Murky, dusty corners

Eric S. Raymond esr at
Sat Oct 1 21:30:59 UTC 2016

This is a major update of the first part of "System call interface and
the PLL" in thr tour document:

All of ntpd's clock management is done through four system calls:
clock_gettime(2), clock_settime(2), and either ntp_adjtime(2) or (on
some systems, including Linux) adjtimex(2).

The clock_gettime(2) and clock_settime(2) calls are standardized in
POSIX; ntp_adjtime(3) and adjtimex(2) are not, exhibiting some
variability in behavior across platforms.  Where adjtimex(2) exists
(notably under Linux), ntp_adjtime(2) is implemented as a thin
userspace wrapper around it.

There is some confusion abroad about this interface because it has
left a trail of abandoned experiments behind it.

Older BSD systems read the clock using gettimeofday(2) 
(in POSIX but deprecated) and set it using settimeofday(2),
which was never standardized.  There was also an adjtime(2)
call similar to, but less powerful than, ntp_adjtime(2)/adjtimex(2).
None of these calls are still used in NTPsec.

Also, glibc (and possibly other C libraries) implement two other
related calls, ntp_gettime(3) and ntp_gettimex(3). These are not used
by the NTP suite itself (except that the ntptime test program attempts
to exercise ntp_gettime(3)), but rather are intended for time-using
applications that also want an estimate of clock error and the
leap-second offset.  Neither has been standardized by POSIX, and they
have not achieved wide use in applications.

Both ntp_gettime(3) and ntp_gettimex(3) can be implemented as wrappers
around ntp_adjtime(2)/adjtimex(2).  Thus, on a Linux system, the
library ntp_gettime(3) call could conceivably go through two levels 
of indirection, being implemented in terms of ntp_adjtime(2) which
is in turn implemented by adjtimex(2).

Unhelpfully, the non-POSIX calls in the above assortment are very
poorly documented.
		<a href="">Eric S. Raymond</a>

Certainly one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government,
no matter how popular and respected, is the right of the citizens to
keep and bear arms.  [...] the right of the citizens to bear arms is
just one guarantee against arbitrary government and one more safeguard
against a tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which
historically has proved to be always possible.
        -- Hubert H. Humphrey, 1960

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