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March 27, 2013

Running a Robust NTP Daemon

Accurate time is essential on a server, and running ntpd is the best way to ensure it. Unfortunately, ntpd, especially on Debian, can be finicky and in the past I've had trouble with clock drift and ntpd failing to start on boot. Here are my best practices to avoid the problems.

On Debian, make sure lockfile-progs is installed

On Debian (and likely Ubuntu too), there's a nasty race condition on boot between ntpdate and ntpd. When the network comes up, ifupdown runs ntpdate to synchronize the clock. But at about the same time, ntpd starts. If ntpdate is still running when ntpd starts, ntpd can't bind to the local NTP port and terminates. Sometimes ntpd starts on boot and sometimes it doesn't!

The Debian scripts avoid this using locks, but only if the lockfile-progs package is installed. This is a Recommends: for ntpdate, but if you don't install Recommends: by default, you may miss this.

If you use DHCP, don't request ntp-servers

If your system gets its IP address from DHCP using dhclient, then by default dhclient will update your ntpd configuration with NTP server information it receives from the DHCP server. It is extremely frustrating to configure reliable upstream NTP servers only to have them replaced with unreliable servers (such as those that advertise phony leap seconds, as has happened to me multiple times). And the last thing you want is your configuration management system fighting with dhclient over what NTP servers to use.

To prevent this, edit /etc/dhcp/dhclient.conf and remove ntp-servers from the request line.

Don't use the undisciplined local clock (i.e. server

Make sure these lines aren't in your ntp.conf:

server fudge stratum 10

These lines enable the Undisciplined Local Clock, and cause ntpd to start using your local clock as a time source if the real NTP servers aren't reachable. This can be useful if you want to keep a group of servers on a local network in sync even if your Internet connection goes down, but in general you don't need or want this. I've seen strange situations where the local clock becomes preferred over the real NTP servers, resulting in clock drift that goes uncorrected. Best to disable the local clock by removing all references to


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