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Configuring an OpenLDAP server (210.4)

Candidates should be able to configure a basic OpenLDAP server including knowledge of LDIF format and essential access controls.

Key Knowledge Areas

  • OpenLDAP

  • Directory based configuration

  • Access Control

  • Distinguished Names

  • Changetype Operations

  • Schemas and Whitepages

  • Directories

  • Object IDs, Attributes and Classes

Terms and Utilities

  • slapd

  • slapd.conf

  • LDIF

  • slapadd

  • slapcat

  • slapindex

  • /var/lib/ldap/

  • loglevel


OpenLDAP uses slapd which is the stand-alone LDAP daemon. It listens for LDAP connections on any number of ports (389 by default), responding to the LDAP operations it receives over these connections. OpenLDAP is typically started at boot time.

It can be installed either from source obtaining it from OpenLDAP software but most linux distributions deliver it through their packagemanagement system like yum or apt.

In OpenLDAP, 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.

Access Control

While the OpenLDAP directory gets filled the data becomes more critical. Some data might be protected by law or be confidential in an other way. Therefore access to the directory needs to be controlled. The default policy allows read access to all clients. Regardless of what access control policy is defined, the olcRootDN is always allowed full rights (i.e. auth, search, compare, read, and write) on everything and anything.

Access to slapd entries and attributes is controlled by the olcAccess attribute, whose values are a sequence of access rules. They begin with the access directive followed by a list of conditions:

    olcAccess: to <what>
           by <who> <type of access>
           by <who> <type of access>

For example:

    olcAccess: to attrs=userPassword
           by anonymous auth
           by self write
           by * none

This access specification is used to keep a user's password protected. It allows anonymous users an authentication comparison on a password for the purpose of of logging on. Additionally it grants a user permission to change his password. The bottom line denies everyone else any access to the password.

Alternatively we could grant users permission to update all their data with access speficifations like the following:

    olcAccess: to attrs=userPassword
           by anonymous auth
           by * none
    olcAccess: to *
               by self write
               by * none

Distinguished Names

A distinguished name (DN) is the name (set of attributes) which uniquely identifies an entry in the OpenLDAP directory and corresponds to the path which has to be traversed to reach that entry. A DN contains an attribute and value pair separated by commas.

For example:

    cn=John Doe,ou=editing,o=Paris,c=F
    cn=Jane Doe,ou=editing,o=London,c=UK
    cn=Tom Jones,ou=reporting,o=Amsterdam,c=NL

Any of the attributes defined in the directory schema may be used to make up a DN. The order of the component attribute value pairs is important. The DN contains one component for each level of the directory hierarchy from the root down to the level where the entry resides. LDAP DNs begin with the most specific attribute and continue with progressively broader attributes. The first component of the DN is referred to as the Relative Distinguished Name (RDN). It identifies an entry distinctly from any other entries that have the same parent.

An example to create an entry for a person:

    dn: cn=John Doe,o=bmi,c=us
    objectclass: top
    objectclass: person 
    cn: John Doe 
    sn: Doe
    telephonenumber: 555-111-5555

Some characters have special meaning in a DN. For example, = (equals) separates an attribute name and value and comma separates attribute=value pairs. The special characters are: comma, equals, plus,less than, greater than, number sign, semicolon, backslash, quotation mark.

A special character can be escaped in an attribute value to remove the special meaning. To escape these special characters or other characters in an attribute value in a DN string, use the following methods:

If a character to be escaped is one of the special characters, precede it by a backslash ("\" ASCII 92). This example shows a method of escaping a comma in an organization name:

    CN=Supergroup,O=Crosby\, Stills\, Nash and Young,C=US


OpenLDAP 2.3 and later have transitioned to using a dynamic runtime configuration engine, slapd-config. The older style slapd.conf file is still supported, but its use is deprecated and support for it will be withdrawn in a future OpenLDAP release.

Note Although the slapd-config system stores its configuration as (text-based) LDIF files, you should never edit any of the LDIF files directly. Configuration changes should be performed via LDAP operations, e.g. ldapadd, ldapdelete, or ldapmodify.

