How to Sync Time with a Server on Raspberry Pi


Do you have issues with the time configuration on Raspberry Pi? Or maybe you want to sync the time with another server? In this post, I’ll teach you all you need to know about time synchronization on Raspberry Pi (and on Linux in general).

On a new installation, a Raspberry Pi uses timedatectl for time synchronization. Servers can be updated in the configuration file, located at /etc/systemd/timesyncd.conf. The NTP service can also be installed if needed.

I’ll explain how time synchronization works on Linux and how to configure it the way you want.
I’ll share the two ways of doing this on a Raspberry Pi:
– Timedatectl: included out of the box, pretty easy to configure.
– NTP: classic way to do this on Linux, for more compatibility with other systems.
And finally, I’ll give you other useful commands for date and time on Raspberry Pi.

By the way, if you are really interested in improving your skills on Raspberry Pi, I highly recommend checking out my e-book hereIt’s a 30-day challenge from beginner to master, with step-by-step tutorials and many projects to practice along the way.

Change Timezone in Salesforce Statu...
Change Timezone in Salesforce Status Site

Introducing time synchronization

Before going further with technical information and commands, I want to introduce how time synchronization works on Linux on Raspberry Pi and on most modern devices.

On a network, it’s crucial to have the same time on all the computers.
For example, you can’t connect to Active Directory or Samba shares if your computer is even 5 minutes late (check my tutorial on how to join an Active Directory with a Raspberry Pi).
So, we need to set up time-synchronization systems on the network.

The NTP protocol has this role. Basically, you configure your computer to ask the time to another computer, and to use the answer to set its current time (it’s a little more complex than that, but remembering this is already great).

Network Time Protocol (source: Wikipedia)

Typically, you have a master server on each network which gets the current time from an Internet server.
And then all computers synchronize with this master.

In this post, I’ll show you how to do this configuration using timedatectl or NTP directly.

If you need more details about the theory before going further, this video is pretty good:

By the way, if you are just looking to set the date and time manually on Raspberry Pi OS, there are easier ways to do this. You don’t necessarily need to change anything about the time synchronization.

And I also have an article on how to do this on Ubuntu if you are not using Raspberry Pi OS: it’s similar but not all the commands are the same: How To Sync The Ubuntu System Clock? (GUI, TimeDateCtl & NTP).

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Time synchronization on Raspberry Pi: Timedatectl

What is Timedatectl on Raspberry Pi?

Timedatectl is a tool to set up the date and time. The recent Raspberry Pi OS versions include timedatectl by default.

The first command I’ll show you is how to check the current status:

timedatectl status

This should give you something like this:

timedatectl status

So you’ll get:

  • The local time.
  • The universal time (same thing by default).
  • The RTC time if configured (module not included on Raspberry Pi).
  • The current time zone (GMT by default).
  • The current network time synchronization status.

As you can see, my Raspberry Pi is already time synchronized by default (except the time zone).

Are you a bit lost in the Linux command line? Check this article first, for the most important commands to remember, and a free downloadable cheat sheet so you can have the commands at your fingertips.

Timedatectl commands

Before going further in the timedatectl configuration, I want to show you some useful commands you can use directly.

List time zones

If you need to change the default time zone, you first need to know all available values.
To do this, use this command:

timedatectl list-timezones

As the list is big, you can filter it with the grep command:

timedatectl list-timezones | grep America
timedatectl list-timezones | grep Sydney

Note your local time zone and use it with the next command.

Set time zone

To set the current time zone, use this command:

sudo timedatectl set-timezone <time zone>

For example:

sudo timedatectl set-timezone America/New_York
sudo timedatectl set-timezone Europe/Paris
sudo timedatectl set-timezone Australia/Sydney

Use the timedatectl status again to check that the current time is correct.

You can also change the time zone in raspi-config > Localization options > Change time zone.

Set the time manually

You can also set the time manually with timedatectl.
Here is how:

sudo timedatectl set-time 'Y:M:D HH:mm:ss'
sudo timedatectl set-time 'Y:M:D'
sudo timedatectl set-time 'HH:mm:ss'

For example:

sudo timedatectl set-time '12:00:00'

But to do this, you need to disable the time synchronization (see next paragraph).

Enable or disable the time synchronization

If you want to disable or enable the time synchronization, use these commands:

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sudo timedatectl set-ntp false
sudo timedatectl set-ntp true

Note: you may need to reboot the Raspberry Pi to apply this change (see comments).

