NTP servers are used by computer networks as a timing reference for synchronisation. An NTP server is really a communication device that receives the time from an atomic clock and distributes it. NTP servers that receive a direct atomic clock time are known as stratum 1 NTP servers.
A stratum 0 device is an atomic clock itself. These are highly expensive and delicate pieces of machinery and are only to be found in large scale physics laboratories. Unfortunately there are many rules governing who can access a stratum 1 server because of bandwidth considerations. Most stratum 1 NTP servers are set-up by universities or other non-profit organisations and so have to restrict who accesses them.
Fortunately stratum 2 time servers can offer decent enough accuracy as a timing source and any device receiving a time signal can itself be used as a time reference (a device receiving time from a stratum 2 device is a stratum 3 server. Devices that receive time from a stratum 3 server are stratum 4 devices, and so-on).
Ntp.org, is the official home of the NTP pool project and by far the best place to go to find a public NTP server. There are two lists of public servers available in the pool; primary servers, which displays the stratum 1 servers (most of which are closed access) and secondary which are all stratum 2 servers.
When using a public NTP server is important to abide by the access rules as failure to do so can cause the server to become clogged with traffic and if the problems persist possibly discontinued as most public NTP servers are set-up as acts of generosity.
There are some important points to remember when using a timing source from over the Internet. First, Internet timing sources can’t be authenticated. Authentication is an in-built security measure utilised by NTP but unavailable over the net. Secondly, to use an Internet timing source requires an open port in your firewall. A hole in a firewall can be used by malicious users and can leave a system vulnerable to attack.
For those requiring a secure timing source or when accuracy is highly important, a dedicated NTP server that receives a timing signal from either long wave radio transmissions or the GPs network.