Depending on the linux distribution the slapd-config configuration tree slapd.d slapd.d may be located in /etc/OpenLDAP or /usr/local/etc/OpenLDAP.

An example might look like this:

    |-- cn=config
    |   |-- cn=module{0}.ldif
    |   |-- cn=schema
    |   |   |-- cn={0}core.ldif
    |   |   |-- cn={1}cosine.ldif
    |   |   `-- cn={2}inetorgperson.ldif
    |   |-- cn=schema.ldif
    |   |-- olcDatabase={0}config.ldif
    |   |-- olcDatabase={-1}frontend.ldif
    |   `-- olcDatabase={1}hdb.ldif
    `-- cn=config.ldif

The slapd.d tree has a very specific structure. The root of the tree is named cn=config and contains global configuration settings. Additional settings are contained in separate child entries.

These may be the following:

  • Dynamically loaded modules in the cn=module{0}.ldif

  • Schema definitations in the cn=schema directory (more about the topic of schema's will follow below)

  • Backend-specific configuration in the cn=Database={1}hdb.ldif

  • Database-specific configuration in the cn=Database={0}config.ldif

The general layout of the LDIF (for more information on LDIF refer to the section below) that is used to create the configuration tree is as follows:

    # global configuration settings
    dn: cn=config
    objectClass: olcGlobal
    cn: config
    <global config settings>

    # schema definitions
    dn: cn=schema,cn=config
    objectClass: olcSchemaConfig
    cn: schema
    <system schema>

    dn: cn={X}core,cn=schema,cn=config
    objectClass: olcSchemaConfig
    cn: {X}core
    <core schema>

    # additional user-specified schema

    # backend definitions
    dn: olcBackend=<typeA>,cn=config
    objectClass: olcBackendConfig
    olcBackend: <typeA>
    <backend-specific settings>

    # database definitions
    dn: olcDatabase={X}<typeA>,cn=config
    objectClass: olcDatabaseConfig
    olcDatabase: {X}<typeA>
    <database-specific settings>

    # subsequent definitions and settings

For the domain the configuration file might look like this:

    dn: olcDatabase=hdb,cn=config
    objectClass: olcDatabaseConfig
    objectClass: olcHdbConfig
    olcDatabase: hdb
    olcSuffix: dc=example,dc=com
    olcRootDN: cn=Manager,dc=example,dc=com
    olcRootPW: secret 
    olcDbDirectory: /var/lib/ldap

It is more secure to generate a password hash using slappasswd instead of the plain text password secret as in the example above. In that case the olcRootPW line would be changed into something like the following:

    olcRootPW: {SSHA}xEleXlHqbSyi2FkmObnQ5m4fReBrjwGb

The olcLogLevel olcLogLevel directive specifies at which debugging level statements and operation statistics should be syslogged. Log levels may be specified as integers or by keyword. Multiple log levels may be used and the levels are additive.

Available levels are:

    1      (0x1 trace) trace function calls
    2      (0x2 packets) debug packet handling
    4      (0x4 args) heavy trace debugging (function args)
    8      (0x8 conns) connection management
    16     (0x10 BER) print out packets sent and received
    32     (0x20 filter) search filter processing
    64     (0x40 config) configuration file processing
    128    (0x80 ACL) access control list processing
    256    (0x100 stats) stats log connections/operations/results
    512    (0x200 stats2) stats log entries sent
    1024   (0x400 shell) print communication with shell backends
    2048   (0x800 parse) entry parsing
    16384  (0x4000 sync) LDAPSync replication
    32768  (0x8000 none) only messages that get logged whatever log level is set

For example:

    olcLogLevel: -1

This will cause lots and lots of debugging information to be logged.

    olcLogLevel: conns filter

This will only log the connection and search filter processing.

    olcLogLevel: stats

Basic stats logging is configured by default. However, if no olcLogLevel is defined, no logging occurs (equivalent to a 0 level).

