Applies to openSUSE Leap 42.2

5 LDAP—A Directory Service


The Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) is a set of protocols designed to access and maintain information directories. LDAP can be used for user and group management, system configuration management, address management, and more. This chapter provides a basic understanding of how OpenLDAP works.

In a network environment it is crucial to keep important information structured and to serve it quickly. A directory service—like the common yellow pages keeps information available in a well-structured and searchable form.

Ideally, a central server stores the data in a directory and distributes it to all clients using a well-defined protocol. The structured data allow a wide range of applications to access them. A central repository reduces the necessary administrative effort. The use of an open and standardized protocol like LDAP ensures that as many client applications as possible can access such information.

A directory in this context is a type of database optimized for quick and effective reading and searching:

  • To make multiple concurrent reading accesses possible, the number of updates is usually very low. The number of read and write accesses is often limited to a few users with administrative privileges. In contrast, conventional databases are optimized for accepting the largest possible data volume in a short time.

  • When static data is administered, updates of the existing data sets are very rare. When working with dynamic data, especially when data sets like bank accounts or accounting are concerned, the consistency of the data is of primary importance. If an amount should be subtracted from one place to be added to another, both operations must happen concurrently, within one transaction, to ensure balance over the data stock. Traditional relational databases usually have a very strong focus on data consistency, such as the referential integrity support of transactions. Conversely, short-term inconsistencies are usually acceptable in LDAP directories. LDAP directories often do not have the same strong consistency requirements as relational databases.

The design of a directory service like LDAP is not laid out to support complex update or query mechanisms. All applications are guaranteed to access this service quickly and easily.

5.1 LDAP versus NIS

Unix system administrators traditionally use NIS (Network Information Service) for name resolution and data distribution in a network. The configuration data contained in the files group, hosts, mail, netgroup, networks, passwd, printcap, protocols, rpc, and services in the /etc directory is distributed to clients all over the network. These files can be maintained without major effort because they are simple text files. The handling of larger amounts of data, however, becomes increasingly difficult because of nonexistent structuring. NIS is only designed for Unix platforms, and is not suitable as a centralized data administration tool in heterogeneous networks.

Unlike NIS, the LDAP service is not restricted to pure Unix networks. Windows servers (from 2000) support LDAP as a directory service. The application tasks mentioned above are additionally supported in non-Unix systems.

The LDAP principle can be applied to any data structure that needs to be centrally administered. A few application examples are:

  • Replacement for the NIS service

  • Mail routing (postfix)

  • Address books for mail clients, like Mozilla Thunderbird, Evolution, and Outlook

  • Administration of zone descriptions for a BIND 9 name server

  • User authentication with Samba in heterogeneous networks

This list can be extended because LDAP is extensible, unlike NIS. The clearly-defined hierarchical structure of the data simplifies the administration of large amounts of data, as it can be searched more easily.

5.2 Structure of an LDAP Directory Tree

To get background knowledge on how an LDAP server works and how the data is stored, it is vital to understand the way the data is organized on the server and how this structure enables LDAP to provide fast access to the data. To successfully operate an LDAP setup, you also need to be familiar with some basic LDAP terminology. This section introduces the basic layout of an LDAP directory tree and provides the basic terminology used with regard to LDAP. Skip this introductory section if you already have some LDAP background knowledge and only want to learn how to set up an LDAP environment in openSUSE Leap. Read on at Section 5.4, “Manually Configuring an LDAP Server”.

An LDAP directory has a tree structure. All entries (called objects) of the directory have a defined position within this hierarchy. This hierarchy is called the directory information tree (DIT). The complete path to the desired entry, which unambiguously identifies it, is called the distinguished name or DN. A single node along the path to this entry is called relative distinguished name or RDN.

The relations within an LDAP directory tree become more evident in the following example, shown in Figure 5.1, “Structure of an LDAP Directory”.

Structure of an LDAP Directory
Figure 5.1: Structure of an LDAP Directory

The complete diagram is a fictional directory information tree. The entries on three levels are depicted. Each entry corresponds to one box in the image. The complete, valid distinguished name for the fictional employee Geeko Linux, in this case, is cn=Geeko Linux,ou=doc,dc=example,dc=com. It is composed by adding the RDN cn=Geeko Linux to the DN of the preceding entry ou=doc,dc=example,dc=com.

