Install and Configure Linux LDAP Server

Two days ago, one of the website visitors was searching on the website for LDAP and found nothing, that drives me to make a post about LDAP server, so we fill the gaps and bring the loved content to the visitors.

What is LDAP?

We know that Linux keeps registered users on /etc/passwd file, so if you want to access the machine, you must have a user defined on that file.

This is good when you are working one or few machines, but what if you have hundreds of machines or maybe thousands, and how you will maintain user management tasks like password modification or any other administrative task like somebody left the work and you need to close his account, would you go to every machine to do that?

That could be a nightmare, or you need to create a new account. In this case, we need centralized user account management system, a database to keep all information related to user accounts.

The most used solution for this problem is the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP).

LDAP uses usual client/server paradigm.

Uses of LDAP

LDAP not only keeps a list of users, you can use it as storage for your files.

It can be used for authenticating users as we mentioned above.

You can store DNS records in LDAP server.

LDAP can be used as a yellow pages directory service for an organization to provide information about users or employees, departments, contact information, phone numbers, addresses, private data or whatever.

LDAP Server Implementations

LDAP is an open standard protocol, many companies make its own implementation of the protocol.

There are commercial implementations of LDAP like:

  • Microsoft Active Directory.
  • Oracle Internet Directory.
  • Oracle Unified Directory.
  • IBM Security Directory Server.
  • UnboundID Directory Server.
  • NetIQ eDirectory or eDirectory.
  • CA Directory or CA eTrust Directory.

And free open source implementations like:

  • OpenLDAP.
  • ForgeRock OpenDJ.
  • Apache DS.
  • 389 Directory Server.

In this post, we will use OpenLDAP which is very common and loved by the community.

OpenLDAP is the open source implementation of LDAP that runs on Linux/UNIX systems.

Installing OpenLDAP

To install OpenLDAP you have to install openldap, openldap-servers and openldap-clients packages.

$ yum -y install openldap openldap-servers openldap-clients

Or if you are using CentOS 7 you can use dnf or Dandified Yum

$ dnf -y install openldap openldap-servers openldap-clients

If you are using a Debian based system like Ubuntu you can install it like this:

$ sudo apt-get install slapd

$ sudo apt-get install ldap-utils

Then we can enable the service to run automatically at startup:

$ systemctl enable slapd

Configuring LDAP

After successful installation, you need to make a password for the admin user using ldappassword command:

$ ldappassword

The configuration files for OpenLDAP are in /etc/openldap/slapd.d directory

You can modify these files directly or use the ldapmodify command. It is strongly recommended to modify OpenLDAP using ldapmodify command.

LDAP Terminology

If we are going to deal with LDAP protocol, there are some terms that we need to know because we will use them a lot.

Entry (or object): every unit in LDAP considered an entry.

dn: the entry name.

o: Organization Name.

dc: Domain Component. For example, is written like this dc=likegeeks,dc=com.

cn: Common Name like the person name or name of some object.

Modifying Entries

OpenLDAP stores its information in bdb or hdb files.

The information saved in the hdb backend can be found in /etc/openldap/slapd.d/cn=config/olcDatabase={2}hdb.ldif file.

To identify an element, use the dn (distinguished name) attribute. So the first line in out LDIF file will be:

dn: olcDatabase={2}hdb,cn=config

Then we specify if we want to add or modify

changeType: modify

We also must clarify if we’ll replace it or delete it

replace: olcSuffix

And, finally, we type the new value of the changed attribute.

olcSuffix: dc=likegeeks,dc=local

Back to our file. Change the following entries like this:

olcSuffix: dc=my-domain,dc=com

olcRootDN: cn=Manager,dc=my-domain,dc=com

So our LDIF file will be like this:

dn: olcDatabase={2}hdb,cn=config

changeType: modify

replace: olcSuffix

olcSuffix: dc=likegeeks,dc=local


replace: olcRootDN

olcRootDN: cn=admin,dc=example,dc=local

In our file /etc/openldap/slapd.d/cn=config/olcDatabase={2}hdb.ldif file. The dn attribute is dn:

olcDatabase={2}hdb, and because the file is inside the config folder, so the full dn attribute is dn:


Then we save our file and use ldapmodify:

$ ldapmodify -Y EXTERNAL -H ldapi:/// -f myfile.ldif

You can use the ldapsearch command to check the changes:

$ ldapsearch -Y EXTERNAL -H ldapi:/// -b cn=config olcDatabase=\*

And yes, the data has been changed.

Also, you can use the slaptest command to check the configuration.

$ slaptest -u

Adding Entries

To add entries, use the ldapadd command.

First, we create our ldif file:

dn: dc=likegeeks,dc=local

objectClass: dcObject

objectClass: organization

dc: likegeeks

o: likegeeks

We specify a series of attributes, like domain component ( dc ), distinguished name ( dn ), and organization ( o ).

According to the type of the object we are creating which is dcObject in our case, some attributes are required, others are optional.

You check the schema according to your system.

On CentOS 6 you can go to /etc/openldap/slapd.d/cn=config/cn=schema

On CentOS 7 you can go to /etc/openldap/schema

Or you can use grep command to get the .schema files from your system.

The object organization in our example is in cn={1}core.ldif file on CentOS 6 or core.schema file on CentOS 7.

As we can see, the only required attribute is o which is the organization.

