Keeping Accurate Time on Your Computer Using Ntp Servers

By: David Evans

PC's are notoriously poor at keeping time. I am sure the you have probably noticed the time on your PC drifts away from the correct time by a number of seconds or even minutes each day. This is because real-time clock chips, used in modern PC's, use similar components to every-day clocks and watches and are just as prone to drift away from the correct time. However, there are things that you can do to maintain accurate time on your PC. This article discusses ways in which you can maintain continuously accurate system time on your computer system. It looks at how Internet time references and NTP servers can be utilised for computer time synchronisation.

There are a large number of Internet based time references that use the Network Time Protocol (NTP) to synchronise time clients. NTP was developed over twenty-five years ago at the University of Delaware by Dr D. Mills, it remains one of the oldest protocols in constant use. The protocol was developed to provide accurate synchronisation of time between time servers and clients. Internet based NTP servers synchronise their time to accurate external reference clocks, such as GPS, national radio time standards or precise atomic clocks. Accurate time is then passed from the NTP server to network clients for synchronisation.

Most present day computer operating systems have the ability to synchronise time with an accurate internet based NTP server. Linux, Unix, Microsoft Windows XP/2000/2003/Vista and Novell all have routines for NTP time synchronisation. Generally, client-side configuration consists of providing the client with the domain name of the NTP server.

Windows XP/2000/2003/Vista machines can accept the IP address/domain name of a NTP server in the time properties/internet time tab. Periodically, the NTP server will be contacted to obtain time and perform synchronisation.

The Linux and Unix operating systems have a NTP daemon available from the NTP web site at 'ntp.org'. The NTP daemon can be configured to otain time from other NTP servers or act as a server in its own right. The 'ntp.conf' configuration file contains a list of servers that can be contacted. Simply enter the IP address or domain name of a NTP server in the list.

To maintain accurate time on a computer system using NTP is very straightforward. However, there are many other more advanced features of the NTP protocol. There are a number of security features that allow service ristrictions and server authentication. Additionally, there are numerous reference clock drivers available to synchronise NTP with a precise external reference - providing a full-blown NTP server installation.

To conclude, computer systems provide notoriously poor time keeping hardware. Without help, standard time keeping devices are just not up to the task of providing system-wide time synchronisation. The solution is to use the NTP protocol and get your computers synchronised to some of the most accurate clocks in the world.

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