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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

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Brief notes on Windows Time

The w32time service provides time for Windows. Since Windows XP NTP (Network Time Protocol) is supported. Prior to that it was only SNTP (Simple NTP).

Non domain joined computers (including servers) use SNTP.

This is a good article that explains the Windows Time service and its configurations. Covers both registry keys and GPOs. This is another good article that goes into even more detail.

Any Windows machine can be set up to sync time in one of four ways: (1) no syncing! (2) sync from specified NTP servers (3) sync via domain hierarchy (i.e. members sync from a DC in the domain; DCs sync from PDC of the parent domain/ forest root domain) (4) use either of the above (i.e. NTP and domain hierarchy). Default mechanism on domain joined computers is domain hierarchy (the setting is called NT5DS). Stand-alone machines have the default as NTP servers (the setting is called NTP; the default server is time.windows.com though you can change it (and probably recommended that you change it?)).

For machines that are off and on the domain – e.g. laptops – it is better to set their time sync mechanism as any. They needn’t always have contact with the DC to sync time.

When specifying NTP time servers you also specify flags. Check this post for an explanation of the flags. There are four possible flags: 0x01 SpecialInterval; 0x02 UseAsFallbackOnly; 0x04 SymmetricActive; 0x08 Client.

  • Flag UseAsFallbackOnly means the server is only used if the others are unavailable. Check out this post for an example of this.
  • Flag SpecialInterval lets you change how often the NTP server is polled. By default the interval is determined by Windows based on the quality of time samples, but you can use the above flag and set a registry key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\W32Time\TimeProviders\NtpClient\SpecialPollInterval to change the polling interval.
  • I am not sure what the other two flags do. The Client flag seems to be a commonly used one. Some posts/ articles use it, others don’t. The default time.windows.com setting uses this flag as well as the SpecialInterval.

p.s. To turn on w32tm debugging check out this link.

Brief notes on Windows Time by rakhesh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.