Q: What's the easiest way to start playing with White Rabbit?
A: For starting to use WR technology a WR starting
kit is available.
The manual you can find there shows clearly what is possible with just
two PCIe plug-in cards. Later on you can expand your kit with a White
Q: I am considering using White Rabbit in my next project. Where can I get support?
A: White Rabbit (WR) is open source and commercial. That means that
you can get the best of both worlds. You can avoid vendor lock-in
because the technology is open source, so you can switch vendors if you
are unhappy with the service a particular vendor provides. Because it is
open source, provided your team has adequate know-how, you can even
decide to not rely on commercial companies for support. But if you want
the convenience of paying somebody for guaranteed support, you can also
have that. In general, each WR user has a particular problem to solve,
and it would be hard to design a one-size-fits-all WR solution. WR
illustrate the basic capabilities of WR and provide a good basis to
build upon. There is often a need for local design customization, and
that is why we recommend that WR users have either the backing of a
local design team or a commercial company. There is also
mailing list, where you can ask questions. But for obvious reasons,
experts in white-rabbit-dev cannot guarantee they will answer all your
questions in a timely manner, or even at all. That would not be
scalable. Answers on white-rabbit-dev are therefore provided on a
good-will basis. The same is true for email you send privately to
individual core WR developers. If you need guaranteed support, a
local team or a company is the way to
Q: How can I test White Rabbit switch equipment? Or can I buy some test equipments from your company?
A: CERN is not a company, but a publicly funded intergovernemental
organization. We develop the technology but don't produce the equipment,
we buy WR switches from commercial vendors. Anyone can produce a WR
switch as all the sources are on our
pages (just have a careful
look at the wiki, sub-projects, ets... )
For example, there is wiki page about the WR switch on which
you can find the companies that are involved in switch development and
the companies from which you can buy a WR switch (Commercial producers,
at the bottom). On the wiki page about SPEC
card (an example of WR Node)
you will find companies producing SPEC
Q: If I don’t participate in WR workshop meetings, is the presentation material available?
A: Most White Rabbit equipment is Open Hardware and Open Software. You
have full access to all design data and can inspect and recompile the
source code yourself to verify anything you like.
Many tests have been done by independent institutes to verify the timing
synchronisation and data transmission performance. Some institutes
indeed had found issues that have been solved since then. Other issues
have been found and are being worked on.
Q: How important is White Rabbit?
A1: Have a look at the many institutes and companies who are using White
Rabbit at the list of Users of White Rabbit Technology.
A2: That's a hard question. It is important enough to have been
specifically mentioned in many job offers at different institutes and
Q: I have many GPS receivers on our company site. Any advantage to use White Rabbit here?
A: The cost of the GPS receiver, although even those cost over 10 K
(well above the price of a simple WR installation), may not be your
problem. It's the antenna installation and big cable for it that make it
all a hassle to manage GPS installations. Everyone can nowadays install
fibres and likely they are already installed in buildings, so within a
day you may add WR timing capabilities to other buildings or offices.
GPS receivers give you only the time at one single point.
Likely you can also manage the whole thing better, including backup GPS
receivers on completely other places in the network as WR can do
automatic switchover between timing sources. Redundancy is taken into
account in the design, much in the same way as implemented by the
Ethernet standards that it follows. Also for data
transfer we make sure that high priority packets
Q: Can I use copper SFPs in WR network for connecting nodes that don't require WR timing?
A: Yes. You can plug copper SFP into the Switch and use it to connect
your node. You will be able to transmit Ethernet traffic, but you won't
get WR timing for that node through copper SFP. However, you will be
able to receive PTP time from WR Switch and synchronize to it. Of course
it won't be sub-ns accuracy any more. See also Copper SFP
Actually it is really not worth bothering using copper SFPs as
fibre-optic SFPs are cheap (a pair is less than 100 Euro, cables are not
expensive either), you are using standard equipment that most WR adapts
are using and the delay parameters of the ones shown in  are
already known by the White Rabbit switch and other equipment so that you
have an out-of-the-box good performance not requiring a calibration.
Q: Are WR devices compatible with 100 Mbit/s copper SFP?
A: No. WR switches/nodes support only 1GbE (copper/fiber). If you want
to connect a non-1GbE device to a WR device, you need to do it through a
switch that can speak both (most of 1GbE switches should do
Q: Will synchronization between WR devices in a WR network be equally accurate with and without a Grandmaster connected to a good reference (10MHz, 1PPS) ?
