RFC-0008: Remove zx_clock_get and zx_clock_adjust

RFC-0008: Remove zx_clock_get and zx_clock_adjust
  • Kernel

Defines the plan to deprecate and then remove the zx_clock_get and zx_clock_adjust syscalls.

Gerrit change
Date submitted (year-month-day)2020-10-12
Date reviewed (year-month-day)2020-10-29


We propose a five step process to deprecate the zx_clock_get and zx_clock_adjust syscalls, migrate the remaining users to the replacement syscalls that have been available since 2019, and finally remove the original syscalls.


Fuchsia currently includes two independent sets of syscalls for interacting with time:

  1. The original design used zx_clock_get to read monotonic, UTC, and thread clocks maintained by the kernel and used zx_clock_adjust to write to the UTC clock. This design did not provide any way to slew clocks, define additional clocks on different products, or communicate the status of clocks.
  2. In 2019 the zx_clock_create, zx_clock_read, zx_clock_update and zx_clock_get_details syscalls were added to perform rich management of clock objects, letting userspace define and maintain any number of clocks. zx_clock_get_monotonic was also added to read the kernel's monotonic clock.

Fuchsia currently defines two different UTC clocks; a kernel UTC clock that may be read using zx_clock_get and a userspace UTC clock that may be read using zx_clock_read. The time synchronization system attempts to keep these clocks aligned, but since they offer different features some discrepancy is inevitable.

This proposal defines the deprecation plan for the original time syscalls, completing a migration that began in 2019 during the design of the replacement syscalls were added. Removing these syscalls addresses the ongoing (and increasing) operational and cognitive costs of maintaining two semi-compatible ways to manage time.


zx_clock_get and zx_clock_adjust each accept a clock_id argument to specify which of three possible timelines should be used. It is helpful to consider these migration for these three timelines separately:

  • ZX_CLOCK_MONOTONIC - Calls to zx_clock_get(ZX_CLOCK_MONOTONIC) may be directly replaced by a call to zx_clock_get_monotonic. This replacement syscall is simpler to use and frequently offers better performance.
  • ZX_CLOCK_THREAD - Calls to zx_clock_get(ZX_CLOCK_THREAD) may be replaced by a call to zx_object_get_info using the topic ZX_INFO_THREAD_STATS. This replacement provides more flexibility and better aligns with thread execution time as a thread property.
  • ZX_CLOCK_UTC - In the 2019 time syscalls UTC is managed in userspace by the Fuchsia platform instead of directly by the kernel. Most language runtimes have already been modified to read the userspace UTC clock so in most cases calls to zx_clock_get(ZX_CLOCK_UTC) should be replaced by the standard UTC calls in the language runtime. Where necessary the zx_utc_reference_get function may be used to acquire a read only clock handle to pass into zx_clock_read. Calls to zx_clock_adjust(ZX_CLOCK_UTC) may be replaced by a call to zx_clock_update using a read/write clock handle acquired from fuchsia.time.Maintenance.

We propose a five step process for removing zx_clock_get and zx_clock_adjust:

  1. Update documentation to mark the syscalls as deprecated
  2. Migrate all known users to the replacement syscalls
  3. Stop maintaining kernel UTC clock and remove zx_clock_adjust
  4. Remove zx_clock_get declaration from the SDK
  5. Remove zx_clock_get implementation from Zircon

Step 1 - Update documentation to mark the syscalls as deprecated

This step is complete. The zx_clock_get and zx_clock_adjust calls are clearly marked as deprecated and the documentation includes the alternative solutions that we recommend above.

Step 2 - Migrate all known users to the replacement syscalls

This step is in progress. fxr/433865 recently moved the standard language runtime UTC functions to the userspace UTC clock. This has removed the majority of zx_clock_get usages but a long tail remains from a wide range of different call sites across different repositories.

We will burn down these remaining usages across stem and the petals in Global Integration using code search to locate the calls and the syscalls_zx_clock_get_type_* kcounters to track our progress. This will be a lengthy process given the resources available and the fact that rolling an upstream change to downstream repositories can often take weeks or months.

