Someone asked on IRC about running ntpd in a container on Atomic, so I’ve put together a small example. We’ll start with a very simple Dockerfile:

FROM alpine
RUN apk update
RUN apk add openntpd

I’m using the alpine image as my starting point because it’s very small, which makes this whole process go a little faster. I’m installing the openntpd package, which provides the ntpd binary.

By setting an ENTRYPOINT here, the ntpd binary will be started by default, and any arguments passed to docker run after the image name will be passed to ntpd.

We need to first build the image:

# docker build -t larsks/ntpd .

And then we can try to run it:

# docker run larsks/ntpd -h
ntpd: unrecognized option: h
usage: ntpd [-dnSsv] [-f file] [-p file]

That confirms that we can run the command. Now we need to provide it with a configuration file. I looked briefly at the ntpd.conf man page, and I think we can get away with just providing the name of an ntp server. I created /etc/ntpd.conf on my atomic host with the following content:


And then I tried running the container like this:

docker run -v /etc/ntpd.conf:/etc/ntpd.conf larsks/ntpd -d -f /etc/ntpd.conf

The -v in the above command line makes /etc/ntpd.conf on the host available as /etc/ntpd.conf inside the container. This gets me:

ntpd: can't set priority: Permission denied
reset adjtime failed: Operation not permitted
adjtimex (2) failed: Operation not permitted
adjtimex adjusted frequency by 0.000000ppm
fatal: privsep dir /var/empty could not be opened: No such file or directory
Lost child: child exited
dispatch_imsg in main: pipe closed

The first few errors (“Permission denied”) mean that we need to pass --privileged on the docker run command line. Normally, Docker runs containers with limited capabilities, but because an ntp service needs to be able to set the time in the kernel it won’t run in that limited environment.

The “fatal: privsep dir /var/empty could not be opened” suggests we need an empty directory at /var/empty. With the above two facts in mind, I tried:

docker run --privileged -v /var/empty \
  -v /etc/ntpd.conf:/etc/ntpd.conf larsks/ntpd -d -f /etc/ntpd.conf -s

The -s on the end means “Try to set the time immediately at startup.” This results in:

adjtimex adjusted frequency by 0.000000ppm
ntp engine ready
reply from offset -3.543963 delay 0.018517, next query 5s
set local clock to Fri Oct  9 18:03:41 UTC 2015 (offset -3.543963s)
reply from negative delay -7.039390s, next query 3190s
reply from negative delay -6.983865s, next query 3139s
reply from negative delay -6.982698s, next query 3216s
reply from offset 3.523820 delay 0.018231, next query 8s

So that seems to work correctly. To make this service persistent, I can add -d to start the container in the background, and --restart=always to make Docker responsible for restarting it if it fails:

docker run --privileged -v /var/empty \
  --restart=always -d \
  -v /etc/ntpd.conf:/etc/ntpd.conf larsks/ntpd -d -f /etc/ntpd.conf -s

And my Atomic host has an ntp service keeping the time in sync.