Section: Linux Programmer's Manual (2)
Updated: 2011-09-14
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timerfd_create, timerfd_settime, timerfd_gettime - timers that notify via file descriptors  


#include <sys/timerfd.h>

int timerfd_create(int clockid, int flags);

int timerfd_settime(int fd, int flags,
                    const struct itimerspec *new_value,
                    struct itimerspec *old_value);

int timerfd_gettime(int fd, struct itimerspec *curr_value);


These system calls create and operate on a timer that delivers timer expiration notifications via a file descriptor. They provide an alternative to the use of setitimer(2) or timer_create(2), with the advantage that the file descriptor may be monitored by select(2), poll(2), and epoll(7).

The use of these three system calls is analogous to the use of timer_create(2), timer_settime(2), and timer_gettime(2). (There is no analog of timer_getoverrun(2), since that functionality is provided by read(2), as described below.)  


timerfd_create() creates a new timer object, and returns a file descriptor that refers to that timer. The clockid argument specifies the clock that is used to mark the progress of the timer, and must be either CLOCK_REALTIME or CLOCK_MONOTONIC. CLOCK_REALTIME is a settable system-wide clock. CLOCK_MONOTONIC is a nonsettable clock that is not affected by discontinuous changes in the system clock (e.g., manual changes to system time). The current value of each of these clocks can be retrieved using clock_gettime(2).

Starting with Linux 2.6.27, the following values may be bitwise ORed in flags to change the behavior of timerfd_create():

Set the O_NONBLOCK file status flag on the new open file description. Using this flag saves extra calls to fcntl(2) to achieve the same result.
Set the close-on-exec (FD_CLOEXEC) flag on the new file descriptor. See the description of the O_CLOEXEC flag in open(2) for reasons why this may be useful.

In Linux versions up to and including 2.6.26, flags must be specified as zero.  


timerfd_settime() arms (starts) or disarms (stops) the timer referred to by the file descriptor fd.

The new_value argument specifies the initial expiration and interval for the timer. The itimer structure used for this argument contains two fields, each of which is in turn a structure of type timespec:

struct timespec {
    time_t tv_sec;                /* Seconds */
    long   tv_nsec;               /* Nanoseconds */

struct itimerspec {
    struct timespec it_interval;  /* Interval for periodic timer */
    struct timespec it_value;     /* Initial expiration */

new_value.it_value specifies the initial expiration of the timer, in seconds and nanoseconds. Setting either field of new_value.it_value to a nonzero value arms the timer. Setting both fields of new_value.it_value to zero disarms the timer.

Setting one or both fields of new_value.it_interval to nonzero values specifies the period, in seconds and nanoseconds, for repeated timer expirations after the initial expiration. If both fields of new_value.it_interval are zero, the timer expires just once, at the time specified by new_value.it_value.

The flags argument is either 0, to start a relative timer (new_value.it_value specifies a time relative to the current value of the clock specified by clockid), or TFD_TIMER_ABSTIME, to start an absolute timer (new_value.it_value specifies an absolute time for the clock specified by clockid; that is, the timer will expire when the value of that clock reaches the value specified in new_value.it_value).

If the old_value argument is not NULL, then the itimerspec structure that it points to is used to return the setting of the timer that was current at the time of the call; see the description of timerfd_gettime() following.  


timerfd_gettime() returns, in curr_value, an itimerspec structure that contains the current setting of the timer referred to by the file descriptor fd.

The it_value field returns the amount of time until the timer will next expire. If both fields of this structure are zero, then the timer is currently disarmed. This field always contains a relative value, regardless of whether the TFD_TIMER_ABSTIME flag was specified when setting the timer.

The it_interval field returns the interval of the timer. If both fields of this structure are zero, then the timer is set to expire just once, at the time specified by curr_value.it_value.  

Operating on a timer file descriptor

The file descriptor returned by timerfd_create() supports the following operations:
If the timer has already expired one or more times since its settings were last modified using timerfd_settime(), or since the last successful read(2), then the buffer given to read(2) returns an unsigned 8-byte integer (uint64_t) containing the number of expirations that have occurred. (The returned value is in host byte order---that is, the native byte order for integers on the host machine.)
If no timer expirations have occurred at the time of the read(2), then the call either blocks until the next timer expiration, or fails with the error EAGAIN if the file descriptor has been made nonblocking (via the use of the fcntl(2) F_SETFL operation to set the O_NONBLOCK flag).
A read(2) will fail with the error EINVAL if the size of the supplied buffer is less than 8 bytes.
poll(2), select(2) (and similar)
The file descriptor is readable (the select(2) readfds argument; the poll(2) POLLIN flag) if one or more timer expirations have occurred.
The file descriptor also supports the other file-descriptor multiplexing APIs: pselect(2), ppoll(2), and epoll(7).
When the file descriptor is no longer required it should be closed. When all file descriptors associated with the same timer object have been closed, the timer is disarmed and its resources are freed by the kernel.

fork(2) semantics

After a fork(2), the child inherits a copy of the file descriptor created by timerfd_create(). The file descriptor refers to the same underlying timer object as the corresponding file descriptor in the parent, and read(2)s in the child will return information about expirations of the timer.  

execve(2) semantics

A file descriptor created by timerfd_create() is preserved across execve(2), and continues to generate timer expirations if the timer was armed.  


