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LDAP client usage (210.3)

LDAP client usage (210.3)

Candidates should be able to perform queries and updates to an LDAP server. Also included is importing and adding items, as well as adding and managing users.

Key Knowledge Areas

  • LDAP utilities for data management and queries

  • Change user passwords

  • Querying the LDAP directory

Terms and Utilities

  • ldapsearch

  • ldappasswd

  • ldapadd

  • ldapdelete


LDAP stands for Lightweight Directory Access Protocol. As the name suggests, it is a lighter version of DAP, which stands for the Directory Access Protocol that is defined by the X.500 standard. For more information on X.500, please read RFC 2116. LDAPRFC 2116

The reason for a lightweight version is that DAP was rather heavy on processor load, thereby asking for more than the processors could provide at the time. LDAP is described in RFC 2251. LDAPRFC 2251

The LDAP project was started at the University of Michigan, but, as can be read on their site, is no longer maintained there. For current information, the University of Michigan site points visitors to the OpenLDAP site instead.

The type of information best suited for storage in a directory is information with a low mutation grade. The reason for this is that directories can not compete with RDBM systems because they are only optimized for read access. So then, what do we store in a directory? Typically, LDAP directories contain employee data such as surname, christian name, address, phone number, department, social security number, E-mail address. Alternatively, directories might store newsletters for everyone to read, description of company policies and procedures, templates supporting the house style of documents.

LDAP is a client/server system. The server can use a variety of databases to store a directory, each optimized for quick and copious read operations. When an LDAP client application connects to an LDAP server, it can either query a directory or attempt to modify it. In the event of a query, the server either answers the query locally, or it can refer the querent to an LDAP server which does have the answer. If the client application is attempting to modify information within an LDAP directory, the server verifies that the user has permission to make the change and then adds or updates the information.


  • A single unit within an LDAP directory. Each entry is identified by its unique Distinguished Name (DN).


  • Information directly associated with an entry. For example, an organization could be represented as an LDAP entry. Attributes associated with the organization might be its fax number, its address, and so on. People can also be represented as entries in the LDAP directory. Common attributes for people include the person's telephone number and email address.

    Some attributes are required, while other attributes are optional. An objectclass definition sets which attributes are required and which are not for each entry. Objectclass definitions are found in various schema files, located in the /etc/openldap/schema/ directory.


  • The LDAP Data Interchange Format (LDIF) is an ASCII text representation of LDAP entries. Files used for importing data to LDAP servers must be in LDIF format. An LDIF entry looks similar to the following example:

        dn: <distinguished name>
        <attrtype>: <attrvalue>
        <attrtype>: <attrvalue>
        <attrtype>: <attrvalue>

    Each entry can contain as many <attrtype>: <attrvalue> pairs as needed. A blank line indicates the end of an entry. A line may be broken and continued (folded) by indenting the continued portion of the line. For example, the following two statements are identical:

        dn: cn=some_example_user,dc=example,dc=com
        dn: cn=some_e

    Note All <attrtype> and <attrvalue> pairs must be defined in a corresponding schema file to use this information.

    Any value enclosed within a < and a > is a variable and can be set whenever a new LDAP entry is created. This rule does not apply, however, to <id>. The <id> is a number determined by the application used to edit the entry.


ldapsearch is a shell-accessible interface to the ldap_search(3) library call. ldapsearch opens a connection to an LDAP server, binds, and performs a search using specified parameters. The filter should conform to the string representation for search filters as defined in RFC 2254.

LDAP Filters

Match notation Effect
Equality = Creates a filter which requires a field to have a given value. For example, cn=Eric Johnson.
Presence =* Wildcard to represent that a field can equal anything except NULL. So it will return entries with one or more values. For example, cn=* manager=*
Substring =string* string Returns entries containing attributes containing the specified substring. For example, cn=Bob* cn=John cn=E*John. The asterisk (*) indicates zero (0) or more characters.
Approximate ~= Returns entries containing the specified attribute with a value that is approximately equal to the value specified in the search filter. For example, cn~=suret l~=san franciso could return cn=sarette l=san francisco
Greater than or equal to >= Returns entries containing attributes that are greater than or equal to the specified value.
Less than or equal to <= Returns entries containing attributes that are less than or equal to the specified value.
Parentheses () Separates filters to allow other logical operators to function.
And & Boolean operator. Joins filters together. All conditions in the series must be true. For example, (&(filter)(filter)...).
Or | Boolean operator. Joins filters together. At least one condition in the series must be true. For example, (
Not ! Boolean operator. Excludes all objects that match the filter. Only one filter is affected by the NOT operator. For example, (!(filter))

Boolean expressions are evaluated in the following order:

  • Innermost to outermost parenthical expressions first.

  • All expressions from left to right.


    ldapsearch -h myhost -p 389 -s base -b "ou=people,dc=example,dc=com" "objectclass=*"

This command searches the directory server myhost, located at port 389. The scope of the search (-s) is base, and the part of the directory searched is the base DN (-b) designated. The search filter "objectclass=*" means that values for all of the entry's object classes are returned. No attributes are returned because they have not been requested. The example assumes anonymous authentication because authentication options are not specified.

    ldapsearch -x "(|(cn=marie)(!(telephoneNumber=9*)))"

This example shows how to search for entries that have a cn of marie OR do NOT have a telephoneNumber beginning with 9.


ldappasswd - change the password of an LDAP entry

ldappasswd is a tool to set the password of an LDAP user. ldappasswd uses the LDAPv3 Password Modify (RFC 3062) extended operation.

ldappasswd sets the password associated with the user (or an optionally specified user). If the new password is not specified on the command line and the user doesn't enable prompting, the server will be requested to generate a password for the user.


    ldappasswd -x -h localhost -D "cn=root,dc=example,dc=com" \ 
        -s secretpassword -W uid=admin,ou=users,ou=horde,dc=example,dc=com

Set the password for "uid=admin,ou=users,ou=horde,dc=example,dc=com on localhost".


ldapadd - LDAP add entry tool

ldapadd is implemented as a link to the ldapmodify tool. When invoked as ldapadd the -a (add new entry) flag is turned on automatically.

Option: ldapmodify -a

-a Adds new entries. The default for ldapmodify is to modify existing entries. If invoked as ldapadd, this option is always set.


    ldapadd -h myhost -p 389 -D "cn=orcladmin" -w welcome -f jhay.ldif

Using this command, user orcladmin authenticates to the directory myhost, located at port 389. The command then opens the file jhay.ldif and adds its contents to the directory. The file might, for example, add the entry "uid=jhay,cn=Human Resources,cn=example,dc=com" and its object classes and attributes.


ldapdelete - LDAP delete entry tool

ldapdelete is a shell-accessible interface to the ldap_delete_ext(3) library call.

ldapdelete opens a connection to an LDAP server, binds, and deletes one or more entries. If one or more DN arguments are provided, entries with those Distinguished Names are deleted.


    ldapdelete -h myhost -p 389 -D "cn=orcladmin" -w welcome \

This command authenticates user orcladmin to the directory myhost, using the password welcome. Then it deletes the entry "uid=hricard,ou=sales,ou=people,dc=example,dc=com".

More on LDAP

If you would like to read more about LDAP, this section points you to a few sources of information: