Once the NTP software distribution has been compiled and installed and the configuration file constructed, the next step is to verify correct operation and fix any bugs that may result. Usually, the command line that starts the daemon is included in the system startup file, so it is executed only at system boot time; however, the daemon can be stopped and restarted from root at any time. Usually, no command-line arguments are required, unless special actions described in the xntpd.8 man page are required. Once started, the daemon will begin sending messages, as specified in the configuration file, and interpreting received messages.
The best way to verify correct operation is using the
xntpdc utility programs, either on the server itself
or from another machine elsewhere in the network. The
program implements the management functions specified in Appendix A of
the NTP specification RFC-1305,
Appendix A . The
xntpdc program implements additional
functions not provided in the standard. Both programs can be used to
inspect the state variables defined in the specification and, in the
xntpdc, additional ones of interest. In addition,
xntpdc program can be used to selectively enable and
disable some functions of the daemon while the daemon is running.
In extreme cases with elusive bugs, the daemon can operate in two
modes, depending on the presence of the
debug switch. If not present, the daemon detaches from the controlling
terminal and proceeds autonomously. If one or more
switches are present, the daemon does not detach and generates special
output useful for debugging. In general, interpretation of this output
requires reference to the sources.
Some problems are immediately apparent when the daemon first starts
running. The most common of these are the lack of a ntp (UDP port 123)
in the host
/etc/services file. Note that NTP does not use
TCP in any form. Other problems are apparent in the system log file. The
log file should show the startup banner, some cryptic initialization
data, and the computed precision value. The next most common problem is
incorrect DNS names. Check that each DNS name used in the configuration
file responds to the Unix
When first started, the daemon normally polls the servers listed in
the configuration file at 64-second intervals. In order to allow a
sufficient number of samples for the NTP algorithms to reliably
discriminate between correctly operating servers and possible intruders,
at least four valid messages from at least one server is required before
the daemon can not set the local clock. However, if the current local
time is greater than 1000 seconds in error from the server time, the
daemon will not set the local clock; instead, it will plant a message in
the system log and shut down. It is necessary to set the local clock to
within 1000 seconds first, either by a time-of-year hardware clock, by
first using the
program or manually be eyeball and wristwatch.
After starting the daemon, run the
ntpq program using
-n switch, which will avoid possible distractions due
to name resolution problems. Use the
pe command to display
a billboard showing the status of configured peers and possibly other
clients poking the daemon. After operating for a few minutes, the
display should be something like:
remote refid st when poll reach delay offset disp
+188.8.131.52 184.108.40.206 2 131 256 373 9.89 16.28 23.25
*220.127.116.11 .WWVB. 1 137 256 377 280.62 21.74 20.23
-18.104.22.168 22.214.171.124 2 49 128 376 294.14 5.94 17.47
+126.96.36.199 .WWVB. 1 173 256 377 279.95 20.56 16.40
The host addresses shown in the
remote column should
agree with the DNS entries in the configuration file, plus any peers not
mentioned in the file at the same or lower than your stratum that happen
to be configured to peer with you. Be prepared for surprises in cases
where the peer has multiple addresses or multiple names. The
refid entry shows the current source of synchronization for
each peer, while the
st reveals its stratum and the
poll entry the polling interval, in seconds. The
when entry shows the time since the peer was last heard,
normally in seconds, while the
reach entry shows the status
of the reachability register (see RFC-1305), which is in octal format.
The remaining entries show the latest delay, offset and dispersion
computed for the peer, in milliseconds.
The tattletale character at the left margin displays the
synchronization status of each peer. The currently selected peer is
*, while additional peers designated acceptable for
synchronization, but not currently selected, are marked
+ are included in a
weighted average computation to set the local clock; the data produced
by peers marked with other symbols are discarded. See the
ntpq documentation for the meaning of these symbols.
Additional details for each peer separately can be determined by the
following procedure. First, use the
as command to display
an index of association identifiers, such as
ind assID status conf reach auth condition last_event cnt
1 11670 7414 no yes ok synchr. reachable 1
2 11673 7614 no yes ok sys.peer reachable 1
3 11833 7314 no yes ok outlyer reachable 1
4 11868 7414 no yes ok synchr. reachable 1
Each line in this billboard is associated with the corresponding line
pe billboard above. Next, use the
command and the respective identifier to display a detailed synopsis of
the selected peer, such as
status=7414 reach, auth, sel_sync, 1 event, event_reach
srcadr=188.8.131.52, srcport=123, dstadr=184.108.40.206, dstport=123, keyid=1,
stratum=2, precision=-10, rootdelay=362.00, rootdispersion=21.99,
reftime=af00bb44.849b0000 Fri, Jan 15 1993 4:25:40.517,
delay= 9.89, offset= 16.28, dispersion=23.25, reach=373, valid=8,
hmode=2, pmode=1, hpoll=8, ppoll=10, leap=00, flash=0x0,
org=af00bb48.31a90000 Fri, Jan 15 1993 4:25:44.193,
rec=af00bb48.305e3000 Fri, Jan 15 1993 4:25:44.188,
xmt=af00bb1e.16689000 Fri, Jan 15 1993 4:25:02.087,
filtdelay= 16.40 9.89 140.08 9.63 9.72 9.22 10.79 122.99,
filtoffset= 13.24 16.28 -49.19 16.04 16.83 16.49 16.95 -39.43,
filterror= 16.27 20.17 27.98 31.89 35.80 39.70 43.61 47.52
A detailed explanation of the fields in this billboard are beyond the scope of this discussion; however, most variables defined in the specification RFC-1305 can be found. The most useful portion for debugging is the last three lines, which give the roundtrip delay, clock offset and dispersion for each of the last eight measurement rounds, all in milliseconds. Note that the dispersion, which is an estimate of the error, increases as the age of the sample increases. From these data, it is usually possible to determine the incidence of severe packet loss, network congestion, and unstable local clock oscillators. There are no hard and fast rules here, since every case is unique; however, if one or more of the rounds show zeros, or if the clock offset changes dramatically in the same direction for each round, cause for alarm exists.
