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Systems operating with all their parts in synchrony are said to be synchronous or in sync.
Some systems may be only approximately synchronized, or plesiochronous. For some applications relative offsets between events need to be determined, for others only the order of the event is important.
Today, synchronization can occur on a global basis due to GPS-enabled timekeeping systems.
Time-keeping and synchronization of clocks was a critical problem in long-distance ocean navigation; accurate time is required in conjunction with astronomical observations to determine how far East or West a vessel has traveled. The invention of an accurate marine chronometer revolutionized marine navigation. By the end of the 19th century, time signals in the form of a signal gun, flag, or dropping time ball, were provided at important ports so that mariners could check their chronometers for error.
Synchronization was important in the operation of 19th century railways, these being the first major means of transport fast enough for the differences in local time between adjacent towns to be noticeable. Each line handled the problem by synchronizing all its stations to headquarters as a standard railroad time. In some territories, sharing of single railroad tracks was controlled by the timetable. The need for strict timekeeping led the companies to settle on one standard, and civil authorities eventually abandoned local mean solar time in favor of that standard.
In electrical engineering terms, for digital logic and data transfer, a synchronous object requires a clock signal. Timekeeping technologies such as the GPS satellites and Network time protocol (NTP) provide real-time access to a close approximation to the UTC timescale, and are used for many terrestrial synchronization applications.
Synchronization is an important concept in the following fields:
Synchronization has several subtly distinct sub-concepts:
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In the field of video and audio engineering:
In the field of aircraft gun engineering:
Order synchronization and related topics: