Facts About Network Directories

LDAP and Microsoft Active Directory

IT technician using digital tablet in server room


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A network directory is a specialized database that stores information about devices, applications, people and other aspects of a computer network. Two of the most important technologies for building network directories are LDAP and Microsoft Active Directory.

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What is LDAP?

LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, also known as Lightweight DAP) is a standard technology for building computer network directories. 

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When Was LDAP Created?

LDAP was created at the University of Michigan in the mid-1990s as an academic project, then commercialized by Netscape in the late 1990s. LDAP technology consists of both a network protocol and a standard architecture for organizing the directory data.

As a protocol, LDAP is a simplified version of the Data Access Protocol (DAP) used in the earlier standard X.500. LDAP's chief advantage over its predecessor is the ability to run over TCP/IP. As a network architecture, LDAP utilizes a distributed tree structure similar to X.500.

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What Did Networks Use for Directories Before LDAP?

Prior to standards like X.500 and LDAP being adopted, most business networks used proprietary network directory technology, principally Banyan VINES or Novell Directory Service or Windows NT Server. LDAP eventually replaced the proprietary protocols on which these other systems were built, a standardization that resulted in higher network performance and better maintainability.

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Who Uses LDAP?

Many larger-scale business computer networks use directory systems based on LDAP servers including Microsoft Active Directory and NetIQ (formerly Novell) eDirectory. These directories keep track of numerous attributes about computers, printers and users accounts. Email systems in businesses and schools often use LDAP servers for individual contact information also. You won't find LDAP servers in homes, though - home networks are just too small and physically centralized to have a need for them.

While LDAP technology is relatively old in Internet terms, it remains interesting to students and network professionals. For more information, consult the book known as the original "LDAP bible" - Understanding and Deploying LDAP Directory Services (2nd Edition).

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What is Microsoft Active Directory?

First introduced by Microsoft in Windows 2000, Active Directory (AD) replaced NT-style Windows network domain management with a newer design and improved technical foundation. Active Directory is based on standard network directory technologies including LDAP. AD enabled easier building and administration of large-scale Windows networks.

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What Are Some Good Books That Cover Active Directory?

Book: Designing, Deploying and Running Active Directory, 5th Edition


On of the traditional mainstay Active Directory books Inside Active Directory: A System Administrator's Guide is a thorough reference geared toward all levels of network administrators from beginner to advanced. Using diagrams, tables, and step-by-step instructions, the book covers everything from the basic fundamentals to intricate details. The authors explain Active Directory architecture and schema, installation, management of users and groups, and access control.

Active Directory: Designing, Deploying and Running Active Directory (5th Edition) has been revised over the years to stay current with the latest Windows Server releases.