LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) is an internet protocol used by LDAP Clients to lookup data from remote directory servers. It operates on the client-server model and defines how messages are exchanged between the server and the client. LDAP Servers contain the data and different LDAP Servers make up the LDAP directory or the LDAP database.

How does LDAP Server respond to the LDAP Client?

Whenever an LDAP Client needs information from the LDAP Server, it sends a message. The LDAP Server responds with the answer to the question, or to the location via which the answer can be obtained. This other location is typically another LDAP Server. The messages of LDAP operation are communicated using the TCP/IP protocol, hence a session is established and disconnected between the server and the client.

  • The LDAP Client creates a session with the LDAP Server. This process is called binding. For binding, the LDAP Client specifies the hostname and the port number of the LDAP Server. Other credentials like username and password can also be provided for ensuring proper authentication. Alternatively, LDAP clients can also establish the connection using default access rights. For stronger data encryption, both parties can establish a session using data encryption.

  • After the session is established, the client performs the intended operation on the server data. LDAP Servers offer both read and update capabilities.

  • The LDAP Client closes the session after the request completes. This process is called unbinding.

How does the LDAP Server store data?

LDAP Servers store data using a set of attributes. These attributes can be thought of as the fields in a database. The records have unique identifiers called a Distinguished Name (DN). This is unique for each entry.

Each attribute can have other values like name, type, etc. apart from the unique identifier.

What are the models on which the LDAP Server operates?

LDAP Server Information Model

Information Model

Each LDAP directory on an LDAP server comprises of an entry, representing real-world objects like servers, people, etc. Entries have a collection of attributes that define the information about the object. LDAP also supports constraints of the attributes, to restrict the number or size of the values that are stored.
LDAP Server Information Model

Naming Model

The naming model determines how the entries are recognized. LDAP entries are organized in a hierarchical structure called the Directory Information Tree (DIT). Each entry is ordered according to its DN. DNs further comprise of RDNs (Relative Distinguished Names). Each RDN further links to a branch in the directory where information is stored.
What is the functional model in a LDAP Server

Functional Model

LDAP defines operations requested by a client based on the following categories:

  • Query: Fetching information from a directory. It includes operations like compare and search.
  • Update: Updating the information stored in the directory. It includes operations like modify, add, and delete.
  • Authenticate: Connecting or disconnecting with the server. It includes operations like bind, unbind, and abandon.
Security Model used in LDAP Server

Security Model

The security model lies in the bind operation and includes the following bind operations based on the security mechanisms:

  • No authentication: Applied when data security is not a concern. The directory is accessible by anyone. If the LDAP Client leaves the DN and password field empty, then the LDAP Server automatically grants the access based on the default settings for an anonymous user session.

  • Basic authentication: Applied when simple security is required. The LDAP Client has to authenticate itself to the LDAP Server by entering a password and DN. These credentials are transferred in clear text format over the network (or over a TLS tunnel, if the connection supports it). The LDAP Server checks the DN and password with the entries in the directory and grants access if it matches.

  • SASL (Simple Authentication and Security Layer): The LDAP Client and LDAP Server add additional authentication by exchanging some data first to ensure authentication. The subsequent communication is carried out later. The LDAP protocol can support any sort of authentication approved by the client and the server.

What are the benefits of using LDAP Server?

The main benefit of using an LDAP Server is the fact that a company's directory and authentication data is centralized in one place. LDAP itself is beneficial because it is a widely-supported protocol and available in thousands of systems and software.

What are the challenges of deploying LDAP Servers?

Challenges faced while deploying an LDAP Server

Setup and Configuration

LDAP is technical, meaning that its setup and configuration is challenging. Most IT admins want to leverage the advantages of LDAP, but instead have to manage schemas, add and remote user and group objects, and spend considerable amounts of time in setting up and configuring LDAP. Foxpass obviously does all this for you!
LDAP Server connection

Connecting systems to LDAP

Linux and Mac devices are easy to connect to LDAP because they have built-in support, but the case is not true for other platforms. For instance, Windows does not have native support for account logins via LDAP.
Connect Third Party Application with LDAP Server

Connecting applications to LDAP

Connecting applications to LDAP can be easy in some cases, and very difficult in others. Establishing the port and protocol, configuring several settings to access the LDAP database, and configuring the application to search the database properly is a challenge most IT admins are unwilling to take.

How can Foxpass help?

It is clear that there are a lot of benefits with adopting LDAP as an authentication and authorization mechanism. However, it is also true that managing LDAP yourself is not worth the hassle.

Foxpass is an Identity and Access Management solution that automates LDAP server and network access in minutes and protects your infrastructure from breaches. Foxpass puts security and reliability at the front, integrates easily with whatever identity systems you have in place, and does all this at up to an 80% lower price than the competition.

Additionally, Foxpass offers a full-fledged API that can help you automate and manage user permissions with ease, eliminating the challenge of productive provisioning. It logs authentication requests for greater visibility into your infrastructure, and you can use these logs for compliance and governance requirements too.

Foxpass also offers self-service SSH keys and password management, removing the IT team overhead. Its effortless integration with your existing infrastructure is the icing on the cake, that makes Foxpass a must-have for identity and access management.