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Time to update the Network Time Protocol

30 Sep 2022

The Network Time Protocol (NTP) is a foundational Internet standard that has provided clock synchronization between computer systems since the early 1980s. It was first standardized as RFC 958 in Sept 1984 with several revisions in the following years. Discussions have been ongoing in the NTP working group for a few years now about updating NTPv4 to NTPv5. This update is motivated by lessons learned, ongoing vulnerabilities, and emerging use cases.

Big Ben

While the NTP has been around since the early days of the Internet, work on the NTP has been ongoing in the working group (WG) since its formation in 2005. This includes the relatively recently published “Network Time Security for the Network Time Protocol” [RFC 8915]. At the moment, the working group is considering NTP version 5, as an update to the NTP version 4 [RFC 5905] published in 2010, to accommodate new and emerging use cases and networking environments. 

The “NTPv5 use cases and requirements” Internet-Draft has been adopted by the NTP WG to help discuss the use cases, requirements, and considerations that should be factored in the design of a protocol to supersede NTP version 4. For example, the I-D describes differing situations, such as data centers where network latency or power are unlikely to be constraints, thus offering the potential for higher levels of accuracy and precision. Conversely, local networks and public internet connections  may introduce packet loss, delay, and filtering, but NTP may nonetheless be able to provide enough information for both basic time information and synchronization.

Evolving existing standards to define new capabilities to take into account new use cases and a wider variety of networking environments is one of the strengths of the IETF, and we are looking forward to the discussion within the NTP working group. We also expect to gain a good deal of insight at the upcoming IETF Hackathon on 5-6 November, where we will develop and test preliminary implementations of NTPv5 to validate discussion from the working group. If you are interested in NTP and already planning to participate in IETF 115, we would welcome your participation. If you aren’t already planning to be at the IETF Hackathon or the IETF 115 meeting, there’s still time to register!

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