Note that the actual OpenLDAP database holding the user data is not located in the slapd.d configuration directory tree. Its location may be changed with the olcDbDirectory directory (see the example above) but by convention it is usually /var/lib/ldap /var/lib/ldap/.

Its contents typically looks like this:

    $ ls -l /var/lib/ldap
    total 1168
    -rw-r--r--. 1 ldap ldap    4096 Dec 12 14:29 alock
    -rw-------. 1 ldap ldap    8192 Dec  2 21:31 cn.bdb
    -rw-------. 1 ldap ldap 2351104 Dec 12 14:29 __db.001
    -rw-------. 1 ldap ldap  819200 Dec 12 14:29 __db.002
    -rw-------. 1 ldap ldap  163840 Dec 12 14:29 __db.003
    -rw-rw-r--. 1 ldap ldap     104 Dec  2 21:12 DB_CONFIG
    -rw-------. 1 ldap ldap    8192 Dec  2 21:31 dn2id.bdb
    -rw-------. 1 ldap ldap   32768 Dec  2 21:31 id2entry.bdb
    -rw-------. 1 ldap ldap    8192 Dec  2 21:31 objectClass.bdb


All modifications to the OpenLDAP database are formatted in the LDIF LDIF format. LDIF stands for LDAP Data Interchange Format. It is used by OpenLDAP's tools like slapadd in order to add data to the database. An example of a LDIF file:

    cat adduser.ldif

    # John Doe's Entry
    dn: cn=John Doe,dc=example,dc=com
    cn: John Doe
    cn: Johnnie Doe
    objectClass: person
    sn: Doe

Multiple entries are separated using a blank line. Slapcat slapcat can be used to export information from the LDAP database in the LDIF format.

For example:

    slapcat -l all.ldif

This will generate a file called all.ldif which contains a full dump of the LDAP database.

The generated output can be used by slapadd slapadd to import the data into an LDAP database.

For example:

    slapadd -l all.ldif

Sometimes it may be necessary to regenerate LDAP's database indexes. This can be done using the slapindex tool. slapindex It may also be used to regenerate the index for a specific attribute like the UID:

    slapindex uid

Note that slapd should not be running (at least, not in read-write mode) when the command is run to ensure consistency of the database.


A directory can be contrived of as an hierarchically organized collection of data. The best known example probably is the telephone directory, but the file system directory is another one. Generally speaking a directory is a database that is optimized for reading, browsing and searching. OpenLDAP directories contain descriptive, attribute-based information. They do not support the roll-back mechanisms or complicated transactions that are found in Relational Data Base Management Systems (RDBMS's). Updates are typically simple all-or-nothing changes, if allowed at all. This type of directories are designed to give quick responses to high-volume lookup or search operations. OpenLDAP directories can be replicated to increase availability and reliability. Replicated databases can be temporarily out-of-sync but will be synchronized eventually.

Schemas and Whitepages

Schemas are the standard way of describing the structure of objects that may be stored inside a directory. A whitepages schema is a data model for organizing the data contained in entries in a directory service such as an address book or LDAP. In a whitepages directory, each entry typically represents an individual that makes use of network resources, such as by receiving email of having an account to log in to a system. LDAP schemas are used to formally define attributes, object classes, and various rules for structuring the directory information tree. Usually schemas are configured in slapd-config LDIF using the include include directive.

For example:

    include: file:///etc/OpenLDAP/schema/core.ldif
    include: file:///etc/OpenLDAP/schema/cosine.ldif
    include: file:///etc/OpenLDAP/schema/inetorgperson.ldif

The first line imports the core schema, which contains the schemas of attributes and object classes necessary for standard LDAP use. The cosine.schema imports a number of commonly used object classes and attributes, including those used for storing document information and DNS records. The third provides the inetOrgPerson object class definition and its associated attribute definitions. Other schemas are available with OpenLDAP (in /etc/OpenLDAP/schema); refer to the OpenLDAP Software 2.4 Administrator's guide for more information.