from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Listen carefully to what I say; it is very complicated.

2. Table of Contents

3. Introduction and Overview

This page summarizes the criteria for choosing from among the survivors of the clock cluster algorithm a set of contributors to the clock discipline algorithm. The criteria are very meticulous, since they have to handle many different scenarios that may be optimized for special circumstances, including some scenarios designed to support planetary and deep space missions. For additional information on statistical principles and performance metrics, see the Performance Metrics page.

Recall the suite of NTP data acquisition and grooming algorithms. These algorithms proceed in four phases. Phase one discovers the available sources and mobilizes an association for each source found. These sources can result from explicit configuration, broadcast discovery or the pool and manycast autonomous configuration schemes. See the Automatic Server Discovery Schemes page for further information.

Phase two selects the candidates from among the sources by excluding those sources showing one or more of the errors summarized on the Clock Select Algorithm page and to determine the truechimers from among the candidates, leaving behind the falsetickers. A server or peer configured with the true option is declared a truechimer independent of this algorithm.

Phase three uses the algorithm described on the Clock Cluster Algorithm page to prune the statistical outliers from the truechimers, leaving the survivor list as result.

Phase four uses a set of algorithms and mitigation rules to combined the survivor statistics and discipline the system clock. The mitigation rules select from among the survivors a system peer from which a set of system statistics can be inherited and passed along to dependent clients, if any. The mitigation algorithms and rules are the main topic of this page. The clock offset developed from these algorithms can discipline the system clock, either using the clock discipline algorithm or using the kernel to discipline the system clock directly, as described on the A Kernel Model for Precision Timekeeping page.

4. Combine Algorithm

The clock combine algorithm uses the survivor list to produce a weighted average of both offset and jitter. Absent other considerations discussed later, the combined offset is used to discipline the system clock, while the combined jitter is augmented with other components to produce the system jitter statistic inherited by dependent clients, if any.

The clock combine algorithm uses a weight factor for each survivor equal to the reciprocal of the root distance. This is normalized so that the sum of the reciprocals is equal to unity. This design favors the survivors at the smallest root distance and thus the smallest maximum error.

5. Anti-Clockhop Algorithm

The anti-clockhop algorithm is intended for cases where multiple servers are available on a fast LAN with modern computers. Typical offset differences between servers in such cases are less than 0.5 ms. However, changes between servers can result in unnecessary system jitter. The object of the anti-clockhop algorithm is to avoid changing the current system peer, unless it becomes stale or has significant offset relative to other candidates on the survivor list.

For the purposes of the following description, call the last selected system peer the old peer, and the currently selected source the candidate peer. At each update, the candidate peer is selected as the first peer on the survivor list sorted by increasing root distance. The algorithm initializes the -clockhop threshold with the value of mindist, by default 1 ms.

The anti-clockhop algorithm is called immediately after the combine algorithm. If there was no old peer or the old and candidate peers are the same, the candidate peer becomes the system peer. If the old peer and the candidate peer are different, the algorithm measures the difference between the offset of the old peer and the candidate peer. If the difference exceeds the clockhop threshold, the candidate peer becomes the system peer and the clockhop threshold is restored to its original value. If the difference is less than the clockhop threshold, the old peer continues as the system peer. However, at each subsequent update, the algorithm reduces the clockhop threshold by half. Should operation continue in this way, the candidate peer will eventually become the system peer.

6. Peer Classification

The behavior of the various algorithms and mitigation rules involved depends on how the various synchronization sources are classified. This depends on whether the source is local or remote and if local, the type of source. The following classes are defined:

  1. A selectable association configured for a remote server or peer is classified as a client association. All other selectable associations are classified as device driver associations of one kind or another. In general, one or more sources of either type will be available in each installation.

  2. If all sources have been lost and one or more hosts on a common DMZ network have specified the orphan stratum in the orphan option of the tos command, each of them can become an orphan parent. Dependent orphan children on the same DMZ network will see the orphan parents as if synchronized to a server at the orphan stratum. Note that, as described on the Orphan Mode page, all orphan children will select the same orphan parent for synchronization.

  3. When a device driver has been configured for pulse-per-second (PPS) signals and PPS signals are being received, it is designated a PPS driver. Note that the driver named "pps" is often used as a PPS driver, but any driver can be configured as a PPS driver if the hardware facilities are available and the driver supports PPS functionality. PPS provides precision clock discipline only within ±0.4 s, so it is always associated with another source or sources (in the same driver or a separate driver) that provide the seconds numbering function.

  4. When the Undisciplined Local Clock driver is configured, it is designated the local driver. It can be used either as a backup source (stratum greater than zero) should all sources fail, or as the primary source (stratum zero) whether or not other sources are available if the prefer option is present. The local driver can be used when the kernel time is disciplined by some other means of synchronization, such as the NIST lock clock scheme, or another synchronization protocol such as the IEEE 1588 Precision Time Protocol (PTP) or Digital Time Synchronization Service (DTSS).

