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HTTPSDate Timesource

The HTTPSDate Timesource implements the fuchsia.time.external.PushSource protocol. It retrieves time samples by calling an HTTPS URL specified in the component configuration and pulling the time off the Date header in the response. HTTPSDate relies on the underlying TLS connection for server authentication. As the device on which HTTPSDate is running may not have a valid UTC time, expiry dates on TLS certificates are checked for consistency against the time reported by the server.

Key Assumptions

HTTPSDate relies on the server to conform to the standards defined for the Date HTTP header as defined in RFC 2616, in particular that the server has a reasonably accurate time, and that the date is sampled at the time of message generation.

HTTPSDate also relies on some assumptions not in the RFC:

  • The servers polled to produce a single sample are synced to the same time source.
  • The servers truncate time down to the second.

When these additional assumptions break down, the accuracy of time on the device is affected:

  • If servers are inconsistently synced or truncated the time samples produced will likely contain more noise.
  • If servers consistently round time in a different manner (such as rounding up) the time samples will contain a systemic error of up to a second.

Design Overview

HTTPSDate contains an algorithm to produce a sample from network polls, and a scheduler that determines when to produce a sample.

Sampling Algorithm

The sampling algorithm is responsible for producing a single time sample. A fundamental limitation of using HTTP Date headers is that the header has a resolution of seconds. The sampling algorithm attempts to improve the resolution of a produced sample by combining the results of multiple polls. Note that for simplicity the discussion here ignores the effects of network latency and drift between the device and server's clock, but they are taken into account in the implementation.

The algorithm encapsulates the information obtained from polling a server once in a bound. A bound is a tuple (monotonic, utc_min, utc_max) that defines the range of possible UTC times for a given monotonic time. When a server is polled at monotonic time t_mono, the server returns some UTC time t_server. Because the server is assumed to truncate time down to the nearest second, t_server is a whole number of seconds, and the actual UTC time at t_mono is in the range [t_server, t_server + 1]. This is expressed as the bound (t_mono, t_server, t_server + 1).

The following operations are possible on bounds:

  • Projection - A bound (t_mono, t_utc_min, t_utc_max) may be projected to a later monotonic time t_mono_later by adding t_mono_later - t_mono to each value in the tuple.
  • Combination - Two bounds at the same monotonic time may be combined by taking the intersection of their UTC ranges. Combining two polls produces a single bound that usually has a smaller bound and therefore lower uncertainty.

These operations allow combining the results of any two polls by projecting the earlier bound to the time of the later poll, then combining the resulting polls.

The algorithm polls the server a few times and combines the resulting bounds into a single tighter bound. The algorithm makes a best effort to poll at intervals such that the size of the accumulated bound is halved after each poll. The final bound is then converted to a single sample.


The scheduler is responsible for periodically producing samples by invoking the sampling algorithm, and retrying in case of failure. The scheduler progresses through three phases that invoke the sampling algorithm at different timings and parameters:

  • Initial phase - comprised of the first sample only, which is produced with fewer polls than subsequent polls. This optimizes to start the system clock as early as possible at the cost of accuracy.
  • Converge phase - comprised of the first few subsequent samples. Samples are produced relatively frequently so that the system clock can converge on an accurate time.
  • Maintain phase - comprised of all remaining samples. Samples are produced infrequently so that an accurate time can be maintained.