The types of objects that can be stored in the DIT are globally determined following a Schema. The type of an object is determined by the object class. The object class determines what attributes the relevant object must or can be assigned. The Schema, therefore, must contain definitions of all object classes and attributes used in the desired application scenario. There are a few common Schemas (see RFC 2252 and 2256). The LDAP RFC defines a few commonly used Schemas (see for example, RFC4519). Additionally, Schemas are available for many other use cases (for example, Samba or NIS replacement). It is, however, possible to create custom Schemas or to use multiple Schemas complementing each other (if this is required by the environment in which the LDAP server should operate).

Table 5.1, “Commonly Used Object Classes and Attributes” offers a small overview of the object classes from core.schema and inetorgperson.schema used in the example, including required attributes (Req. Attr.) and valid attribute values.

Table 5.1: Commonly Used Object Classes and Attributes

Object Class


Example Entry

Req. Attr.


domainComponent (name components of the domain)




organizationalUnit (organizational unit)




inetOrgPerson (person-related data for the intranet or Internet)

Geeko Linux

sn and cn

Example 5.1, “Excerpt from schema.core” shows an excerpt from a Schema directive with explanations.

Example 5.1: Excerpt from schema.core
attributetype ( NAME ( 'ou' 'organizationalUnitName') 1
       DESC 'RFC2256: organizational unit this object belongs to' 2
       SUP name ) 3

objectclass ( NAME 'organizationalUnit' 4
       DESC 'RFC2256: an organizational unit' 5
       SUP top STRUCTURAL 6
       MUST ou 7
MAY (userPassword $ searchGuide $ seeAlso $ businessCategory 8
  $ x121Address $ registeredAddress $ destinationIndicator
  $ preferredDeliveryMethod $ telexNumber
  $ teletexTerminalIdentifier $ telephoneNumber
  $ internationaliSDNNumber $ facsimileTelephoneNumber
  $ street $ postOfficeBox $ postalCode $ postalAddress
  $ physicalDeliveryOfficeName
  $ st $ l $ description) )

The attribute type organizationalUnitName and the corresponding object class organizationalUnit serve as an example here.


The name of the attribute, its unique OID (object identifier) (numerical), and the abbreviation of the attribute.


A brief description of the attribute with DESC. The corresponding RFC, on which the definition is based, is also mentioned here.


SUP indicates a superordinate attribute type to which this attribute belongs.


The definition of the object class organizationalUnit begins—the same as in the definition of the attribute—with an OID and the name of the object class.


A brief description of the object class.


The SUP top entry indicates that this object class is not subordinate to another object class.


With MUST list all attribute types that must be used with an object of the type organizationalUnit.


With MAY list all attribute types that are permitted with this object class.

A very good introduction to the use of Schemas can be found in the OpenLDAP documentation (openldap2-doc). When installed, find it in /usr/share/doc/packages/openldap2/adminguide/guide.html.

5.3 Configuring LDAP Users and Groups in YaST

The actual registration of user and group data differs only slightly from the procedure when not using LDAP. The following instructions relate to the administration of users. The procedure for administering groups is analogous.

  1. Access the YaST user administration with Security and Users › User and Group Management.

  2. Use Set Filter to limit the view of users to the LDAP users and enter the password for Root DN.

  3. Click Add to enter the user configuration. A dialog with four tabs opens:

    1. Specify the user's name, login name, and password in the User Data tab.

    2. Check the Details tab for the group membership, login shell, and home directory of the new user. If necessary, change the default to values that better suit your needs.

    3. Modify or accept the default Password Settings.

    4. Enter the Plug-Ins tab, select the LDAP plug-in, and click Launch to configure additional LDAP attributes assigned to the new user.

  4. Click OK to apply your settings and leave the user configuration.

The initial input form of user administration offers LDAP Options. This allows you to apply LDAP search filters to the set of available users. Alternatively open the module for configuring LDAP users and groups by selecting LDAP User and Group Configuration.

5.4 Manually Configuring an LDAP Server

YaST uses OpenLDAP's dynamic configuration database (back-config) to store the LDAP server's configuration. For details about the dynamic configuration back-end, see the slapd-config(5) man page or the OpenLDAP Software 2.4 Administrator's Guide located at /usr/share/doc/packages/openldap2/guide/admin/guide.html on your system if the openldap2 package is installed.

