NTP Time Server Packet Header Explained

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Most time servers use Network Time Protocol and like other Internet based protocols NTP contains a packet header. A packet header, put simply, is just is a formatted unit of data that describes the information contained in the packet.

The NTP packet header consists of a number of 32-bit words. Here is a list of the most common packet header terms and their meaning:

IP address – the address of the NTP Time Server

NTP Version – which version of NTP (currently version 4 is the most recent)

Reference timestamp (the prime epoch ) used by NTP to work out the time from this set point (normally January 01 1900

Round trip delay (the time it takes request to arrive and come back in milliseconds)

Local clock offset – time difference between host and client

Leap indicator (if there is to be a leap second that day –normally only on 31 December)

Mode3  –  a three bit integer which values represent: 0=reserved, 1=symmetric active, 2= symmetric passive, 3=client, 4=server, 5=broadcast, 6=NTP control message, 7=reserved for private use.

Stratum level – which stratum level the NTP server is (a stratum 1 server receives the time from an atomic clock source a stratum 2 server receives the time from a stratum 1 server)

Poll Interval (How many requests is made and their intermittence)

Precision – how accurate in milliseconds is the system clock

Root Delay – This is a signed fixed-point number indicating the total roundtrip delay to the primary reference source at the root

Root dispersion (in milliseconds)- The root dispersion is the maximum (worst case) difference between the local system clock and the root of the NTP tree (stratum 1 clock)

Ref ID – 32 bit identifying the reference clock

Originate time stamp (time before synchronisation request)

Receive timestamp – the time the host/NTO time Server got the request

Transmit timestamp – the time the host sent back the request

Valid  response– is the system clock  synchronised or not


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