Where a language runtime provides a wrapper around zx_clock_get or zx_clock_adjust (for example the fuchsia_zircon::Time::get function in Rust) we will remove each wrapper once no more clients are using it.

Step 3 - Stop maintaining kernel UTC clock and remove zx_clock_adjust

Maintaining an accurate time in ZX_CLOCK_UTC requires calls to zx_clock_get and zx_clock_adjust from drivers and from several test components. These calls will no longer be possible after step 4 so we cease maintaining kernel UTC as a separate step.

In step 3 we will remove the ZX_CLOCK_UTC synchronization, cause a crash for any clients that attempt to read ZX_CLOCK_UTC, and remove the zx_clock_adjust syscall entirely (this syscall is only used for setting UTC and only invoked by a small number of privileged clients).

After step 2 we should have already high confidence that there are no remaining components using UTC in Global Integration, but causing a client crash on read attempts lets us detect any omissions quickly.

Specifically we will:

  1. Remove all tests that verify ZX_CLOCK_UTC.
  2. Modify zx_clock_get(ZX_CLOCK_UTC) to flag the caller as a policy violator.
  3. Remove the calls to zx_clock_adjust from the real time clock drivers (and remove the fallback RTC driver entirely since this was its only purpose)
  4. Remove zx_clock_adjust entirely.

Step 4 - Remove zx_clock_get declaration from the SDK

After step 3 we may have succeeded in removing all calls to zx_clock_get at head but still need to support older prebuilt binaries that depend on zx_clock_get. In this case we will remove the zx_clock_get declaration in the SDK without removing the zircon implementation. At this stage any attempt to compile code using the zx_clock_get will lead to a compilation failure.

If no prebuilt binaries depend on zx_clock_get we will proceed directly to step 5.

Step 5 - Remove zx_clock_get implementation from Zircon

Once no prebuilt binaries depend on zx_clock_get (as determined by their symbol imports) we will remove zx_clock_get entirely, along with the associated documentation.


This proposal will lead to a negligible increase in overall system performance by encouraging more widespread use of the more efficient zx_clock_get_monotonic syscall and simplifying the operation the RTC drivers.

Security considerations

This proposal does not impact the security of managing monotonic or thread time.

In other operating systems UTC management vulnerabilities have been exploited to perform various rollback attacks. This proposal improves the security of managing UTC time by providing more fine grained access control.

When using the zx_clock_adjust syscall the root resource is required to change UTC time. This means a component that needs the ability to adjust time also gains powerful unrelated capabilities and it means any component with the root resource has the power to modify UTC whether it needs this power or not.

Once this proposal is implemented, the only way to modify UTC will be through the read/write clock handle distributed via fuchsia.utc.Maintenance. This protocol is explicitly routed to only the components that need it and they gain no additional capabilities along with this handle.

Privacy considerations

This proposal does not impact privacy at the time of implementation.

This proposal would enable the removal of UTC time as an ambient authority in the future (a process could be launched without the userspace UTC clock handle and would no longer have access to the kernel UTC clock). Potentially this could be used to increase privacy for certain types of data processing.


Each of the time management syscalls and the time synchronization infrastructure that depends on them are covered by unit, integration, and end to end tests today. These tests would be simplified somewhat by the removal of the two syscalls and the second UTC clock.


Documentation updates are included in the implementation section above.

Drawbacks, alternatives, and unknowns

The costs of this proposal are small - we estimate a few hours a week work from 2-3 engineers in the component platform and kernel teams over a period of 1-3 quarters.

The alternatives mainly revolve around not cleaning up this technical debt or cleaning up less of this technical debt; for example it would be possible to stop maintaining the kernel UTC clock but not remove the associated syscalls. These alternatives reduce cost in the short term but significantly increase it in the long term.

Prior art and references

kernel_objects/clock provides a clear overview of the operation of userspace clocks and is recommended reading.