Synchronise your Gentoo Linux clock with an Internet time server

There are a number of ways to synchronise Gentoo Linux with a time server on the Internet. Here I look at a few alternatives.

ntp-client

ntp-client and the NTP daemon ntpd are installed when you install the package net-misc/ntp. Although I have read on some Web sites that /etc/init.d/ntp-client should be added to the default runlevel in order to read the time from an NTP server (once-only, during start-up), this in fact does not work because usually the network connection is not up by the time the ntp-client initscript runs. Bear in mind that ntp-client does not run continuously; it syncs once with an external time server if there is a network connection, and that’s it.

NetworkManager Dispatcher

If you are using NetworkManager, an elegant solution is to use NetworkManagerDispatcher to restart ntp-client in order to resync your system clock every time a network connection comes up. This is my favoured solution for laptops; see further on for how to configure your machine to do this.

cronjob

Another way would be to create a cronjob to run periodically the ‘/etc/init.d/ntp-client restart‘ command or the ‘ntpd -q‘ command (the -q option means “set the time and quit”).

Wait a while after start up

A ‘quick-and-dirty’ method, which I have used sometimes to synchronise a laptop’s system clock every time it boots, would be to delay running ntp-client until the network is up by putting e.g. the command below in a file 10_ntp-client.start in the directory /etc/local.d/ (10 seconds is usually enough time for a wired or wireless connection to my home network to be established):

#!/bin/bash
sleep 10s && /etc/init.d/ntp-client restart

Don’t forget to make it executable:

# chmod 744 /etc/local.d/10_ntp-client.start

NTP daemon

Regarding the NTP daemon, it is possible to configure this from the command line, rather than via a Desktop Environment GUI, to run at start-up and continue running to adjust your system clock. The command:

# rc-update add ntpd default

will add the daemon’s initscript to the default runlevel so that it is launched automatically at the next startup, and the command:

# /etc/init.d/ntpd start

will start the daemon running right now.

Note that, by default, the NTP daemon won’t correct, all in one go, a time difference between your system clock and the remote NTP server if that difference is above a certain size. However, if you want to override the default behaviour, i.e. allow the NTP daemon to make a large first adjustment to the system clock, you can set the environment variable NTPD_OPTS in the file /etc/conf.d/ntpd as follows:

NTPD_OPTS="-g"
# The -g option enables ntpd to make large adjustments.

This would mean that you would not need to run ntp-client before ntpd. However, if you run ntp-client automatically — either once after start-up or periodically — then that would be good enough for the typical Desktop user, and could be an alternative to having a continuously-running NTP daemon. Nothing stops you doing both if you want, of course.

Updating the hardware clock

If you make clock_systohc="YES" in the file /etc/conf.d/hwclock then the time in the system clock will be written to the BIOS (CMOS) clock (a.k.a. hardware clock) when you shut down your PC.

How to configure NetworkManager Dispatcher to synchronise the system clock only when a network connection is made

If you’re using a machine that is permanently connected to a network, running the NTP daemon makes sense. But what if you have a machine that is not always connected to a network when it is powered up? I have a laptop and I don’t want the NTP daemon running all the time. But I would like my laptop to synchronise with an external time server once after start up when I connect to the Internet. NetworkManager has a handy tool called NetworkManager Dispatcher for doing just this.

If you have installed NetworkManager, you’ll find there is an initscript /usr/portage/net-misc/networkmanager/files/NetworkManagerDispatcher. Copy it to the directory /etc/init.d/ and give it the necessary restrictive permissions:

# cp /usr/portage/net-misc/networkmanager/files/NetworkManagerDispatcher /etc/init.d/
# chmod 744 NetworkManagerDispatcher

Then create a shell script called e.g. 99_ntp-client in the directory /etc/NetworkManager/dispatcher.d/ to be run by NetworkManagerDispatcher when a network connection is established, containing the following code:

