What is LDAP? A guide to understanding how it works.
Apr 27, 2023
What is LDAP?
LDAP is Increasingly being used to manage company resources.
However, there are some people who know that their company utilizes LDAP, but do not understand the mechanism at all.
This article explains in detail the mechanism, functions, knowledge, etc. required to understand LDAP.
Please read this article even if you are considering implementing LDAP in the future.
LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) is a standard protocol designed to maintain or access directory services within a network.
Generally, the term LDAP refers more to the LDAP server than to the protocol mechanism; when used to mean LDAP server, it is sometimes used to mean something like a simple database.
LDAP as a protocol stores static data such as usernames, passwords, and email addresses in a directory.
Trivia: What is a directory service
A directory service is a system that collects, stores, and makes searchable information about resources, their locations, attributes, and settings on a network.
An LDAP server, on the other hand, communicates with clients via a protocol over an IP network to register and delete data in the directory, and to accept queries and searches about the registered data.
How LDAP Works and Functions
LDAP is mainly managed by a document called LDIF (LDAP Interchange Format).
Unlike the “table structure” of a DB, LDAP uses a "tree structure" to manage data.
LDAP manages the following three elements as a hierarchy and sets access privileges.
・DC (Domain Component)
Domain name component
・OU (Organization Unit)
An object that is similar to a folder in a file system and is used to store user information.
・CN (Common Name)
Resources such as people and machines
LDAP utilizes DN (Distinguish Name), which can identify objects such as people and machines, to identify resources on the server, and can assign various attributes to entries.
Thus, LDAP uses a "tree structure" mechanism to identify and store resources so that searches, etc., can be easily performed.
Advantages of Utilizing LDAP
Now that you understand how LDAP works and what it does, you may be thinking, "I understand how it works, but I want to know about the benefits.
Here are the advantages of utilizing LDAP.
Able to expand functions and improve performance
LDAP can be used to manage not only user login information, but also internal information and various resources such as PCs, printers, and mobile devices.
It can also be used as an address book, and its ability to expand the range of functions at will is attractive.
Compatible with any OS
LDAP can be used not only on Windows, which has many users, but also on any OS, including macOS and Linux.
For example, even within a company, LDAP can be used to centrally manage various operating systems such as Windows and macOS.
Strong and Secure
LDAP allows detailed classification of access to resources.
For example, in an environment where only users of a particular location have access privilege, user X can only browse, while user Y can browse, insert, delete, and update.
By setting access privileges in detail, it can reduce security risks.
Reduce server load
LDAP provides a replication function that makes copies of resources to avoid concentrating the load on a single server.
This prevents long network response times and can be used as a backup in case of emergency.
What about LDAP safety?
What about the security of LDAP?
Going straight to the point, the security of LDAP is basically the same as that of other protocols, and depends on the "state of implementation”.
In order to use LDAP safely and reduce security risks, the following points should be taken into account.
Use SSL or TLS encryption when sending and receiving data in LDAP.
Use hash functions when performing LDAP authentication.
Set policies for access privilege (e.g., insert, delete only by responsible person).
Keep as many backups as possible to prevent problems with one server from slowing down the entire operation
Use a firewall (FW) to block unauthorized access.
Keep logs of directories as evidence and check for any irregularities.
What is LDAP Authentication?
LDAP authentication refers to the process of verifying usernames and passwords (PWs) stored in services such as OpenLDAP and Active Directory.
Responsible people can create and authorize user accounts in the directory.
When a user attempts to access a resource, the request is sent to the authentication server.
The LDAP server refers the username and PW to the user information in the directory.
If the information matches, the server checks to see if the user is authenticated to access the resource that sent the request.
Differences from Active Directory
LDAP is often compared to Microsoft's Active Directory.
Active Directory is a Microsoft product that is utilized to configure IT assets such as users, PCs, all-in-one printers, etc., and is integrated with almost all Microsoft Office products and servers.
Let’s take a look at what is particularly different from LDAP.
The biggest difference between the two is their suitability for large-scale application implementations.
LDAP is suitable for implementing very large-scale applications, such as large subscriber queries conducted on wireless communication platforms.
For example, it was previously utilized to authenticate users of the famous social networking service Twitter. Because Twitter is used by a large number of people around the world, authentication is also large-scale. In this way, LDAP is suitable for large-scale applications.
On the other hand, the design of Active Directory is unsuitable for large-scale implementations. Instead, Active Directory is better suited for Microsoft product-based access management purposes than LDAP.
What is Virtual LDAP (VLDAP)?
Virtual LDAP is LDAP hosted and managed in a cloud service. It allows organizations to build cloud-enabled LDAP applications without having to run and maintain an in-house LDAP server. Any application and service can integrate with an LDAP directory hosted in a cloud service.
7 Key Terms Related to LDAP
Finally, here are seven important terms to remember if you are thinking about implementing LDAP in the future.
Depending on the data model, general data such as object classes, functions, and security (user authentication methods) are passed.
Distinguished Name (DN)
A unique identifier for each entry and its location in the information tree.
A request to perform a change, such as insert, delete, replace, increase, etc.
Relative Distinguished Name (RDN)
A method of defining relative locations by associating distinguished names.
A description of the format and attributes of each item on the server.
A string containing the address and port information of the server.
It also contains other data that gives the location and can refer to operations to another server.
URI stands for "Uniform Resource Identifier" and is a generic term for an identifier to recognize any file on the Web, consisting of a URN and a URL.
This article has explained LDAP in detail, which was probably difficult for those who heard it for the first time.
LDAP is very useful in managing various resources of an organization.
It is recommended to use it when you want to manage users, etc. in large-scale applications.
Make sure you have a good understanding of how it works and what it does before you use it.
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