Chapter 19. Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP)

What is LDAP?

LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) is a proposed open standard for accessing global or local directory services over a network and/or the Internet. A directory, in this sense, is very much like a phone book. LDAP can handle other information, but at present it is typically used to associate names with phone numbers and email addresses. LDAP directories are designed to support a high volume of queries, but the data stored in the directory does not change very often.

LDAP is much more useful than a paper phone book, because LDAP's design is intended to support propagation over LDAP servers throughout the Internet, much like the Domain Name Service (DNS). DNS servers help to connect computers to one another based on fully qualified domain names or the type of service requested from a domain, such as mail exchange. Without DNS servers, hostnames could not be translated into IP addresses, which are required for TCP/IP communication. In the future, LDAP could provide the same type of global access to many types of directory information. Currently, LDAP is more commonly used within a single large organization, like a college or a company, for directory services.

LDAP is a client-server system. An LDAP client connects to an LDAP server and either queries it for information or provides information that needs to be entered into the directory. The server either answers the query, refers the query to another LDAP server, or accepts the information for incorporation into the directory, based on the permission of the user.

LDAP is sometimes known as X.500 Lite. X.500 is an international standard for directories and full-featured, but it is also complex, requiring a lot of computing resources and the full OSI stack. LDAP, in contrast, can run easily on a PC and over TCP/IP. LDAP can access X.500 directories but does not support every capability of X.500.

This chapter will refer to the configuration and use of OpenLDAP, an open source implementation of LDAP. OpenLDAP includes slapd (a stand-alone LDAP server), slurpd (a stand-alone LDAP replication server), libraries implementing the LDAP protocol, utilities, tools, and sample clients.