History of the Network Time Server and the NTP Protocol
Network time servers have gone through various stages of development in the last three decades. The most widely used protocol, NTP, is also the longest, continuously-running application on the internet. Today, time servers have many important functions for businesses and organizations
Here is an outline of how the time server developed from its early days to the current widespread use of the Network Time Protocol and the network time clock.
First PC Time-Servers
The earliest PC-based systems arrived in the market in the late 80s. They had a simple set up that relied on the computer’s internal timer that could not adjust for network variations The Network time server was hosted on a central computer. It could only assign timestamps and an ID to transactions.
The first NTP was version 0, released in 1985. The current version of the protocol can do calculations to an accuracy of 200 microseconds. Three decades ago, network speeds were too slow to support fast calculations. But the protocol was still able to do some computations that showed promise for network time synchronization applications.
NTP Version 1
NTP Version 1 was released in 1991. The RFC1059 was the documentation for the protocol. The network time clock algorithms were refined after a series of experiments, and it was the first system to use the server/client modes.
At the same time, computers were becoming more powerful and user-friendly after the release of windows. The internet became more accessible to residential users and small businesses. Version 2 and 3 of the NTP Protocol were enhanced to improve error analysis and correction. The model also described the machine state and pseudo code.
It is at this time that manufacturers saw the potential for the network time server device. The devices could work on a local network and synchronize the various clocks using an effective protocol. The digital clocks became popular in the ’90s because they were inexpensive, and it was becoming easier to implement a time server.
NTP Version 4 and Alternatives
As the internet became more ubiquitous, the need for network time synchronization became more critical. There were also more algorithm revisions on NTP version 3, which was complicating interoperability with older versions.
NTPv4 is today regarded as the standard for network time synchronization globally. Some of the basic features of the current protocol include:
NTPv4 uses a unified world network time clock to synchronize time across the network.
- It can compare values from different time clocks to prevent error accumulation. Clocks that do not return to the correct state may be disregarded.
- NTPv4 has undergone multiple revisions that were presided by a lot of analysis and scientific research. It can recognize and select the best clock for syncing time. It can also bridge network time-out problems.
- The latest version of the NTP/network time clock server is scalable and can be used with Unix, Windows, and macOS operating systems. It can utilize many different timers in a system in either a bidirectional or unidirectional system.
However, NTP network time servers are not always perfect. There are some systems with vulnerabilities that new systems are trying to address. For example, since the protocol uses a connectionless system, it can inadvertently receive a large number of packets. In effect, it creates vulnerabilities for hackers to carry out a DOS attack.
Other systems have since been developed to address some of the problems. For example, the Precision Time Protocol strives for higher accuracy for network time synchronization. PTP does not require a lot of bandwidth and can achieve precision to the nanosecond. Other systems, such as Ntimed, are focused mainly on security and performance. All in all, NTP still provides accurate timing for most digital clocks around the world.
Everyone can better appreciate the purpose of a network time server by looking back at its history. Current synchronized clock systems use the latest version of NTP that can carry out sophisticated calculations and show synchronized time accurately. It remains the most widely used synchronization protocol globally.
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