Tip: Upgrading an Old OpenLDAP Installation

YaST does not use /etc/openldap/slapd.conf to store the OpenLDAP configuration anymore. In case of a system upgrade, a copy of the original /etc/openldap/slapd.conf file will get created as /etc/openldap/slapd.conf.YaSTsave.

To conveniently access the configuration back-end, you use SASL external authentication. For example, the following ldapsearch command executed as root can show the complete slapd configuration:

ldapsearch -Y external -H ldapi:/// -b cn=config
Note: LDAP Server Is Part of the Authentication Server

Basic LDAP Server initialization and configuration can be done within the Authentication Server YaST module. For more information, see Section 4.1, “Configuring an Authentication Server with YaST”.

When the LDAP server is fully configured and all desired entries have been made according to the pattern described in Section 5.5, “Manually Administering LDAP Data”, start the LDAP server as root by entering sudo systemctl start slapd. To stop the server manually, enter the command sudo systemctl stop slapd. Query the status of the running LDAP server with sudo systemctl status slapd.

Use the YaST Services Manager, described in Book “Reference”, Chapter 10 “The systemd Daemon”, Section 10.4 “Managing Services with YaST”, to have the server started and stopped automatically on system bootup and shutdown. You can also create the corresponding links to the start and stop scripts with the systemctl commands as described in Book “Reference”, Chapter 10 “The systemd Daemon”, Section 10.2.1 “Managing Services in a Running System”.

5.5 Manually Administering LDAP Data

OpenLDAP offers a series of tools for the administration of data in the LDAP directory. The four most important tools for adding to, deleting from, searching through and modifying the data stock are explained in this section.

5.5.1 Inserting Data into an LDAP Directory

Once your LDAP server is correctly configured (it features appropriate entries for suffix, directory, rootdn, rootpw and index), proceed to entering records. OpenLDAP offers the ldapadd command for this task. If possible, add the objects to the database in bundles (for practical reasons). LDAP can process the LDIF format (LDAP data interchange format) for this. An LDIF file is a simple text file that can contain an arbitrary number of attribute and value pairs. The LDIF file for creating a rough framework for the example in Figure 5.1, “Structure of an LDAP Directory” would look like the one in Example 5.2, “An LDIF File”.

Important: Encoding of LDIF Files

LDAP works with UTF-8 (Unicode). Umlauts must be encoded correctly. Otherwise, avoid umlauts and other special characters or use iconv to convert the input to UTF-8.

Example 5.2: An LDIF File
# The Organization
dn: dc=example,dc=com
objectClass: dcObject
objectClass: organization
o: Example dc: example

# The organizational unit development (devel)
dn: ou=devel,dc=example,dc=com
objectClass: organizationalUnit
ou: devel

# The organizational unit documentation (doc)
dn: ou=doc,dc=example,dc=com
objectClass: organizationalUnit
ou: doc

# The organizational unit internal IT (it)
dn: ou=it,dc=example,dc=com
objectClass: organizationalUnit
ou: it

Save the file with the .ldif suffix then pass it to the server with the following command:

ldapadd -x -D dn_of_the_administrator -W -f file.ldif

-x switches off the authentication with SASL in this case. -D declares the user that calls the operation. The valid DN of the administrator is entered here, as it has been configured in slapd.conf. In the current example, this is cn=Administrator,dc=example,dc=com. -W circumvents entering the password on the command line (in clear text) and activates a separate password prompt. The -f option passes the file name. See the details of running ldapadd in Example 5.3, “ldapadd with example.ldif”.

Example 5.3: ldapadd with example.ldif
ldapadd -x -D cn=Administrator,dc=example,dc=com -W -f example.ldif

Enter LDAP password:
adding new entry "dc=example,dc=com"
adding new entry "ou=devel,dc=example,dc=com"
adding new entry "ou=doc,dc=example,dc=com"
adding new entry "ou=it,dc=example,dc=com"

The user data of individuals can be prepared in separate LDIF files. Example 5.4, “LDIF Data for Tux” adds Tux to the new LDAP directory.

