Updating Time Zone Information in Linux

Published on March 16, 2009

About this time last year, I noted that our build machines at work were way out of sync in their respective local times. As a result, we were seeing a bunch of “clock skew” warnings when building our code. To fix the problem, I figured out how to use NTP on a private network. Imagine my surprise when, while performing a build today, I noticed more clock skew warnings! I checked our setup, and NTP was still functioning as expected. The problem, it turns out, was that some of our build machines had not yet changed over to Daylight Savings Time (DST), something NTP doesn’t assist with. Only the oldest machines were affected, which wasn’t surprising, seeing as Congress feels the need to change the DST rules every few years.

Thankfully, updating time zone information is easy to do. Here’s how:

Step 1: Verify Your System Settings
Clearly, we should first check to see if we even need to update our system. To do this, we can issue this command, replacing 2009 with the appropriate year:

zdump -v /etc/localtime | grep 2009

The reported DST times should correspond with your local area. In my case, the reported date on the broken systems was April 5, not March 8. So this particular system needed updating. See the end of this article for a note on potential zdump problems on 64-bit systems.

Step 2: Obtain the Latest Time Zone Information
The latest time zone data can be obtained via the tz FTP distribution website. You’ll want to get the tzdata{year}{version}.tar.gz file. In my case, the filename was tzdata2009c.tar.gz. Copy this file to the system to be updated, and unpack it in a temporary location (I put it in a subfolder in /tmp).
Step 3: Compile the New Time Zone Data
We now need to compile the new time zone data. This can be done through use of the handy zic command:

zic -d {temp_dir} {file_to_compile}

In my case, I used the name of zoneinfo for the {temp_dir} parameter, and I wanted to compile the northamerica file, seeing as that’s where I live:

zic -d zoneinfo northamerica

Upon completing this compilation step, a new zoneinfo directory was created in the temporary location where I unpacked the time zone data.

Step 4: Copy the Newly Built Files
Now that the appropriate files have been built, we’ll need to copy the specific region files to the right location. By default, Linux time zone information lives in the /usr/share/zoneinfo directory. Since I live in the Eastern time zone, I copied the EST and EST5EDT files to the aforementioned location (I didn’t know which file I really needed, so I just grabbed both). These files will overwrite the existing versions, so you may want to back those old versions up, just to be safe. In addition to this ‘global time zone’ file, you’ll want to copy the appropriate specific time zone data file to the right place. In my case, I copied the America/New_York file to the corresponding location in the /usr/share/zoneinfo directory. Again, you’ll be overwriting an existing file, so make backups as necessary.
Step 5: Update the localtime Link in /etc
The file /etc/localtime should theoretically be a soft link to the appropriate specific time zone data file in the /usr/share/zoneinfo directory. On a few of the machines I had to update, this was not the case. To create the soft link, issue the standard command:

ln -s /usr/share/zoneinfo/{path_to_zone_file} /etc/localtime

Here’s the command I issued for my example:

ln -s /usr/share/zoneinfo/America/New_York /etc/localtime
Step 6: Validate the Changes
Now that we have installed the new time zone information file, we can verify that the data has been updated properly, again by using the zdump command:

zdump -v /etc/localtime | grep 2009

This time, the dates shown should be correct. If you issue a date command, your time zone should also now be correct.

There is one word of warning I can provide to you. On some older 64-bit systems, the zdump command will seg-fault when you run it. This is a bug with the installed glibc package. I found this RedHat errata page covering the issue (at least, it refers to the package version that fixes this issue). Thankfully, I was able to compile and install the new time zone information without having to update glibc (I simply validated my changes by issuing a date command). It seems that only the zdump command exhibits the seg-fault on those older systems. Your mileage may vary.

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