LDAP stands for Lightweight Directory Access Protocol. As the name suggests, it is a lightweight protocol for accessing directory services, specifically X.500-based directory services. LDAP runs over TCP/IP or other connection oriented transfer services. LDAP is an IETF Standard Track protocol and is specified in "Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) Technical Specification Road Map" RFC4510.
This section gives an overview of LDAP from a user's perspective.
What kind of information can be stored in the directory? The LDAP information model is based on entries. An entry is a collection of attributes that has a globally-unique Distinguished Name (DN). The DN is used to refer to the entry unambiguously. Each of the entry's attributes has a type and one or more values. The types are typically mnemonic strings, like "cn" for common name, or "mail" for email address. The syntax of values depend on the attribute type. For example, a cn attribute might contain the value Babs Jensen. A mail attribute might contain the value "[email protected]". A jpegPhoto attribute would contain a photograph in the JPEG (binary) format.
How is the information arranged? In LDAP, directory entries are arranged in a hierarchical tree-like structure. Traditionally, this structure reflected the geographic and/or organizational boundaries. Entries representing countries appear at the top of the tree. Below them are entries representing states and national organizations. Below them might be entries representing organizational units, people, printers, documents, or just about anything else you can think of. Figure 1.1 shows an example LDAP directory tree using traditional naming.
Figure 1.1: LDAP directory tree (traditional naming)
The tree may also be arranged based upon Internet domain names. This naming approach is becoming increasing popular as it allows for directory services to be located using the DNS. Figure 1.2 shows an example LDAP directory tree using domain-based naming.
Figure 1.2: LDAP directory tree (Internet naming)
In addition, LDAP allows you to control which attributes are required and allowed in an entry through the use of a special attribute called objectClass. The values of the objectClass attribute determine the schema rules the entry must obey.
How is the information referenced? An entry is referenced by its distinguished name, which is constructed by taking the name of the entry itself (called the Relative Distinguished Name or RDN) and concatenating the names of its ancestor entries. For example, the entry for Barbara Jensen in the Internet naming example above has an RDN of uid=babs and a DN of uid=babs,ou=People,dc=example,dc=com. The full DN format is described in RFC4514, "LDAP: String Representation of Distinguished Names."
How is the information accessed? LDAP defines operations for interrogating and updating the directory. Operations are provided for adding and deleting an entry from the directory, changing an existing entry, and changing the name of an entry. Most of the time, though, LDAP is used to search for information in the directory. The LDAP search operation allows some portion of the directory to be searched for entries that match some criteria specified by a search filter. Information can be requested from each entry that matches the criteria.
For example, you might want to search the entire directory subtree at and below dc=example,dc=com for people with the name Barbara Jensen, retrieving the email address of each entry found. LDAP lets you do this easily. Or you might want to search the entries directly below the st=California,c=US entry for organizations with the string Acme in their name, and that have a fax number. LDAP lets you do this too. The next section describes in more detail what you can do with LDAP and how it might be useful to you.
How is the information protected from unauthorized access? Some directory services provide no protection, allowing anyone to see the information. LDAP provides a mechanism for a client to authenticate, or prove its identity to a directory server, paving the way for rich access control to protect the information the server contains. LDAP also supports data security (integrity and confidentiality) services.