 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1984 only - Nov 2 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1985 only - Mar 15 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1985 only - Nov 2 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1986 only - Mar 15 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1986 only - Oct 25 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1987 only - Feb 14 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1987 only - Oct 25 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1988 only - Feb 7 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1988 only - Oct 16 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1989 only - Jan 29 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1989 only - Oct 15 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1990 only - Feb 11 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1990 only - Oct 21 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1991 only - Feb 17 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1991 only - Oct 20 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1992 only - Feb 9 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1992 only - Oct 25 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1993 only - Jan 31 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1993 only - Oct 17 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1994 only - Feb 20 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1994 only - Oct 16 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1995 only - Feb 19 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1995 only - Oct 15 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1996 only - Feb 11 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1996 only - Oct 06 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1997 only - Feb 16 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1997 only - Oct 06 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1998 only - Mar 01 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1998 only - Oct 11 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 1999 only - Feb 21 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 1999 only - Oct 03 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 2000 only - Feb 27 0:00 0 S
Rule Brazil 2000 only - Oct 8 0:00 1:00 D
Rule Brazil 2001 only - Feb 18 0:00 0 S
# Zone NAME GMTOFF RULES/SAVE FORMAT [UNTIL]
Zone Brazil/DeNoronha -2:00 Brazil BRE%sT
Zone posix/Brazil/DeNoronha -2:00 Brazil BRE%sT
Zone right/Brazil/DeNoronha -2:00 Brazil BRE%sT
Zone Brazil/East -2:00 Brazil BRE%sT
Zone posix/Brazil/East -2:00 Brazil BRE%sT
Zone right/Brazil/East -2:00 Brazil BRE%sT
Zone America/Sao_Paulo -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone America/Rio_de_Janeiro -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone America/Brasilia -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone posix/America/Sao_Paulo -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone posix/America/Rio_de_Janeiro -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone posix/America/Salvador -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone posix/America/Brasilia -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone posix/Brazil/Central -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone posix/Brazil/Brasilia -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone posix/Brazil/Sao_Paulo -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone posix/Brazil/Salvador -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone posix/Brazil/Rio_de_Janeiro -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone right/America/Sao_Paulo -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone right/America/Rio_de_Janeiro -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone right/America/Salvador -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone right/America/Brasilia -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone right/Brazil/Central -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone right/Brazil/Brasilia -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone right/Brazil/Sao_Paulo -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone right/Brazil/Salvador -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone right/Brazil/Rio_de_Janeiro -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone Brazil/Central -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone Brazil/Brasilia -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone Brazil/Sao_Paulo -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone Brazil/Rio_de_Janeiro -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone Brazil/Salvador -3:00 Brazil BR%sT
Zone Brazil/West -4:00 Brazil BRW%sT
Zone Brazil/Manaus -4:00 Brazil BRW%sT
Zone Brazil/Rondonia -4:00 Brazil BRW%sT
Zone Brazil/Roraima -4:00 Brazil BRW%sT
Zone Brazil/Mato_Grosso -4:00 Brazil BRW%sT
Zone posix/Brazil/Manaus -4:00 Brazil BRW%sT
Zone posix/Brazil/Mato_Grosso -4:00 Brazil BRW%sT
Zone right/Brazil/Manaus -4:00 Brazil BRW%sT
Zone right/Brazil/Mato_Grosso -4:00 Brazil BRW%sT
Zone posix/America/Manaus -4:00 Brazil BRW%sT
Zone right/America/Manaus -4:00 Brazil BRW%sT
Zone Brazil/Acre -5:00 Brazil BRA%sT
The Rule block defines the date and time we change the Time Zone, while in the Zone block we reference the Rule will manage it. Note that the Zone name is actually the file name under /usr/share/zoneinfo directory, and here we defined several different names for the same Time Zone, just to be easyer for people to find their zone.
This file's comments explains how to install these time zones, using the zic zoneinfo compiler (which already installs them also). To make it effective, you only have to link (or copy) the zoneinfo file to /etc/localtime. In some distributions, there is a higher level (and preferred) way to set the Time Zone, described in Section 3.1.
After making /etc/localtime pointing to the correct zoneinfo file, you are already under that zone rules and DST changes are automatic -- you don't have to change time manually.
The following commands sequence shows Linux Time Zone mechanics dynamism. Note they were all issued in less than one minute:
bash$ ls -al /etc/localtime
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 35 May 22 2001 /etc/localtime -> /usr/share/zoneinfo/Brazil/Brasilia
Fri Mar 29 20:13:38 BRST 2002
bash# ln -sf /usr/share/zoneinfo/GMT /etc/localtime
Fri Mar 29 23:13:47 GMT 2002
bash# ln -sf /usr/share/zoneinfo/Brazil/Brasilia /etc/localtime
Fri Mar 29 20:14:03 BRST 2002
At 20:13, I was in my default brazilian Time Zone (BRST), then I switched to GMT and my system time changed to 23:13! When your Time Zone enters DST, you'll see a similar effect, but the rules are all inside your Time Zone (/etc/localtime link doesn't change like this example).