  5. When the Automated Computer Time Service driver is configured, it is designated the modem driver. It is used either as a backup source, should all other sources fail, or as the primary source if the prefer option is present.

7. The prefer Peer

The mitigation rules are designed to provide an intelligent selection of the system peer from among the selectable sources of different types. When used with the server or peer commands, the prefer option designates one or more sources as preferred over all others. While the rules do not forbid it, it is usually not useful to designate more than one source as preferred; however, if more than one source is so designated, they are used in the order specified in the configuration file. If the first one becomes unselectable, the second one is considered and so forth. This order of priority is also applicable to multiple PPS drivers, multiple modem drivers and even multiple local drivers, although that would not normally be useful.

The cluster algorithm works on the set of truechimers produced by the select algorithm. At each round, the algorithm casts off the survivor least likely to influence the choice of system peer. If selectable, the prefer peer is never discarded; on the contrary, its potential removal becomes a termination condition. However, the prefer peer can still be discarded by the select algorithm as a falseticker; otherwise, the prefer peer becomes the system peer.

Ordinarily, the combine algorithm computes a weighted average of the survivor offset and jitter to produce the final values. However, if a prefer peer is among the survivors, the combine algorithm is not used. Instead, the offset and jitter of the prefer peer are used exclusively as the final values. In the common case involving a radio clock and a flock of remote backup servers, and with the radio clock designated a prefer peer, the radio clock disciplines the system clock as long as the radio itself remains operational. However, if the radio fails or becomes a falseticker, the combined backup sources continue to discipline the system clock.

8. Mitigation Rules

As the select algorithm scans the associations for selectable candidates, the modem driver and local driver are segregated for later, but only if not designated a prefer peer. If so designated, the driver is included among the candidate population. In addition, if orphan parents are found, the parent with the lowest metric is segregated for later; the others are discarded. For this purpose the metric is defined as the four-octet IPv4 address or the first four octets of the hashed IPv6 address. The resulting candidates, including any prefer peers found, are processed by the select algorithm to produce a possibly empty set of truechimers.

As previously noted, the cluster algorithm casts out outliers, leaving the survivor list for later processing. The survivor list is then sorted by increasing root distance and the first entry temporarily designated the system peer. At this point the following contributors to the system clock discipline may be available:

  • (potential) system peer, if there are survivors;

  • orphan parent, if present;

  • local driver, if present;

  • modem driver, if present;

  • prefer peer, if present;

  • PPS driver, if present.

The mitigation algorithm proceeds in three steps in turn.

  1. If there are no survivors, the modem driver becomes the only survivor if there is one. If not, the local driver becomes the only survivor if there is one. If not, the orphan parent becomes the only survivor if there is one. If the number of survivors at this point is less than the minsane option of the tos command, the algorithm is terminated and the system variables remain unchanged. Note that minsane is by default 1, but can be set at any value including 0.

  2. If the prefer peer is among the survivors, it becomes the system peer and its offset and jitter are inherited by the corresponding system variables. Otherwise, the combine algorithm computes these variables from the survivor population.

  3. If there is a PPS driver and the system clock offset at this point is less than 0.4 s, that PPS driver becomes the system peer and its offset and jitter are inherited by the system variables, thus overriding any values already computed. However, if the PPS driver is specifically the driver named "pps", which must be used with another driver, additional rules apply. In one mode of operation, there must be a prefer peer among the survivors, as the prefer keyword is used to identify the source associated with the PPS input. To indicate that the PPS input should be used with any source(s), the pps peer itself must be marked with the prefer keyword. For an exception, see the minsane option below.

If none of the above is the case, the data are disregarded and the system variables remain as they are.

9. The minsane Option

The minsane option of the tos command, the prefer option of the server and peer commands and the flag option of the refclock command for a selected driver can be used with the mitigation rules to provide many useful configurations. The minsane option specifies the minimum number of survivors required to synchronize the system clock. The prefer option operates as described in previous sections. The flag option enables the PPS signal for the selected driver.

A common scenario is a GPS driver with a serial timecode and PPS signal. The PPS signal is disabled until the system clock has been set by some means, not necessarily the GPS driver. If the serial timecode is within 0.4 s of the PPS signal, the GPS driver is designated the PPS driver and the PPS signal disciplines the system clock. If the serial timecode becomes unreliable, or if the PPS signal is disconnected, the GPS driver stops updating the system clock and so eventually becomes unreachable and is replaced by other sources.

Whether or not the GPS driver disables the PPS signal when the timecode becomes unreliable is at the discretion of the driver. Ordinarily, the PPS signal is disabled in this case; however, when the GPS receiver has a precision holdover oscillator, the driver may elect to continue PPS discipline.

To achieve the same result when using the separate "pps" driver, minsane can be set to zero so the PPS signal disciplines the system clock in the absence of other sources.

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