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NTP, Harlan Stenn & An Uncertain Future: Readers React

InformationWeek's story about the work of Harlan Stenn on NTP sparked dozens of reader reactions on the website, as well as Tweets, Slashdot comments, and Facebook postings.

Another Slashdot reader chimed in:

Re: Fewer bug fixes? (Score: 5, Interesting) by BitZtream (692029) on Thursday March 12, 2015 @11:26PM (#49247327)

"NTP doesn't just 'return a string of numbers.'"

Another anonymous commenter wrote: "If it is not broke, fix it until it is. Is this what keeps projects alive?"

Stenn's response to IW: "I have an idea of the incredible arrogance I had when I was in my 20s, when I thought I knew it all."

But not every comment was negative.

Terje Mathisen, a maintainer of the NTPd daemon or code that implements NTP on a server, weighed in from Denmark to say that he's been working on the project for 15 years. (The NTPd daemon is considered part of the overall NTP open-source code.)

"By far the biggest cause of required effort when trying to modify or optimize the NTPD distribution is the need to support a big number of OSs and even larger number of OS versions, some of them more than 20 years old …" he wrote on Slashdot. Also, "The second problem is the need to support 30+ reference clocks, with all sorts of OS/version-specific interfaces needed in order to timestamp events as accurately as possible."

The protocol also returns encrypted results, which helps keep its operations secure. But the encryption package harbors bugs that have needed recent attention, Mathisen said.

"Terje is a Wizard. I've worked with him for years … Seriously good at what he does, and he has a great understanding of network time …" Stenn wrote in his email message.

Large companies that rely upon, but don't support the Network Time Protocol also seemed to come in for a lot of criticism on InformationWeek and Slashdot.

While the story mentioned that Stenn is supported by the Linux Foundation's Core Infrastructure Project, it was mainly the commenters that pointed out that Microsoft, IBM, Google, Amazon, and other companies are contributors to that initiative.

Stenn had related an incident in the story in which he delayed release of a bug fix until Apple could finish related work on Mac OS X, then asked the Apple engineers if their company could send a donation to the foundation.

That approach drew criticism of both Stenn and Apple.

Gnasher719 responded: "The way he did this, it is probably difficult for the responsible person at Apple to actually pay him. He seems to be asking for a donation to an open source project. How can someone at a commercial company put that in a budget? The financial guys say 'Is there any legal reason why we have to pay this money[?]' The answer is no, so it won't get paid."

Gnasher suggested next time he refuse to do the work except as a contractor and send Apple a bill, which it would probably be willing to pay.

But there also appears from the overall comments to be a growing awareness that critical parts of the Internet are being left to a few dedicated maintainers who should get more public support.

"Help Harlan Stenn continue his excellent work on NTPd," tweeted The Woj (@Wojthewoj).

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Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer