How the Windows Time Service Works

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How the Windows Time Service Works Updated: March 12, 2010 Applies To: Windows SBS 2003, Windows SBS 2008, Windows Server 2000, Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 Foundation, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2008 R2 Foundation, Windows Server 7

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Windows Time Service Architecture Windows Time Service Time Protocols Windows Time Service Processes and Interactions Network Ports Used by Windows Time Service

Note This topic explains only how the Windows Time service (W32Time) works. For information about how to configure Windows Time service, see the list of topics in the section Where to Find Windows Time Service Configuration Information. Note In Windows Server 2003 and Microsoft Windows 2000 Server, the directory service is named Active Directory directory service. In Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2008, the directory service is named Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS). The rest of this topic refers to AD DS, but the information is also applicable to Active Directory. Although the Windows Time service is not an exact implementation of the Network Time Protocol (NTP), it uses the complex suite of algorithms that is defined in the NTP specifications to ensure that clocks on computers throughout a network are as accurate as possible. Ideally, all computer clocks in an AD DS domain are synchronized with the time of an authoritative computer. Many factors can affect time synchronization on a network. The following factors often affect the accuracy of synchronization in AD DS:y y y

Network conditions The accuracy of the computers hardware clock The amount of CPU and network resources available to the Windows Time service

Important The W32Time service is not a full-featured NTP solution that meets time-sensitive application needs and is not supported by Microsoft as such. For more information, see Microsoft Knowledge Base article 939322, Support boundary to configure the Windows Time service for high-accuracy environments

(http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=179459). Computers that synchronize their time less frequently, such as computers running Windows XP Home Edition, computers with intermittent network connections, or computers that are not joined to a domain, are configured by default to synchronize with time.windows.com. Because they do not synchronize their clock frequently and because the factors that affect time accuracy may not be known, it is impossible to guarantee time accuracy on computers that have intermittent or no network connections. An AD DS forest has a predetermined time synchronization hierarchy. The Windows Time service synchronizes time between computers within the hierarchy, with the most accurate reference clocks at the top. If more than one time source is configured on a computer, Windows Time uses NTP algorithms to select the best time source from the configured sources based on the computers ability to synchronize with that time source. The Windows Time service does not support network synchronization from broadcast or multicast peers. For more information about these NTP features, see RFC 1305 in the IETF RFC Database. Every computer that is running the Windows Time service uses the service to maintain the most accurate time. In most cases, it is not necessary to configure the Windows Time service. Computers that are members of a domain act as a time client by default. In addition, the Windows Time service can be configured to request time from a designated reference time source, and can also be configured to provide time to clients. The degree to which a computers time is accurate is called a stratum. The most accurate time source on a network (such as a hardware clock) occupies the lowest stratum level, or stratum one. This accurate time source is called a reference clock. An NTP server that acquires its time directly from a reference clock occupies a stratum that is one level higher than that of the reference clock. Resources that acquire time from the NTP server are two steps away from the reference clock, and therefore occupy a stratum that is two higher than the most accurate time source, and so on. As a computers stratum number increases, the time on its system clock may become less accurate. Therefore, the stratum level of any computer is an indicator of how closely that computer is synchronized with the most accurate time source. When the W32Time Manager receives time samples, it uses special algorithms in NTP to determine which of the time samples is the most appropriate for use. The time service also uses another set of algorithms to determine which of the configured time sources is the most accurate. When the time service has determined which time sample is best, based on the above criteria, it adjusts the local clock rate to allow it to converge toward the correct time. If the time difference between the local clock and the selected accurate time sample (also called the time skew) is too large to correct by adjusting the local clock rate, the time service sets the local clock to the correct time. This adjustment of clock rate or direct clock time change is known as clock discipline.

Windows Time Service ArchitectureThe Windows Time service consists of the following components:y

Service Control Manager

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Windows Time Service Manager Clock Discipline Time providers

The following figure shows the architecture of the Windows Time service. Windows Time Service Architecture

The Service Control Manager is responsible for starting and stopping the Windows Time service. The Windows Time Service Manager is responsible for initiating the action of the NTP time providers included with the operating system. The Windows Time Service Manager controls all functions of the Windows Time service and the coalescing of all time samples. In addition to providing information about the current system state, such as the current time source or the last time the system clock was updated, the Windows Time Service Manager is also responsible for creating events in the event log. The time synchronization process involves the following steps:y y

Input providers request and receive time samples from configured NTP time sources. These time samples are then passed to the Windows Time Service Manager, which collects all the samples and passes them to the clock discipline subcomponent. The clock discipline subcomponent applies the NTP algorithms which results in the selection of the best time sample. The clock discipline subcomponent adjusts the time of the system clock to the most accurate time by either adjusting the clock rate or directly changing the time.

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If a computer has been designated as a time server, it can send the time on to any computer requesting time synchronization at any point in this process.

Windows Time Service Time Protocols

Time protocols determine how closely two computers clocks are synchronized. A time protocol is responsible for determining the best available time information and converging the clocks to ensure that a consistent time is maintained on separate systems. The Windows Time service uses the Network Time Protocol (NTP) to help synchronize time across a network. NTP is an Internet time protocol that includes the discipline algorithms necessary for synchronizing clocks. NTP is a more accurate time protocol than the Simple Network Time Protocol (SNTP) that is used in some versions of Windows; however W32Time continues to support SNTP to enable backward compatibility with computers running SNTP-based time services, such as Windows 2000.

Network Time ProtocolNetwork Time Protocol (NTP) is the default time synchronization protocol used by the Windows Time service in the operating system. NTP is a fault-tolerant, highly scalable time protocol and is the protocol used most often for synchronizing computer clocks by using a designated time reference. The Windows Time service integrates NTP version 3 with algorithmic enhancements from NTP version 4, which provides these benefits:y y y y

Increased accuracy of the time service. Better error management. A complex filtering system. Increased stability.

NTP time synchronization takes place over a period of time and involves the transfer of NTP packets over a network. NTP packets contain time stamps that include a time sample from both the client and the server participating in time synchronization. NTP relies on a reference clock to define the most accurate time to be used and synchronizes all clocks on a network to that reference clock. NTP uses Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) as the universal standard for current time. UTC is independent of time zones and enables NTP to be used anywhere in the world regardless of time zone settings. NTP Algorithms NTP includes two algorithms, a clock-filtering algorithm and a clock-selection algorithm, to assist the Windows Time service in determining the best time sample. The clock-filtering algorithm is designed to sift through time samples that are received from queried time sources and determine the best time samples from each source. The clock-selection algorithm then determines the most accurate time server on the network. This information is then passed to the clock discipline algorithm, which uses the information gathered to correct the local clock of the computer, while compensating for errors due to network latency and computer clock inaccuracy. The NTP algorithms are most accurate under conditions of light-to-moderate network and server loads. As with any algorithm that takes network transit time into account, NTP

algorithms might perform poorly under conditions of extreme network congestion. For more information about the NTP algorithms, see RFC 1305