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PPS - Pulse Per Second
Copyright (C) 2007 Rodolfo Giometti <>
This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or modify
it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
the Free Software Foundation; either version 2 of the License, or
(at your option) any later version.
This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
GNU General Public License for more details.
LinuxPPS provides a programming interface (API) to define in the
system several PPS sources.
PPS means "pulse per second" and a PPS source is just a device which
provides a high precision signal each second so that an application
can use it to adjust system clock time.
A PPS source can be connected to a serial port (usually to the Data
Carrier Detect pin) or to a parallel port (ACK-pin) or to a special
CPU's GPIOs (this is the common case in embedded systems) but in each
case when a new pulse arrives the system must apply to it a timestamp
and record it for userland.
Common use is the combination of the NTPD as userland program, with a
GPS receiver as PPS source, to obtain a wallclock-time with
sub-millisecond synchronisation to UTC.
RFC considerations
While implementing a PPS API as RFC 2783 defines and using an embedded
CPU GPIO-Pin as physical link to the signal, I encountered a deeper
At startup it needs a file descriptor as argument for the function
This implies that the source has a /dev/... entry. This assumption is
OK for the serial and parallel port, where you can do something
useful besides(!) the gathering of timestamps as it is the central
task for a PPS API. But this assumption does not work for a single
purpose GPIO line. In this case even basic file-related functionality
(like read() and write()) makes no sense at all and should not be a
precondition for the use of a PPS API.
The problem can be simply solved if you consider that a PPS source is
not always connected with a GPS data source.
So your programs should check if the GPS data source (the serial port
for instance) is a PPS source too, and if not they should provide the
possibility to open another device as PPS source.
In LinuxPPS the PPS sources are simply char devices usually mapped
into files /dev/pps0, /dev/pps1, etc.
PPS with USB to serial devices
It is possible to grab the PPS from an USB to serial device. However,
you should take into account the latencies and jitter introduced by
the USB stack. Users have reported clock instability around +-1ms when
synchronized with PPS through USB. With USB 2.0, jitter may decrease
down to the order of 125 microseconds.
This may be suitable for time server synchronization with NTP because
of its undersampling and algorithms.
If your device doesn't report PPS, you can check that the feature is
supported by its driver. Most of the time, you only need to add a call
to usb_serial_handle_dcd_change after checking the DCD status (see
ch341 and pl2303 examples).
Coding example
To register a PPS source into the kernel you should define a struct
pps_source_info as follows::
static struct pps_source_info pps_ktimer_info = {
.name = "ktimer",
.path = "",
.echo = pps_ktimer_echo,
.owner = THIS_MODULE,
and then calling the function pps_register_source() in your
initialization routine as follows::
source = pps_register_source(&pps_ktimer_info,
The pps_register_source() prototype is::
int pps_register_source(struct pps_source_info *info, int default_params)
where "info" is a pointer to a structure that describes a particular
PPS source, "default_params" tells the system what the initial default
parameters for the device should be (it is obvious that these parameters
must be a subset of ones defined in the struct
pps_source_info which describe the capabilities of the driver).
Once you have registered a new PPS source into the system you can
signal an assert event (for example in the interrupt handler routine)
just using::
pps_event(source, &ts, PPS_CAPTUREASSERT, ptr)
where "ts" is the event's timestamp.
The same function may also run the defined echo function
(pps_ktimer_echo(), passing to it the "ptr" pointer) if the user
asked for that... etc..
Please see the file drivers/pps/clients/pps-ktimer.c for example code.
SYSFS support
If the SYSFS filesystem is enabled in the kernel it provides a new class::
$ ls /sys/class/pps/
pps0/ pps1/ pps2/
Every directory is the ID of a PPS sources defined in the system and
inside you find several files::
$ ls -F /sys/class/pps/pps0/
assert dev mode path subsystem@
clear echo name power/ uevent
Inside each "assert" and "clear" file you can find the timestamp and a
sequence number::
$ cat /sys/class/pps/pps0/assert
Where before the "#" is the timestamp in seconds; after it is the
sequence number. Other files are:
* echo: reports if the PPS source has an echo function or not;
* mode: reports available PPS functioning modes;
* name: reports the PPS source's name;
* path: reports the PPS source's device path, that is the device the
PPS source is connected to (if it exists).
Testing the PPS support
In order to test the PPS support even without specific hardware you can use
the pps-ktimer driver (see the client subsection in the PPS configuration menu)
and the userland tools available in your distribution's pps-tools package, , or
Once you have enabled the compilation of pps-ktimer just modprobe it (if
not statically compiled)::
# modprobe pps-ktimer
and the run ppstest as follow::
$ ./ppstest /dev/pps1
trying PPS source "/dev/pps1"
found PPS source "/dev/pps1"
ok, found 1 source(s), now start fetching data...
source 0 - assert 1186592699.388832443, sequence: 364 - clear 0.000000000, sequence: 0
source 0 - assert 1186592700.388931295, sequence: 365 - clear 0.000000000, sequence: 0
source 0 - assert 1186592701.389032765, sequence: 366 - clear 0.000000000, sequence: 0
Please note that to compile userland programs, you need the file timepps.h.
This is available in the pps-tools repository mentioned above.
Sometimes one needs to be able not only to catch PPS signals but to produce
them also. For example, running a distributed simulation, which requires
computers' clock to be synchronized very tightly.
Parallel port generator
One way to do this is to invent some complicated hardware solutions but it
may be neither necessary nor affordable. The cheap way is to load a PPS
generator on one of the computers (master) and PPS clients on others
(slaves), and use very simple cables to deliver signals using parallel
ports, for example.
Parallel port cable pinout::
pin name master slave
1 STROBE *------ *
2 D0 * | *
3 D1 * | *
4 D2 * | *
5 D3 * | *
6 D4 * | *
7 D5 * | *
8 D6 * | *
9 D7 * | *
10 ACK * ------*
11 BUSY * *
12 PE * *
13 SEL * *
14 AUTOFD * *
15 ERROR * *
16 INIT * *
17 SELIN * *
18-25 GND *-----------*
Please note that parallel port interrupt occurs only on high->low transition,
so it is used for PPS assert edge. PPS clear edge can be determined only
using polling in the interrupt handler which actually can be done way more
precisely because interrupt handling delays can be quite big and random. So
current parport PPS generator implementation (pps_gen_parport module) is
geared towards using the clear edge for time synchronization.
Clear edge polling is done with disabled interrupts so it's better to select
delay between assert and clear edge as small as possible to reduce system
latencies. But if it is too small slave won't be able to capture clear edge
transition. The default of 30us should be good enough in most situations.
The delay can be selected using 'delay' pps_gen_parport module parameter.