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In order to keep the time accurate on a Ubuntu system one can either:

  • Run the ntpd (network time protocol daemon) which will run all the time and continuously adjust the system time when clocks drift. or alternatively:
  • Call ntpdate periodically (e.g. from cron)


  • What are the pros and cons of each of these two methods?
  • Which different scenarios call for picking one over the other?
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up vote 16 down vote accepted

ntpdate is deprecated as of September 2012; apparently ntpd now has the ability to do one-time updates if needed, and ntpdate is based on "long-neglected" ntpd code. (News to me, since my system has ntpdate but not ntpd! I'll be fixing that presently; thanks for asking this question.)

As for the difference between continuous versus periodic updates, I think the trade-offs there are what you would expect; continuous adjustments maintain better accuracy over time, which can be important for databases and MailDir (see same link). But of course this would require slightly more network traffic (presumably negligible for exchanging simple timestamps) as well as an always-online network connection, slight consumption of RAM and CPU, etc. But all these downsides are tiny in a modern computing environment; overall I doubt there are good reasons to substitute cron for ntpd.

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Thanks so much for the answer. I had no idea that ntpdate has been deprecated. It has been working well for me for years. – arielf May 21 '13 at 14:32

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