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TIME(7) Linux Programmer's Manual TIME(7)
time - overview of time
Real time and process time
Real time is defined as time measured from some fixed point, either
from a standard point in the past (see the description of the Epoch and
calendar time below), or from some point (e.g., the start) in the life
of a process (elapsed time).
Process time is defined as the amount of CPU time used by a process.
This is sometimes divided into user and system components. User CPU
time is the time spent executing code in user mode. System CPU time is
the time spent by the kernel executing in system mode on behalf of the
process (e.g., executing system calls). The time(1) command can be
used to determine the amount of CPU time consumed during the execution
of a program. A program can determine the amount of CPU time it has
consumed using times(2), getrusage(2), or clock(3).
The Hardware Clock
Most computers have a (battery-powered) hardware clock which the kernel
reads at boot time in order to initialize the software clock. For fur-
ther details, see rtc(4) and hwclock(8).
The Software Clock, HZ, and Jiffies
The accuracy of many system calls and timestamps is limited by the res-
olution of the software clock, a clock maintained by the kernel which
measures time in jiffies. The size of a jiffy is determined by the
value of the kernel constant HZ. The value of HZ varies across kernel
versions and hardware platforms. On x86 the situation is as follows:
on kernels up to and including 2.4.x, HZ was 100, giving a jiffy value
of 0.01 seconds; starting with 2.6.0, HZ was raised to 1000, giving a
jiffy of 0.001 seconds; since kernel 2.6.13, the HZ value is a kernel
configuration parameter and can be 100, 250 (the default) or 1000,
yielding a jiffies value of, respectively, 0.01, 0.004, or 0.001 sec-
Unix systems represent time in seconds since the Epoch, which is
defined as 0:00:00 UTC on the morning of 1 January 1970.
A program can determine the calendar time using gettimeofday(2), which
returns time (in seconds and microseconds) that have elapsed since the
Epoch; time(2) provides similar information, but only with accuracy to
the nearest second. The system time can be changed using settimeofday(2)
Certain library functions use a structure of type tm to represent bro-
ken-down time, which stores time value separated out into distinct com-
ponents (year, month, day, hour, minute, second, etc.). This structure
is described in ctime(3), which also describes functions that convert
between calendar time and broken-down time. Functions for converting
between broken-down time and printable string representations of the
time are described in ctime(3), strftime(3), and strptime(3).
Sleeping and Setting Timers
Various system calls and functions allow a program to sleep (suspend
execution) for a specified period of time; see nanosleep(2) and
Various system calls allow a process to set a timer that expires at
some point in the future, and optionally at repeated intervals; see
alarm(2), getitimer(2), and timer_create(3).
date(1), time(1), adjtimex(2), alarm(2), getitimer(2), getrlimit(2),
getrusage(2), gettimeofday(2), nanosleep(2), stat(2), time(2),
times(2), utime(2), adjtime(3), clock(3), sleep(3), ctime(3), strftime(3)
, strptime(3), usleep(3), rtc(4), hwclock(8).
Linux 2.6.16 2006-04-28 TIME(7)
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