Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Rift in the NTP World

Bruce Byfield (via Matthew Green):

First designed in 1985 by David L. Mills, the [NTP] protocol has been coordinated in recent years by the Network Time Foundation. Today, it develops a number of related standards, including Ntimed, PTPd, Linux PTPd, RADClock, and the General Timestamp API. For most of this time, the primary manager of the project has been Harlan Stenn, who has volunteered thousands of hours at the cost of his own consulting business while his NTP work is only intermittently funded.


However, the collaboration did not go smoothly. According to Stenn, Raymond contributed one patch and had several others rejected, but Stenn’s ideas and Raymond’s and Sons’s were out of sync. […] The efforts to collaborate finally collapsed when Raymond and Sons created a fork they called Network Time Protocol Secure (NTPsec).


Sons has publicly described the NTPsec interpretation several times, including in a presentation at OSCON and in a podcast interview with Mac Slocum of O’Reilly. In the podcast, Sons depicted NTP as a faltering project run by out-of-touch developers. According to Sons, the build system was on one server whose root password had been lost. Moreover, “the standard of the code was over sixteen years out of date in terms of C coding standards” and could not be fully assessed by modern tools. “We couldn’t even guarantee reproducible results across different systems,” she added.


NTPsec depicted NTP as being in a state of total disorder. However, in communications with me, Stenn offered a radically different story. In Stenn’s version of events, NTPsec, far from being the savior of the Internet, has misplaced priorities and its contributors lack the necessary experience to develop the protocol and keep it secure.

Stenn denied many of Sons’s statements outright. For example, asked about Sons’s story about losing the root password, he dismissed it as “a complete fabrication.” Similarly, in response to her remarks about older tools and reproducible results across different systems, Stenn responded: “We build on many dozens of different versions of different operating systems, on a wide variety of hardware architectures […] If there was a significant problem, why hasn’t somebody reported it to us?”

Mark Atwood:

We were not happy about having to fork from NTP Classic, and did so with regrets.

The main point of contention that caused the fork was BitKeeper vs Git. Harlan insisted on staying on BitKeeper. At that time, BitKeeper was still closed source, proprietary, and was a huge barrier to recruiting contributions, large and small. Even now still, the official Git repos for NTP Classic are out of date with the official BK repos, and are lacking tags. And the official public BK repos are out of date from Harlan’s internal working repos.

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