A: You can have your grandmaster switch free running completely, or
connected only to 1PPS+10MHz but not the source of UTC. The
synchronization accuracy in a WR network is guaranteed between the
grandmaster and any WR device, regardless of the external source.
However, having a good external frequency source is generally a good
Q: Is it possible/foreseen to allow more than one Grandmaster in a WR Network?
A: It will be possible in the future using the seamless redundancy tools
that are currently in a proof-of-concept state, see slide 7-11 of
Redundancy presentation from WR
These mechanisms allow to connect as many Grandmasters as you want to a
single switch downstream, provided the Grandmasters are synchronized at
picoseconds (or tens of ps) level.
The logic to detect failure is very simple. If there is only one backup
(e.g. 2 GMs), the switchover is triggered by: (1) physical failure, (2)
notification from the master (i.e. if it looses the source of time). If
there are two or more backups (e.g. 3 and more GMs), there is a third
trigger of switchover: a kind-of majority voting based on comparison of
Byzantine faults and other more difficult problems are not handled. The
main problem with that faults is that it takes considerably more time to
detect them. So, even if you do detect them reliably, you are already
off by much more than 1ns, so your timing does not meet the
specification (sub-ns synchronization), so why bother. The first step to
any attempt of solving this problem is much more stable local oscillator
on the switch, so you have more time to decide and you can actually use
the oscillator as a third source of time, and fall back to the majority
Q: White Rabbit will give very low time differences between the devices connected to the network, in the low nano seconds. But what about UTC?
A: The time in WR network is transferred like in PTP (TAI plus
information about leap seconds). The usual scenario is that you connect
the grandmaster WR switch to 1PPS+10MHz from a GPS or Cesium clock and
you get the UTC information from
Actually the WR system uses the PTP standard. And this standard uses TAI
and not UTC. Using UTC in WR (and also in PTP) is a dangerous strategy
as the behavior during a leap second jump is uncertain.
White Rabbit technical questions
Q: What is the jitter performance?
A: A WR Switch can easily achieve a jitter (measured from 1Hz to 100kHz)
less than 20ps with two levels of hierarchy. Most of the jitter power
(99+%) is confined in the 1Hz-2kHz bandwidth. If you are using a
WR-enabled SPEC with a digital I/O card, the jitter performance may
deteriorate but still will be better than 50ps RMS. The accuracy is
specified better than 1ns, but this specific offset will be very stable
having only the mentioned jitter on top of it. Temperature effects will
give a very slow drift.
The White Rabbit low jitter
project may show more
detailed results and shows ways of how the jitter (or phase-noise) may
be improved (May 2016)
Q: Can I get links longer than 10 km?
A: If you want to build a larger distance network, you may want to know
that there are several meteorological institutes working on extending
the 10 km range. One may replace the standard SFP's by longer distance
ones (see Non-compliant SFP types), and there may
be ways of multiplexing specific wavelengths on a dark channel in a
Telecom network. Also light amplifiers may be used. See for example the
data of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and VSL at Users of WR
technology. At the moment of writing (April 2013) no links
longer than 16 km have been made though. The Finnish Metrology
Institute MIKES has set up a White Rabbit link between two PCs
that are connected with a 1000 (one thousand!) kilometer link.
Q: Where can I put additional delays coming e.g. from optical amplifiers to be able to compensate them?
A: For compensating additional (constant) assymetry you can modify
deltaTx and deltaRx parameters in the SFP database stored in EEPROM (for
WR PTP Core) or in a config file (for Wr Switch). Please take a look on
our calibration procedure draft (https://www.ohwr.org/project/white-rabbit/wikis/Documents/White-Rabbit-calibration-procedure) and
the WR PTP Core User's Manual (https://www.ohwr.org/documents/192).
Basically what you have to do is to use "sfp add" command to specify Tx
and Rx delays for particular SFP transceiver. In fact our delay model
says that those Tx/Rx delays are the sum of constant delays of
transmission/reception path so you can add your correction value there.
Those values are loaded by the PTP daemon only at the initialization
time, so if one wants to update them, restarting the daemon is
Q: What limits the timing performance for the long-distance WR links?
A: Basically, the timing performance of a WR network can be limited by
any link asymmetry not taken into account in the White Rabbit link delay
If, instead of WDM in a single fiber, two separate fibers are used
for the transmission in both directions the latency of both links
has to be measured and compensated (asymmetry caused by not equal
fibers' length). Moreover, if those two fibers are not part of the
same cable, their operation temperature will differ causing
additional link asymmetry not foreseen in the WR link delay model.