Example 5.4: LDIF Data for Tux
# coworker Tux
dn: cn=Tux Linux,ou=devel,dc=example,dc=com
objectClass: inetOrgPerson
cn: Tux Linux
givenName: Tux
sn: Linux
uid: tux
telephoneNumber: +49 1234 567-8

An LDIF file can contain an arbitrary number of objects. It is possible to pass directory branches (entirely or in part) to the server in one go, as shown in the example of individual objects. If it is necessary to modify some data relatively often, a fine subdivision of single objects is recommended.

5.5.2 Modifying Data in the LDAP Directory

The tool ldapmodify is provided for modifying the data stock. The easiest way to do this is to modify the corresponding LDIF file and pass the modified file to the LDAP server. To change the telephone number of colleague Tux from +49 1234 567-8 to +49 1234 567-10, edit the LDIF file like in Example 5.5, “Modified LDIF File tux.ldif”.

Example 5.5: Modified LDIF File tux.ldif
# coworker Tux
dn: cn=Tux Linux,ou=devel,dc=example,dc=com
changetype: modify
replace: telephoneNumber
telephoneNumber: +49 1234 567-10

Import the modified file into the LDAP directory with the following command:

ldapmodify -x -D cn=Administrator,dc=example,dc=com -W -f tux.ldif

Alternatively, pass the attributes to change directly to ldapmodify as follows:

  1. Start ldapmodify and enter your password:

    ldapmodify -x -D cn=Administrator,dc=example,dc=com -W
    Enter LDAP password:
  2. Enter the changes while carefully complying with the syntax in the order presented below:

    dn: cn=Tux Linux,ou=devel,dc=example,dc=com
    changetype: modify
    replace: telephoneNumber
    telephoneNumber: +49 1234 567-10

For more information about ldapmodify and its syntax, see the ldapmodify man page.

5.5.3 Searching or Reading Data from an LDAP Directory

OpenLDAP provides, with ldapsearch, a command line tool for searching data within an LDAP directory and reading data from it. This is a simple query:

ldapsearch -x -b dc=example,dc=com "(objectClass=*)"

The -b option determines the search base (the section of the tree within which the search should be performed). In the current case, this is dc=example,dc=com. To perform a more finely-grained search in specific subsections of the LDAP directory (for example, only within the devel department), pass this section to ldapsearch with -b. -x requests activation of simple authentication. (objectClass=*) declares that all objects contained in the directory should be read. This command option can be used after the creation of a new directory tree to verify that all entries have been recorded correctly and the server responds as desired. For more information about the use of ldapsearch, see the ldapsearch(1) man page.

5.5.4 Deleting Data from an LDAP Directory

Delete unwanted entries with ldapdelete. The syntax is similar to that of the other commands. To delete, for example, the complete entry for Tux Linux, issue the following command:

ldapdelete -x -D cn=Administrator,dc=example,dc=com -W cn=Tux \

5.6 For More Information

More complex subjects (like SASL configuration or establishment of a replicating LDAP server that distributes the workload among multiple slaves) were omitted from this chapter. Find detailed information about both subjects in the OpenLDAP 2.4 Administrator's Guide—see at OpenLDAP 2.4 Administrator's Guide.

The Web site of the OpenLDAP project offers exhaustive documentation for beginner and advanced LDAP users:

OpenLDAP Faq-O-Matic

A detailed question and answer collection applying to the installation, configuration, and use of OpenLDAP. Find it at

Quick Start Guide

Brief step-by-step instructions for installing your first LDAP server. Find it at or on an installed system in Section 2 of /usr/share/doc/packages/openldap2/guide/admin/guide.html.

OpenLDAP 2.4 Administrator's Guide

A detailed introduction to all important aspects of LDAP configuration, including access controls and encryption. See or, on an installed system, /usr/share/doc/packages/openldap2/guide/admin/guide.html.

Understanding LDAP

A detailed general introduction to the basic principles of LDAP:

Printed literature about LDAP:

  • LDAP System Administration by Gerald Carter (ISBN 1-56592-491-6)

  • Understanding and Deploying LDAP Directory Services by Howes, Smith, and Good (ISBN 0-672-32316-8)

The ultimate reference material for the subject of LDAP are the corresponding RFCs (request for comments), 2251 to 2256.