Finally, the state of the local clock can be determined using the
rv command (without the argument), such as
status=0664 leap_none, sync_ntp, 6 events, event_peer/strat_chg
system="UNIX", leap=00, stratum=2, rootdelay=280.62,
rootdispersion=45.26, peer=11673, refid=220.127.116.11,
reftime=af00bb42.56111000 Fri, Jan 15 1993 4:25:38.336, poll=8,
clock=af00bbcd.8a5de000 Fri, Jan 15 1993 4:27:57.540, phase=21.147,
The most useful data in this billboard show when the clock was last
reftime, together with its status and most recent
exception event. An explanation of these data is in the specification
When nothing seems to happen in the
pe billboard after
some minutes, there may be a network problem. The most common network
problem is an access controlled router on the path to the selected peer.
No known public NTP time server selectively restricts access at this
time, although this may change in future; however, many private networks
do. It also may be the case that the server is down or running in
unsynchronized mode due to a local problem. Use the
program to spy on its own variables in the same way you can spy on your
Once the daemon has set the local clock, it will continuously track the discrepancy between local time and NTP time and adjust the local clock accordingly. There are two components of this adjustment, time and frequency. These adjustments are automatically determined by the clock discipline algorithm, which functions as a hybrid phase/frequency feedback loop. The behavior of this algorithm is carefully controlled to minimize residual errors due to network jitter and frequency variations of the local clock hardware oscillator that normally occur in practice. However, when started for the first time, the algorithm may take some time to converge on the intrinsic frequency error of the host machine.
It has sometimes been the experience that the local clock oscillator
frequency error is too large for the NTP discipline algorithm, which can
correct frequency errors as large as 30 seconds per day. There are two
possibilities that may result in this problem. First, the hardware time-
of-year clock chip must be disabled when using NTP, since this can
destabilize the discipline process. This is usually done using the
tickadj program and the
-s command line argument, but other means may be necessary.
For instance, in the Sun Solaris kernel, this must be done using a
command in the system startup file.
Normally, the daemon will adjust the local clock in small steps in such a way that system and user programs are unaware of its operation. The adjustment process operates continuously as long as the apparent clock error exceeds 128 milliseconds, which for most Internet paths is a quite rare event. If the event is simply an outlyer due to an occasional network delay spike, the correction is simply discarded; however, if the apparent time error persists for an interval of about 20 minutes, the local clock is stepped to the new value (as an option, the daemon can be compiled to slew at an accelerated rate to the new value, rather than be stepped). This behavior is designed to resist errors due to severely congested network paths, as well as errors due to confused radio clocks upon the epoch of a leap second.
xntpdc programs do not
show that messages are being received by the daemon or that received
messages do not result in correct synchronization, verify the following:
/etc/servicesfile host machine is configured to accept UDP packets on the NTP port 123. NTP is specifically designed to use UDP and does not respond to TCP.
xntpdmessages about configuration errors, name-lookup failures or initialization problems.
iostatscommand, verify that the received packets and packets sent counters are incrementing. If the packets send counter does not increment and the configuration file includes designated servers, something may be wrong in the network configuration of the xntpd host. If this counter does increment and packets are actually being sent to the network, but the received packets counter does not increment, something may be wrong in the network or the server may not be responding.
rectimestamp in the
pebillboard shows a date in 1972, received packets are probably being discarded for some reason. There is a handy, undocumented state variable
flashvisible in the
pebillboard. The value is in hex and normally has the value zero (OK). However, if something is wrong, the bits of this variable, reading from the right, correspond to the sanity checks listed in Section 3.4.3 of the NTP specification RFC-1305. A bit other than zero indicates the associated sanity check failed.
xmttimestamps in the
pebillboard appear current, but the local clock is not set, as indicated by a stratum number less than 16 in the
rvcommand without arguments, verify that valid clock offset, roundtrip delay and dispersion are displayed for at least one peer. The clock offset should be less than 1000 seconds, the roundtrip delay less than one second and the dispersion less than one second.
xntpdcprogram (or temporary configuration file) and
disable pllcommand to prevent the
xntpddaemon from setting the clock. Using the
xntpdcprograms, watch the apparent offset as it varies over time to determine the intrinsic frequency error. If the error increases by more than 22 milliseconds per 64-second poll interval, the intrinsic frequency must be reduced by some means. The easiest way to do this is with the
tickadjprogram and the
-tcommand line argument.