#!/bin/bash

INTERFACE=$1 # The interface which is brought up or down
STATUS=$2 # The new state of the interface

case "$STATUS" in
    'up') # $INTERFACE is up
        echo "System time before starting ntp-client:" > /home/fitzcarraldo/ntp-client.txt
        date >> /home/fitzcarraldo/ntp-client.txt
        echo "Starting ntp-client:" >> /home/fitzcarraldo/ntp-client.txt
        rc-config restart ntp-client &>> /home/fitzcarraldo/ntp-client.txt
        echo "System time after starting ntp-client:" >> /home/fitzcarraldo/ntp-client.txt
        date >> /home/fitzcarraldo/ntp-client.txt
        ;;
    'down') # $INTERFACE is down
        # Check for active interface and down if no one active
        if [ ! `nm-tool|grep State|cut -f2 -d' '` = "connected" ]; then
                echo "Stopping ntp-client at:" > /home/fitzcarraldo/ntp-client.txt
                date >> /home/fitzcarraldo/ntp-client.txt
                rc-config stop ntp-client &>> /home/fitzcarraldo/ntp-client.txt
        fi
        ;;
esac

Make the root user the owner of the script, and only allow the root user to write to it and execute it:

# cd /etc/NetworkManager/dispatcher.d/
# chown root:root 99_ntp-client
# chmod 744 99_ntp-client

Then add NetworkManagerDispatcher to the default runlevel so that it will be launched every time you boot your machine:

# rc-update add NetworkManagerDispatcher default

As the package net-misc/ntp installs both /etc/init.d/ntpd and /etc/init.d/net-client, users could optionally add the NTP daemon ntpd to the default runlevel too if desired, which would provide continuous, incremental adjustments to the system clock once net-client has done its one-shot adjustment each time a network comes up:

# rc-update add ntpd default

But users who don’t leave their PCs on for days on end — or who use laptops — can ignore the above step and just stick with the NetworkManagerDispatcher and net-client solution, whereas users who leave their machines on for days or weeks on end can also use the NTP daemon to keep the system clock in sync in between the times when ntp-client has synchronised.

Don’t forget to delete ntp-client from the start-up level if you are using NetworkManagerDispatcher to run it:

# rc-update del ntp-client

Notice that the script /etc/NetworkManager/dispatcher.d/99_ntp-client logs some information in a text file ntp-client.txt in my home directory which I can check. Here is an example of what ntp-client.txt contains after I select a network (or it is selected automatically) following start up of my laptop:

System time before starting ntp-client:
Sun Jun 3 19:24:08 BST 2012
Starting ntp-client:
Restarting init script
* Setting clock via the NTP client 'ntpd' ...ntpd: time slew +0.067178s
[ ok ]
System time after starting ntp-client:
Sun Jun 3 19:24:17 BST 2012

As you can see above, the ntpd command was executed once by NetworkManagerDispatcher and made a small adjustment to the system time on my laptop.

Replacing ntpdate with ntpd in ntp-client

Just for the fun of it, I changed /etc/conf.d/ntp-client to use the command ntpd instead of ntpdate, even though the ntpdate command works fine. Anyway, here’s my /etc/conf.d/ntp-client file these days:

NTPCLIENT_CMD="ntpd"
NTPCLIENT_OPTS="-g -q"

I have added the -g option so that the ntpd command can make large adjustments to the system time if it is way off the actual time. This is useful at the beginning and end of Daylight Saving Time, or if you dual boot with Windows. Here is an example of the former when I powered up my laptop the morning after the clocks changed from BST to GMT at the end of Summer 2010:

$ cat /home/fitzcarraldo/ntp-client.txt
System time before starting ntp-client:
Sun Oct 31 09:37:23 GMT 2010
Starting ntp-client:
Starting init script
* Setting clock via the NTP client 'ntpd'...ntpd: time set -3600.122381s
[ ok ]
System time after starting ntp-client:
Sun Oct 31 08:37:30 GMT 2010

You can specify the NTP server or NTP server pool in the file /etc/ntp.conf, but the default server pool already specified in that file should work. Note again that, when ntpd is run with the -q option, it synchronises the system clock once and terminates, i.e. it is not running as a daemon.

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