That’s it, you now know the basic timedatectl commands.

Sync time with a server: the Timedatectl configuration file

Here is how to configure the time synchronization with a server by using timedatectl:

  • Open the configuration file:
    sudo nano /etc/systemd/timesyncd.conf
  • Comment out the line starting with FallbackNTP and replace default servers with your time servers (on the Internet or from the local network).
  • For example:
    [Time]
    #NTP=
    FallbackNTP=0.us.pool.ntp.org 1.us.pool.ntp.org
  • Save and exit.

A reboot might be necessary to update the configuration, but your date and time will now be synchronized with the servers defined in this configuration file.

Time synchronization on Raspberry Pi: NTP

NTP introduction

The other way to do time synchronization on Linux is to use NTP. Even if Debian and Ubuntu are replacing it with timedatectl on new versions, it’s still a common software on Linux systems.

I’m not sure to understand all the differences between both and why they are moving to timedatectl.
But in my mind, I think that timedatectl is for clients, easy to use and configure out of the box.
And NTP is probably better on a server, to sync time with it and have more configuration options.

NTP configuration

NTP installation

As I said, NTP is not available by default on Raspberry Pi OS.
You need to install it with apt:

sudo apt install ntp

NTP configuration

The configuration file for NTP is available here: /etc/ntp.conf.
You can edit it to set a new server for time synchronization (lines beginning with “pool”).

If you want to use your Raspberry Pi as an NTP server, it’s also in this file that you can change the server configuration (restrict access, broadcast time, etc.).

NTP commands

NTP has fewer commands than timedatectl as everything is in the configuration file.
But you can use this one to manage the ntp server daemon:

sudo service ntp status | start | stop | restart

NTPDate

NTPDate is an additional command you can install and use to force time synchronization.

Installation:

sudo apt install ntpdate

Check your current time delay compared to a server:

sudo ntpdate -q 0.us.pool.ntp.org

In my case, I got a 0.005s offset. It confirms that the NTP server is working fine.

Fix the delay now:

The NTP daemon will fix the delay step by step.
But if you want to fix it now, you can use:

sudo service ntp stop
sudo ntpdate 0.us.pool.ntp.org
sudo service ntp start

You need to stop the NTP daemon before using ntpdate to free the port.

You’ll get something like this:

ntpdate set time

Video

Here is a video to show you exactly the step-by-step process to do this:

You can also subscribe to see all the news videos in your YouTube Feed:

FAQ

How do I sync the time on my Raspberry Pi?

Time synchronization is enabled by default on Raspberry Pi OS. You can change the timezone with raspi-config or the Raspberry Pi configuration tool, to set the correct time on your system. On the first boot, the welcome menu will also ask for your time zone.

How do I manually set the date and time on Raspberry Pi?

As a general rule, you’ll use raspi-config to set the date and time on a Lite version or the Raspberry Pi configuration tool if you have a desktop environment. You can also use the command sudo timedatectl set-time ‘HH:mm:ss’ to set the time in one command.

How do I find the date and time on my Raspberry Pi?

With a desktop version, the date and time are displayed in the top-right corner, but you can type “date” in a terminal to get the current date and time on any Linux distribution.

In a nutshell

Timedatectl commands

CommandDescription
timedatectl statusShow the current configuration
timedatectl list-timezonesList the timezones you can use
sudo timedatectl set-timezone <zone>Set your current timezone
sudo timedatectl set-time <date-time>Set the date/time manually
sudo timedatectl set-ntp <true/false>Enable or disable time synchronization

NTP commands

CommandDescription
sudo apt install ntp ntpdateInstall NTP and ntpdate
service ntp status | start | stop | restartManage the NTP service
sudo ntpdate -q 0.us.pool.ntp.orgCheck the time delay compared to a server
sudo ntpdate 0.us.pool.ntp.orgChange the synchronization server (NTP service should be turned off)
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Conclusion

You now know how to change the date and time on your Raspberry Pi and how to synchronize the clock from several Linux computers on the same network.

This may seem not so useful at home or in a small network, but it’s an essential component in big networks.

More tutorials like this one on RaspberryTips:

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Patrick Fromaget

I'm the lead author and owner of RaspberryTips.com. My goal is to help you with your Raspberry Pi problems using detailed guides and tutorials. In real life, I'm a Linux system administrator with a web developer experience.

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