The inventor of the network time protocol (NTP) David L. Mills has passed away
On January 17, 2024, David L. Mills, the inventor of the Network Time Protocol (NTP), passed away. Scientist, developer and significant contributor to the development of the early Internet (he worked on FTP and proposed the idea of ping) died at the age of 85 at his home surrounded by family and loved ones. Mills’ death was announced to the community by his daughter Lee.
NTP (Network Time Protocol) is a network protocol for synchronizing the system time of computer devices over a network connection.
Dr. David L. Mills created the Network Time Protocol (NTP) in 1985 to solve an important problem in the online world: synchronizing time across different computer systems and networks. In a digital environment where computers and servers are located all over the world, each of which has its own internal clock, there is a significant need for a standardized and accurate timekeeping system.
NTP provides a solution by allowing the clocks of computers on a network to synchronize to a common time source. This synchronization is vital for everything from data integrity to network security. For example, NTP stores accurate timestamps of network financial transactions and provides accurate and synchronized timestamps for logging and monitoring network activity.
In the 1970s, during his tenure at COMSAT and his involvement in the ARPANET project (a precursor to the Internet), Mills first became aware of the need for time synchronization in computer networks. His solution provided computers with a total time with an accuracy of tens of milliseconds. Currently, NTP works on billions of information devices worldwide, coordinating time on all continents. This project is one of the cornerstones of modern digital infrastructure.
After the introduction of NTP, Mills faced serious challenges in maintaining and developing the protocol, especially as the Internet grew in scale and complexity. His work highlighted the often underappreciated role of key developers of open source software. Mills was born with glaucoma and lost his vision, eventually going completely blind. Due to vision problems, Mills turned over control of the protocol to Harlan Stann in the 2000s.
In addition to his work on NTP, Mills also invented the first “Fuzzball router” for NSFNET (one of the first modern routers based on the DEC PDP-11 computer). Mills created one of the first implementations of FTP, inspired ping, and played a key role in the architecture of the Internet as the first chair of the Internet Architecture Task Force.
Mills was widely recognized for his ideas and designs. He was a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery in 1999 and of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2002. Mills was awarded the 2013 IEEE Award for Contributions to Network Protocols and Timing in the Development of the Internet.
Mills received his doctorate in computer and communication science from the University of Michigan in 1971. At the time of his death, Mills was a professor emeritus at the University of Delaware. He retired in 2008 after 22 years at the university.