17.2. NTP Strata

NTP servers are classified according to their synchronization distance from the atomic clocks which are the source of the time signals. The servers are thought of as being arranged in layers, or strata, from 1 at the top down to 15. Hence the word stratum is used when referring to a specific layer. Atomic clocks are referred to as Stratum 0 as this is the source, but no Stratum 0 packet is sent on the Internet, all stratum 0 atomic clocks are attached to a server which is referred to as stratum 1. These servers send out packets marked as Stratum 1. A server which is synchronized by means of packets marked stratum n belongs to the next, lower, stratum and will mark its packets as stratum n+1. Servers of the same stratum can exchange packets with each other but are still designated as belonging to just the one stratum, the stratum one below the best reference they are synchronized to. The designation Stratum 16 is used to indicate that the server is not currently synchronized to a reliable time source.
Note that by default NTP clients act as servers for those systems in the stratum below them.
Here is a summary of the NTP Strata:
Stratum 0:
Atomic Clocks and their signals broadcast over Radio and GPS
  • GPS (Global Positioning System)
  • Mobile Phone Systems
  • Low Frequency Radio Broadcasts WWVB (Colorado, USA.), JJY-40 and JJY-60 (Japan), DCF77 (Germany), and MSF (United Kingdom)
These signals can be received by dedicated devices and are usually connected by RS-232 to a system used as an organizational or site-wide time server.
Stratum 1:
Computer with radio clock, GPS clock, or atomic clock attached
Stratum 2:
Reads from stratum 1; Serves to lower strata
Stratum 3:
Reads from stratum 2; Serves to lower strata
Stratum n+1:
Reads from stratum n; Serves to lower strata
Stratum 15:
Reads from stratum 14; This is the lowest stratum.
This process continues down to Stratum 15 which is the lowest valid stratum. The label Stratum 16 is used to indicated an unsynchronized state.