An application running in this machine (eg. web-server generating access logs) will feel this change, so it is very important for developers to remember that the full Time Concept is the current time plus current Time Zone, as described in Section 1.
In the end, I switched back to my correct Time Zone.
3. The Correct Settings for Your Linux Box
For any OS installation, you must know your Time Zone. This is expressed in terms of a city, a state or a country. You must also decide how to set BIOS time, and we may follow two strategies here:
- Linux Only Machine
In this case you should set BIOS time to UTC time. DST changes will be dynamically managed by Time Zone configurations.
- Dual Boot Linux and MS Windows Machine
Windows handles time in a more primitive way than Linux. For Windows, BIOS time is allways your local time, so DST changes are more aggressive because they directly change hardware clock. And since both Linux and Windows initially get and set time from the hardware, when they are together, Linux must handle it in the same way. So set BIOS time to your localtime.
3.1. Setting Time Zone
On Red Hat Linux and derived systems, you can set the hardware clock strategy and Time Zone using the timeconfig command, that shows a user-friendly dialog. You can also use it non-interactively:
Example 2. Time Configuration Tool
bash# timeconfig "Brasil/East" # set HC to localtime, and TZ to "Brazil/East"
bash# timeconfig --utc "Brasil/East" # set HC to UTC, and TZ to "Brazil/East"
Anyway, it changes /etc/sysconfig/clock file that is read at boot time. You can edit it by hand, and that is how it looks:
Example 3. /etc/sysconfig/clock file
3.2. Setting the Hardware Clock
I encourage you to only set your HC after understanding how to get accurate time, described on Section 4.
The hwclock command reads and sets the HC, based on several options you give him, documented in its man page. But you don't have to use it if you have a modern Linux distribution. After defining your HC strategy and Time Zone, you can use the high level setclock command to correctly set your HC. You don't need to pass any parameters because setclock intelligently calls hwclock to set the BIOS based on your OS current date and time. So you should allways use the setclock command.
But if you are a minimalist and prefer hard work, here are some hwclock examples:
Example 4. setclock and hwclock usage
bash# setclock # The easy way to set HC
bash# hwclock # reads HC
bash# hwclock --systohc --utc # set HC with UTC time based on OS current time
bash# hwclock --systohc # set HC with local time based on OS current time
bash# hwclock --set --date "22 Mar 2002 13:17" # set HC with time specified on string
Since the OS time is independent from the hardware clock, any BIOS change we make will take place in the next boot.
Another option to change HC is rebooting and accessing your computer BIOS screens. On IBM e-server zSeries platforms you'll have to do it on z/VM level, because Linux here runs on virtual machines created by z/VM.
4. Accurate Global Time Synchronization
To have accurate time in all your systems is as important as having a solid network security strategy (achieved by much more than simple firewall boxes). It is one of the primary components of a system administration based on good practices, which leads to organization and security. Specially when administering distributed applications, web-services, or even a distributed security monitoring tool, accurate time is a must.
4.1. NTP: The Network Time Protocol
We'll not discuss here the protocol, but how this wonderfull invention, added to the pervasiveness of the Internet, can be usefull for us. You can find more about it at www.ntp.org.
Once your system is setup, NTP will manage to keep its time accurate, making very small adjustments to not impact the running applications.
People can get exact time using hardware based on atom's electrons frequency or cyclotrons. There is also a method based on GPS (Global Positioning System). The first is more accurate, but the second is pretty good also. Both require very special and expensive equipment, but their owners (usually universities and research labs) connects them to computers, that run an NTP daemon, that are connected to the Internet, that finally lets us access it for free. And this is how we'll synchronize our systems.
4.2. Building a Simple Time Synchronization Architecture
You will need:
A direct or indirect (through a firewall) connection to the Internet.
Choose some NTP servers. You can use the public server pool.ntp.org, or choose some from the stratum 2 public time servers on NTP website. If you don't have an Internet access, your WAN administrator (must be a cleaver guy) can provide you some internal addresses.
Have the NTP package installed in all systems you want to synchronize. You can find RPMs in your favorite Linux distribution CD, or make a search on rpmfind.net.
Here is an example of good architecture:
Figure 1. Local Relay Servers for NTP
If you have several machines to synchronize, do not make them all access the remote NTP servers you choosed. Only 2 of your server farm's machines must access remote NTP servers, and the other machines will sync with these 2. We will call them the Relay Servers.
