Troubleshooting NTP on Linux

Daylight-savings-time Using NTP to set the time on a linux server is not hard, however it can have a trick or two up its sleeve. In this example I was troubleshooting NTP on a RedHat 8 server (yes I know its old).

Before we get started, the basics on NTP can be found here. A primer on the ntp.conf file can be found here. For most people this is all you will need to get ntp up and running. I unfortunately was not one of those people.

Below is the error messages that I was receiving when I attempted to start ntp via ‘service ntpd start’.

ntpdate[4999]: no server suitable for synchronization found

What is this??? Unfortunatley the server that am attempting to sync to is behind a firewall and is not pingable, so doing a simple ping test to verify that I can connect to the box is out of the question. So I ask a network guy to check the firewall and he tells me that he sees the request coming from the box in question, but its not going to the box that I specified in the ntp.conf. The answer can be found in the /etc/ntp/step-tickers file.

The step-tickers file is meant to hold an initial hostname or IP address to sync with upon startup of ntp. In RedHat, at least, the server runs an ntpdate against it. The entry in my step-tickers was an external host that was no longer accessible so I removed it and added one of my ntp hosts.

However the sync still failed. This time I take a close look at the current time on the client box, and sure enough the date way off. NTP will not sync if there is more than a 1000 second difference between the host and the server. So I fix this using the date command and try again.

Again it fails..

So I run the ntpdate -db command below to get some more info.  The transmit section shows that I am not getting a response, this is not news to me but its good to verify,

ntpdate -bd <NTP_SERVER>
 ntpdate[5023]: ntpdate 4.2.0a@1.1199-r Thu May  4 11:01:34 EDT 2006 (1)
Looking for host <NTP_SERVER> and service ntp
host found :<NTP_SERVER>
<NTP_SERVER> Server dropped: no data
server <NTP_SERVER> port 123
stratum 0, precision 0, leap 00, trust 000
refid [], delay 0.00000, dispersion 64.00000
transmitted 4, in filter 4
reference time:    00000000.00000000  Thu, Feb  7 2036  1:28:16.000
originate timestamp: 00000000.00000000  Thu, Feb  7 2036  1:28:16.000
transmit timestamp:  ccf1430f.64e5a35d  Mon, Dec 15 2008 15:56:47.394
filter delay:  0.00000  0.00000  0.00000  0.00000
         0.00000  0.00000  0.00000  0.00000
filter offset: 0.000000 0.000000 0.000000 0.000000
         0.000000 0.000000 0.000000 0.000000
delay 0.00000, dispersion 64.00000
offset 0.000000

Ok so onto the NTP host where I run the following command to sniff traffic on UDP port 123.

tcpdump dst port 123

There is can see the client communicating with the host

5:52:49.831677 IP <HIDDEN IP> .ntp > <HIDDEN IP>: NTPv4, Client, length 48

So another call goes out to the Admin of the ntp server and have him verify that ntp is setup properly and is running. The provided the information above to him. Turns out he had iptables running and was blocking NTP. The other Admin makes a change and I am off and running.

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