If optical amplifiers are used, their delays have to be measured and
taken into account. Asymmetry caused by different operation
temperature of each amplifier are not taken into account in WR link
Constant delays (e.g. delays from optical amplifiers) can be taken
into account during the calibration and summed together with Tx and
Rx hardware delays (check White Rabbit
Large values of delays or asymmetry are not a problem. The PTP
software uses 64-bit variables as well as 64-bit mathematical
Other effects are:
Temperature effects on the fibre itself. Over a large temperature
range and 10km, this can vary up to 200ps.
So at the end of the day, just count on it being better than 1ns for
links up to 10km. Only with much effort one can reach much better than
Q: May we use optical patch panels in the network or do you need direct connections?
A: There is no need to have direct connections between WR nodes. You can
use patch panels in a WR network without any problem. Just make sure you
have enough optical budget as each patch attenuates a bit of the light.
This usually should not be a problem, but it is good to calculate this
Q: Any restriction on which fibre type should be used?
Q: We have existing fibres already available which are meant for 10 Gb/s networks. Can I use these?
A: White Rabbit uses a 1 Gb/s transmission over a single mode fibre. So
as long as the fibre is for single-mode transmission, any fibre is OK.
The speed of data that you transfer over a fibre is not important.
So you will get the full White Rabbit performance with the fibre you
If you look at the datasheet of the fibre you have, it will say
somewhere 9 um (mode field diameter). This specifies that the light can
only follow a straight line through it, i.e. single mode.
Multi-mode fibres have a field diameter of 50 um or 62.5 um, meaning
that the light can follow many different routes through it, including
ones that reflect via the sides. This makes that a short light pulse
will be spread out during the transmission. That’s why you cannot run
long distances with multi-mode
Q: WR uses a single single-mode fibre, but would a short (~5m) multi-mode fibre link work too?
A: Multi-mode fibre links work fine. However you should redo timing
calibration for your particular setup. Alpha (i.e. fiber asymmetry) is
now caused by the difference in fibre length, not by chromatic
dispersion. So for precise timing you need to calibrate each individual
Q: What is the accuracy and resolution of the round-trip time that is calculated?
A: The accuracy of the round-trip time measurement will be mostly
determined by the accuracy of the frequency source you feed to the
Grandmaster (the switch that is assigned to distribute the time, in many
cases connected to a GPS or other clock). The resolution is
approximately (1/62.5MHz)*(1/2^14) = 1 ps. However, also the
implementation of the calculation can make a big difference: the
implementation in the WRS is better than 1 ps, while the calculation in
the end nodes may introduce an error in the order of 100 ps for a 10 km
The measurement of round-trip time is done by counting ticks of a
62.5MHz clock (which is ultimately derived from whatever clock signal
you feed to the GM) and enhancing that result (integer number of ticks)
with a fractional part using a DDMTD phase detector. The DDMTD gives you
a zooming effect of 2^N, with N=14 for the current switch gateware.
More details can be found in the document White Rabbit clock
synchronization: ultimate limits
Note that the synchronization is achieved by calculating master-to-slave
delay based on the round-trip measurement and calculation. This is quite
a tricky calculation because it involves large and small values (i.e.
round-trip and alpha parameter). The implementation of this calculation
can influence accuracy of synchronization on very long links (e.g.
quantization errors and limited number of bits when doing the
calculations in fixed-point arithmetic). The current implementations of
this calculations for the WR switch and node are explained in the a
(these might change for the PTP-HA High Accuracy implementation in
future, contact Maciej
if you need more information).
The calculation on the WRS and on a node (using WRPC) is done
differently. The calculation on the WRS is more precise that the
calculation on WRPC. This is because on a WRS the ARM processor can use
floating point calculations that cannot be used in the WRPC that has
more limited resources (notably RAM for storing the program). The
synchronization error due to limited calculation precision on WRPC (e.g.
quantization error) may be in the order of 100 ps for a 10 km link (to
be further characterized). While White Rabbit switches will remain very
precisely synchronized, an error (in for example the PPS and 10 MHz
outputs) on an end node can be caused by this calculation. This is work
requires more study and may be improved in the PTP-HA implementation.
Q: What about start-up variations in shown cRTT values?
A: Every time a link is restarted, the round trip time is somewhat
different. On a SPEC measurements show that it can be around 100 ps
(A.Wallin), while a restart of the WR Switch may show variations of 10
ps (A.Wallin) to 30 ps (J.Diaz).
This start-up variations are caused by some internal functionality in
the gigabit serialisers and is being worked on (Nov.2018). Actually a
part of it may be caused by the precision of the calculations (see