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An NTP network usually gets its time from an authoritative time source such as a radio clock or an atomic clock attached to a time server. NTP then distributes this time across the network. NTP is extremely efficient; no more than one packet per minute is necessary to synchronize two machines to the accuracy of within a millisecond of one another.
NTP uses the concept of a stratum to describe how many NTP hops away a machine is from an authoritative time source. A stratum 1 time server typically has an authoritative time source (such as a radio or atomic clock, or a Global Positioning System (GPS) time source) directly attached, a stratum 2 time server receives its time via NTP from a stratum 1 time server, and so on.
The communication between devices running NTP (known as associations) is usually statically configured. Each device is given the IP address of devices with which it should form associations. NTP messages are exchanged between each pair of devices with an association, to ensure accurate timekeeping.