Your Relay Servers can be any machine already available in your network. NTP consumes low memory and CPU. You don't need to have a dedicated machine for it.
It is a good idea to create hostname aliases for your local Relay Servers like ntp1.my.com and ntp2.my.com, and use only these names when configuring the client machines. This way you can move the NTP functionality to a new Relay Server (with a different IP and hostname), without having to reconfigure the clients. Ask your DNS administrator to create this aliases.
4.3. NTP Configurations
- For Your Relay Servers
Edit /etc/ntp.conf and add the remote servers you choosed:
Example 5. Relay machines' /etc/ntp.conf
server otherntp.server.org # A stratum 1 server at server.org
server ntp.research.gov # A stratum 2 server at research.gov
Again, you can use the public server pool.ntp.org, or get a list of public time servers from NTP website.
- For Your Clients
Edit /etc/ntp.conf and add your Relay Servers with a standard name:
Example 6. Client machines' /etc/ntp.conf
server ntp1.my.com # My first local relay
server ntp2.my.com # My second local relay
If your machine has a UTC time difference bigger than some minutes comparing to the NTP servers, NTP will not work. So you must do a first full sync, and I recommend you to do it in a non-production hour. You need to do it only when you are making the initial NTP setup. Never more:
The last step is to start or restart the NTP daemons in each machine:
bash# service ntpd restart
4.4. Watching Your Box Synchronizing
Now you have everything setup. NTP will softly keep your machine time synchronized. You can watch this process using the NTP Query (ntpq command:
Example 8. A time synchronization status
bash# ntpq -p
remote refid st t when poll reach delay offset jitter
-jj.cs.umb.edu gandalf.sigmaso 3 u 95 1024 377 31.681 -18.549 1.572
milo.mcs.anl.go ntp0.mcs.anl.go 2 u 818 1024 125 41.993 -15.264 1.392
-mailer1.psc.edu ntp1.usno.navy. 2 u 972 1024 377 38.206 19.589 28.028
-dr-zaius.cs.wis ben.cs.wisc.edu 2 u 502 1024 357 55.098 3.979 0.333
+taylor.cs.wisc. ben.cs.wisc.edu 2 u 454 1024 347 54.127 3.379 0.047
-ntp0.cis.strath harris.cc.strat 3 u 507 1024 377 115.274 -5.025 1.642
*clock.via.net .GPS. 1 u 426 1024 377 107.424 -3.018 2.534
ntp1.conectiv.c 0.0.0.0 16 u - 1024 0 0.000 0.000 4000.00
+bonehed.lcs.mit .GPS. 1 u 984 1024 377 25.126 0.131 30.939
-world.std.com 188.8.131.52 2 u 119 1024 377 24.229 -6.884 0.421
The meaning of each column
Is the name of the remote NTP server. If you use the -n switch, you will see the IP addresses of these servers instead of their hostnames.
Indicates where each server is getting its time right now. It can be a server hostname or something like .GPS., indicating a Global Positioning System source.
Stratum is a number from 1 to 16, to indicate the remote server precision. 1 is the most accurate, 16 means server unreachable. Your Stratum will be equal to the less accurate remote server plus 1.
The polling interval (in seconds) between time requests. The value will range between the minimum and maximum allowed polling values. Initially the value will be smaller to allow synchronization to occur quickly. After the clocks are 'in sync' the polling value will increase to reduce network traffic and load on popular time servers.
This is an octal representation of an array of 8 bits, representing the last 8 times the local machine tried to reach the server. The bit is set if the remote server was reached.
The amount of time (seconds) needed to receive a response for a "what time is it" request.
The most important value. The difference of time between the local and remote server. In the course of synchronization, the offset time lowers down, indicating that the local machine time is getting more accurate.
Dispersion, also called Jitter, is a measure of the statistical variance of the offset across several successive request/response pairs. Lower dispersion values are preferred over higher dispersion values. Lower dispersions allow more accurate time synchronization.
The meaning of the signs before server hostname
Means the local NTP service doesn't like this server very much
Means the local NTP service likes this server
Marks a bad host
Indicates the current favorite
4.5. Configure to Automatically Run NTP at Boot
You may want to have NTP running all the time even if you reboot your machine. On each machine, do the following:
bash# chkconfig --level 2345 ntpd on
This will ensure autostart.
If your machine is up and running for a long time (months, years) without rebooting, you'll find a big discrepancy between the inaccurate hardware clock and the (now very accurate) system time. Modern Linux distributions copy OS time to the HC everytime the system is shutdown, using a mechanism similar to the setclock command. This way, in the next OS boot, you'll get date and time almost as accurate as it was when you shutdown.
A. About this Document
Copyright 2002, Avi Alkalay.
This document must be distributed under the terms of GNU Free Documentation License.
This document is published in the following locations: