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Home » » The LDAP is an application protocol for accessing and maintaining distributed directory information services over an IP network.

The LDAP is an application protocol for accessing and maintaining distributed directory information services over an IP network.


The Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) is an application protocol for accessing and maintaining distributed directory information services over an Internet Protocol (IP) network.

Directory services may provide any organized set of records, often with a hierarchical structure, such as a corporate electronic mail directory. Similarly, a telephone directory is a list of subscribers with an address and a phone number.

LDAP is specified in a series of Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Standard Track Requests for comments (RFCs).

The latest version is Version 3, published as RFC 4510.

Origin and influences.



Telecommunication companies' understanding of directory requirements was well developed after some 70 years of producing and managing telephone directories. These companies introduced the concept of directory services to information technology and computer networking, their input culminating in the comprehensive X.500 specification, a suite of protocols produced by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in the 1980s.

X.500 directory services were traditionally accessed via the X.500 Directory Access Protocol (DAP), which required the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) protocol stack. LDAP was originally intended to be a lightweight alternative protocol for accessing X.500 directory services through the simpler (and now widespread) TCP/IP protocol stack. This model of directory access was borrowed from the DIXIE and Directory Assistance Service protocols.

Standalone LDAP directory servers soon followed, as did directory servers supporting both DAP and LDAP. The latter has become popular in enterprises, as LDAP removed any need to deploy an OSI network. Today, X.500 directory protocols including DAP can also be used directly over TCP/IP.

The protocol was originally created by Tim Howes of the University of Michigan, Steve Kille of Isode Limited, and Wengyik Yeong of Performance Systems International, circa 1993. Mark Wahl of Critical Angle Inc., Tim Howes, and Steve Kille started work in 1996 on a new version of LDAP, LDAPv3, under the aegis of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). LDAPv3, first published in 1997, superseded LDAPv2 and added support for extensibility, integrated the Simple Authentication and Security Layer, and better aligned the protocol to the 1993 edition of X.500. Further development of the LDAPv3 specifications themselves and of numerous extensions adding features to LDAPv3 has come through the IETF.

In the early engineering stages of LDAP, it was known as Lightweight Directory Browsing Protocol, or LDBP. It was renamed with the expansion of the scope of the protocol beyond directory browsing and searching, to include directory update functions. It was given its Lightweight name because it was not as network intensive as its DAP predecessor and thus was more easily implemented over the internet due to its relatively modest bandwidth usage.

LDAP has influenced subsequent Internet protocols, including later versions of X.500, XML Enabled Directory (XED), Directory Service Markup Language (DSML), Service Provisioning Markup Language (SPML), and the Service Location Protocol (SLP).

Protocol overview.



A client starts an LDAP session by connecting to an LDAP server, called a Directory System Agent (DSA), by default on TCP port 389. The client then sends an operation request to the server, and the server sends responses in return. With some exceptions, the client does not need to wait for a response before sending the next request, and the server may send the responses in any order.

The client may request the following operations:

    * Start TLS — use the LDAPv3 Transport Layer Security (TLS) extension for a secure connection
    * Bind — authenticate and specify LDAP protocol version
    * Search — search for and/or retrieve directory entries
    * Compare — test if a named entry contains a given attribute value
    * Add a new entry
    * Delete an entry
    * Modify an entry
    * Modify Distinguished Name (DN) — move or rename an entry
        * Abandon — abort a previous request
    * Extended Operation — generic operation used to define other operations
    * Unbind — close the connection (not the inverse of Bind)

In addition the server may send "Unsolicited Notifications" that are not responses to any request, e.g. before it times out a connection.

A common alternate method of securing LDAP communication is using an SSL tunnel. This is denoted in LDAP URLs by using the URL scheme "ldaps". The default port for LDAP over SSL is 636. The use of LDAP over SSL was common in LDAP Version 2 (LDAPv2) but it was never standardized in any formal specification. This usage has been deprecated along with LDAPv2, which was officially retired in 2003.

LDAP is defined in terms of ASN.1, and protocol messages are encoded in the binary format BER. It uses textual representations for a number of ASN.1 fields/types, however.

Directory structure.



The protocol accesses LDAP directories, which follow the 1993 edition of the X.500 model:

    * A directory is a tree of directory entries.
    * An entry consists of a set of attributes.
    * An attribute has a name (an attribute type or attribute description) and one or more values. The attributes are defined in a schema (see below).
    * Each entry has a unique identifier: its Distinguished Name (DN). This consists of its Relative Distinguished Name (RDN), constructed from some attribute(s) in the entry, followed by the parent entry's DN. Think of the DN as the full file path and the RDN as its relative filename in its parent folder (e.g. if C:\foo\bar\myfile.txt were the DN, then myfile.txt would be the RDN).

Be aware that a DN may change over the lifetime of the entry, for instance, when entries are moved within a tree. To reliably and unambiguously identify entries, a UUID might be provided in the set of the entry's operational attributes.

An entry can look like this when represented in LDAP Data Interchange Format (LDIF) (LDAP itself is a binary protocol):

 dn: cn=John Doe,dc=example,dc=com
 cn: John Doe
 givenName: John
 sn: Doe
 telephoneNumber: +1 888 555 6789
 telephoneNumber: +1 888 555 1232
 mail: john@example.com
 manager: cn=Barbara Doe,dc=example,dc=com
 objectClass: inetOrgPerson
 objectClass: organizationalPerson
 objectClass: person
 objectClass: top

"dn" is the distinguished name of the entry; it's neither an attribute nor a part of the entry. "cn=John Doe" is the entry's RDN (Relative Distinguished Name), and "dc=example,dc=com" is the DN of the parent entry, where "dc" denotes 'Domain Component'. The other lines show the attributes in the entry. Attribute names are typically mnemonic strings, like "cn" for common name, "dc" for domain component, "mail" for e-mail address and "sn" for surname.

A server holds a subtree starting from a specific entry, e.g. "dc=example,dc=com" and its children. Servers may also hold references to other servers, so an attempt to access "ou=department,dc=example,dc=com" could return a referral or continuation reference to a server which holds that part of the directory tree. The client can then contact the other server. Some servers also support chaining, which means the server contacts the other server and returns the results to the client.

LDAP rarely defines any ordering: The server may return the values of an attribute, the attributes in an entry, and the entries found by a search operation in any order. This follows from the formal definitions - an entry is defined as a set of attributes, and an attribute is a set of values, and sets need not be ordered.

An LDAP URL format exists which clients support in varying degree, and which servers return in referrals and continuation references (see RFC 4516):

ldap://host:port/DN?attributes?scope?filter?extensions

Most of the components, which are described below, are optional.

    * host is the FQDN or IP address of the LDAP server to search.
    * port is the network port (default port 389) of the LDAP server.
    * DN is the distinguished name to use as the search base.
    * attributes is a comma-separated list of attributes to retrieve.
    * scope specifies the search scope and can be "base" (the default), "one" or "sub".
    * filter is a search filter. For example (objectClass=*) as defined in RFC 4515.
    * extensions are extensions to the LDAP URL format.

For example, "ldap://ldap.example.com/cn=John%20Doe,dc=example,dc=com" refers to all user attributes in John Doe's entry in ldap.example.com, while "ldap:///dc=example,dc=com??sub?(givenName=John)" searches for the entry in the default server (note the triple slash, omitting the host, and the double question mark, omitting the attributes). As in other URLs, special characters must be percent-encoded.

There is a similar non-standard ldaps: URL scheme for LDAP over SSL. This should not be confused with LDAP with TLS, which is achieved using the StartTLS operation using the standard ldap: scheme.

The contents of the entries in a subtree are governed by a schema known as a directory information tree (DIT).



The schema of a Directory Server defines a set of rules that govern the kinds of information that the server can hold. It has a number of elements, including:

    * Attribute Syntaxes—Provide information about the kind of information that can be stored in an attribute.
    * Matching Rules—Provide information about how to make comparisons against attribute values.
    * Matching Rule Uses—Indicate which attribute types may be used in conjunction with a particular matching rule.
    * Attribute Types—Define an OID and a set of names that may be used to refer to a given attribute, and associates that attribute with a syntax and set of matching rules.
    * Object Classes—Define named collections of attributes and classify them into sets of required and optional attributes.
    * Name Forms—Define rules for the set of attributes that should be included in the RDN for an entry.
    * Content Rules—Define additional constraints about the object classes and attributes that may be used in conjunction with an entry.
    * Structure Rule—Define rules that govern the kinds of subordinate entries that a given entry may have.

Attributes are the elements responsible for storing information in a directory, and the schema defines the rules for which attributes may be used in an entry, the kinds of values that those attributes may have, and how clients may interact with those values.

Clients may learn about the schema elements that the server supports by retrieving an appropriate subschema subentry.

The schema defines object classes. Each entry must have an objectClass attribute, containing named classes defined in the schema. The schema definition of the classes of an entry defines what kind of object the entry may represent - e.g. a person, organization or domain. The object class definitions also define the list of attributes that must contain values and the list of attributes which may contain values.

For example, an entry representing a person might belong to the classes "top" and "person". Membership in the "person" class would require the entry to contain the "sn" and "cn" attributes, and allow the entry also to contain "userPassword", "telephoneNumber", and other attributes. Since entries may have multiple ObjectClasses values, each entry has a complex of optional and mandatory attribute sets formed from the union of the object classes it represents. ObjectClasses can be inherited, and a single entry can have multiple ObjectClasses values which define the available and required attributes of the entry itself. A parallel to the schema of an objectClass is a class definition and an instance in Object-oriented programming, representing LDAP objectClass and LDAP entry, respectively.

Directory servers may publish the directory schema controlling an entry at a base DN given by the entry's subschemaSubentry operational attribute. (An operational attribute describes operation of the directory rather than user information and is only returned from a search when it is explicitly requested.)

Server administrators can add additional schema entries in addition to the provided schema elements. A schema for representing individual people within organizations is termed a white pages schema.

The Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) is an application protocol for accessing and maintaining distributed directory information services over an Internet Protocol (IP) network.


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