On success, timerfd_create() returns a new file descriptor. On error, -1 is returned and errno is set to indicate the error.

timerfd_settime() and timerfd_gettime() return 0 on success; on error they return -1, and set errno to indicate the error.  


timerfd_create() can fail with the following errors:
The clockid argument is neither CLOCK_MONOTONIC nor CLOCK_REALTIME;
flags is invalid; or, in Linux 2.6.26 or earlier, flags is nonzero.
The per-process limit of open file descriptors has been reached.
The system-wide limit on the total number of open files has been reached.
Could not mount (internal) anonymous inode device.
There was insufficient kernel memory to create the timer.

timerfd_settime() and timerfd_gettime() can fail with the following errors:

fd is not a valid file descriptor.
new_value, old_value, or curr_value is not valid a pointer.
fd is not a valid timerfd file descriptor.

timerfd_settime() can also fail with the following errors:

new_value is not properly initialized (one of the tv_nsec falls outside the range zero to 999,999,999).
flags is invalid.


These system calls are available on Linux since kernel 2.6.25. Library support is provided by glibc since version 2.8.  


These system calls are Linux-specific.  


Currently, timerfd_create() supports fewer types of clock IDs than timer_create(2).  


The following program creates a timer and then monitors its progress. The program accepts up to three command-line arguments. The first argument specifies the number of seconds for the initial expiration of the timer. The second argument specifies the interval for the timer, in seconds. The third argument specifies the number of times the program should allow the timer to expire before terminating. The second and third command-line arguments are optional.

The following shell session demonstrates the use of the program:

$ a.out 3 1 100
0.000: timer started
3.000: read: 1; total=1
4.000: read: 1; total=2
^Z                  # type control-Z to suspend the program
[1]+  Stopped                 ./timerfd3_demo 3 1 100
$ fg                # Resume execution after a few seconds
a.out 3 1 100
9.660: read: 5; total=7
10.000: read: 1; total=8
11.000: read: 1; total=9
^C                  # type control-C to suspend the program

Program source

#include <sys/timerfd.h>
#include <time.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdint.h>        /* Definition of uint64_t */

#define handle_error(msg) \
        do { perror(msg); exit(EXIT_FAILURE); } while (0)

static void
    static struct timespec start;
    struct timespec curr;
    static int first_call = 1;
    int secs, nsecs;

    if (first_call) {
        first_call = 0;
        if (clock_gettime(CLOCK_MONOTONIC, &start) == -1)

    if (clock_gettime(CLOCK_MONOTONIC, &curr) == -1)

    secs = curr.tv_sec - start.tv_sec;
    nsecs = curr.tv_nsec - start.tv_nsec;
    if (nsecs < 0) {
        nsecs += 1000000000;
    printf("%d.%03d: ", secs, (nsecs + 500000) / 1000000);

main(int argc, char *argv[])
    struct itimerspec new_value;
    int max_exp, fd;
    struct timespec now;
    uint64_t exp, tot_exp;
    ssize_t s;

    if ((argc != 2) && (argc != 4)) {
        fprintf(stderr, "%s init-secs [interval-secs max-exp]\n",

    if (clock_gettime(CLOCK_REALTIME, &now) == -1)

    /* Create a CLOCK_REALTIME absolute timer with initial
       expiration and interval as specified in command line */

    new_value.it_value.tv_sec = now.tv_sec + atoi(argv[1]);
    new_value.it_value.tv_nsec = now.tv_nsec;
    if (argc == 2) {
        new_value.it_interval.tv_sec = 0;
        max_exp = 1;
    } else {
        new_value.it_interval.tv_sec = atoi(argv[2]);
        max_exp = atoi(argv[3]);
    new_value.it_interval.tv_nsec = 0;

    fd = timerfd_create(CLOCK_REALTIME, 0);
    if (fd == -1)

    if (timerfd_settime(fd, TFD_TIMER_ABSTIME, &new_value, NULL) == -1)

    printf("timer started\n");

    for (tot_exp = 0; tot_exp < max_exp;) {
        s = read(fd, &exp, sizeof(uint64_t));
        if (s != sizeof(uint64_t))

        tot_exp += exp;
        printf("read: %llu; total=%llu\n",
                (unsigned long long) exp,
                (unsigned long long) tot_exp);



eventfd(2), poll(2), read(2), select(2), setitimer(2), signalfd(2), timer_create(2), timer_gettime(2), timer_settime(2), epoll(7), time(7)  


This page is part of release 3.74 of the Linux man-pages project. A description of the project, information about reporting bugs, and the latest version of this page, can be found at http://www.kernel.org/doc/man-pages/.



Operating on a timer file descriptor
fork(2) semantics
execve(2) semantics
Program source