Now we can use the ldapadd command to add our object:

$ ldapadd -f myobj.ldif -D cn=admin,dc=likegeeks,dc=local -w mypass

We specify the filename using -f, the admin user using -D and the password using -w.

You can check if the entry was created using the ldapsearch command:

$ ldapsearch -x -b dc=likegeeks,dc=local

Adding Organizational Units

You can add organizational unit (ou). First, create a new LDIF file. Let’s name it users.ldif, and put this:

dn: ou=users,dc=likegeeks,dc=local

objectClass: organizationalUnit

ou: users

Then we use ldapadd to add the unit:

$ ldapadd -f users.ldif -D cn=admin,dc=likegeeks,dc=local -w mypass

This organizational unit holds all LDAP users.

Adding Users

We can add users to the newly created organizational unit.

First, we create our ldif file:

dn: cn=adam,ou=users,dc=likegeeks,dc=local

cn: adam

sn: USA

objectClass: myorg

userPassword: mypass

uid: adam

Then add the user using ldapadd command:

$ ldapadd -f adam.ldif -x -D cn=admin,dc=likegeeks,dc=local 2 -w mypass

Adding Groups

Also, we create the ldif file first:

dn: cn=developers,ou=users,dc=likegeeks,dc=local

cn: developers

objectClass: groupOfNames

member: cn=adam,ou=users,dc=likegeeks,dc=local

Then run ldapadd to add the group:

$ ldapadd -f groups.ldif -x -D cn=admin,dc=likegeeks,dc=local -w mypass

Deleting Entries

Deleting an entry is very easy, just use ldapdelete command with the cn you want:

$ ldapdelete “cn=adam,ou=users,dc=likegeeks,dc=local” -D cn=admin,dc=likegeeks,dc=local -w mypass

You can check if the entry is deleted using ldapsearch:

$ ldapsearch -x -b “dc=likegeeks,dc=local”


Ldap port is 389 and in case you secure your ldap using TLS the port will be 636.

You can ensure what port your OpenLDAP is running using the netstat command.

$ netstat -ntlp | grep slapd

Authenticating Users with LDAP

By default, Linux authenticates users using /etc/passwd file. Now we will see how to authenticate users using OpenLDAP.

Make sure you allow the OpenLDAP ports (389, 636) on your system.

If you are using iptables firewall, I recommend you to review iptables post to understand these commands Linux iptables firewall.

$ authconfig –enableldap –enableldapauth –ldapserver ver= –ldapbasedn=”dc=likegeeks,dc=local” –enableldaptls –update

Now the certificates are in /etc/openldap/cacerts.

When we create a user, you have to define some needed fields.

If you want to create a user adam. You will create adam.ldif file and write the following:

dn: uid=adam,ou=users,dc=likegeeks,dc=local

uid: adam

cn: adam

objectClass: account

objectClass: posixAccount

objectClass: top

objectClass: shadowAccount

userPassword:: mypass

shadowLastChange: 14846

shadowMax: 99999

shadowWarning: 7

loginShell: /bin/bash

uidNumber: 500

gidNumber: 1000

homeDirectory: /home/adam

If you are using CentOS 7 you should encrypt passwords using slappasswd command before putting it in your LDIF file like this:

$ slappasswd

Then we copy the encrypted password on the ldif file, so the file will be like this:

uid: adam

cn: adam

objectClass: account

objectClass: posixAccount

objectClass: top

objectClass: shadowAccount

userPassword:: {SSHA}sathXSo3XTWrbi20Fp+MsqJHjXkHGhT/

shadowLastChange: 14846

shadowMax: 99999

shadowWarning: 7

loginShell: /bin/bash

uidNumber: 500

gidNumber: 1000

homeDirectory: /home/adam

Now we can use ldapadd to add the user:

$ ldapadd -f adam.ldif -x -D cn=admin,dc=likegeeks,dc=local -w mypass

Using LDAP web interface (phpldapadmin)

It might be little tricky for a beginner to work from a terminal, however, there is a web-based tool called phpldapadmin which is written in PHP to simplify working with OpenLDAP.

You can install it like this:

$ yum -y install phpldapadmin

The apache server will be installed, so you don’t need to install it.

Some small configuration need to be done to open phpldapadmin;

Edit this file /etc/phpldapadmin/config.php

And change this line:

$servers->setValue(‘server’,’host’,’PUT YOUR SERVER IP OR DOMAIN HERE’);

If you want to use likegeeks.local as a domain you should write it like this:


Also, you need to change the line of bind_id like this:

$servers->setValue(‘login’,’bind_id’,’cn=admin,dc= likegeeks,dc=local’);

And don’t forget to put your apache alias:

<IfModule mod_alias.c>

    Alias /ldap /usr/share/phpldapadmin/htdocs


Now you can access your phpldapadmin like this:


in my example, I will use:


On login DN field you will use something like the following:


You can do all we’ve done in this web interface, adding users, organizations, and groups.

I hope you find the post useful and easy. We can’t cover all LDAP server uses in one post, but this was a brief look into LDAP protocol and how to use it.

Thank you.

Mokhtar Ebrahim

I'm working as a Linux system administrator since 2010. I'm responsible for maintaining, securing, and troubleshooting Linux servers for multiple clients around the world. I love writing shell and Python scripts to automate my work.

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Mokhtar Ebrahim

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