Networking / Beginners

Directory Services and LDAP Security

Directory services are used to store and retrieve information about objects, which are managed by the service. On a network, these objects can include user accounts, computer accounts, mail accounts, and information on resources available on the network. Because these objects are organized in a directory structure, you can manage them by accessing various properties associated with them. For example, a person's account to use the network would be managed through such attributes as their username, password, times they're allowed to logon, and other properties of their account. By using a directory service to organize and access this information, the objects maintained by the service can be effectively managed.

The concept of a directory service can be somewhat confusing, until you realize that you've been using them for most of your life. A type of directory that's been around longer than computers is a telephone directory, which organizes the account information of telephone company customers. These account objects are organized to allow people to retrieve properties like the customer's name, phone number and address.

Directory services shouldn't be confused with the directory itself.The directory is a database that stores data on the objects managed through directory services.To use our telephone directory example again, consider that the information on customer accounts can be stored in a phonebook or electronically in a database. Regardless of whether the information is accessed through an operator or viewed online using a 411 service, the directory service is the process of how the data is accessed. The directory service is the interface or process of accessing information, while the directory itself is the repository for that data.

Directory services are used by many different network OSes to organize and manage the users, computers, printers, and other objects making up the network. Some of the directory services that are produced by vendors include:

  • Active Directory, which was developed by Microsoft for networks running Windows 2000 Server,Windows 2003 Server, or higher
  • eDirectory, which was developed by Novell for Novell NetWare networks. Previous versions for Novell NetWare 4.x and 5.x were called Novell Directory Services (NDS)
  • NT Directory Services, which was developed by Microsoft for Windows NT networks
  • Open Directory, which was developed by Apple for networks running Mac OS X Servers

To query and modify the directory on TCP/IP networks, the LDAP can be used. LDAP is a protocol that enables clients to access information within a directory service, allowing the directory to be searched and objects to be added, modified, and deleted. LDAP was created after the X.500 directory specification that uses the Directory Access Protocol (DAP). Although DAP is a directory service standard protocol, it is slow and somewhat complex. LDAP was developed as an alternative protocol for TCP/IP networks because of the high overhead and subsequent slow response of heavy X.500 clients, hence the name lightweight. Due to the popularity of TCP/IP and the speed of LDAP, the LDAP has become a standard protocol used in directory services.

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