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Oracle® Fusion Middleware Reference for Oracle Directory Server Enterprise Edition
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Part Number E28969-01
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2 Directory Server Overview

This chapter outlines the architecture of Directory Server. This chapter includes the following topics.

2.1 Introduction to Directory Server

Directory Server serves directory data to standards compliant LDAP and DSML applications. Directory Server stores the data in customized, binary tree databases, allowing quick searches even for large data sets.

Directories are object oriented databases. Directories organize their data objects, called entries, into a directory information tree, often called a DIT. Each entry is identified by a distinguished name, such as uid=bjensen,ou=people,dc=example,dc=com. The distinguished name identifies where the entry is located in the directory information tree. For example, uid=bjensen,ou=people,dc=example,dc=com is a user entry for Barbara Jensen on the ou=people branch of the dc=example,dc=com part of the tree.

Each directory entry has attributes. For entries that concern people, these attributes may reflect names, phone numbers, and email addresses, for example. An attribute has at least one type name, which is the name of the attribute. For example, people entries can have an attribute surname, which can also be called by the shorter name sn. Attributes can also have one or more values. For example, if Barbara Jensen marries Quentin Cubbins, and takes Quentin's surname, her entry could have sn: Jensen and sn: Cubbins.

Directories are designed to be fast when looking up entries based on the values of their attributes. An example query might be, "Find all the entries under dc=example,dc=com with surname Jensen." This fast lookup capability makes directories well suited for applications where you store information that must be read often. Directories are therefore good data stores for telephone and email information. Directories are also good for handling authentication credentials, identity information, and application configuration data.

Directory Server is also designed to handle high update rates as the information in the directory changes. Today, the size of many directory deployments mean that handling updates well can be as important as handling lookups.

Directory Server supports many directory related standards and RFCs. Directory Server allows fast data replication across the network for high availability. Directory Server lets you configure servers comprehensively without restarting them. Furthermore, Directory Server gives you extensive control over access to directory data.

The list of Directory Server features is too long to cover in a short introduction. Evaluation Guide for Oracle Directory Server Enterprise Edition includes a more extensive list. The other chapters in this part of this Reference help you to understand many of the features in detail.

2.2 Directory Server Architecture

This section succinctly addresses key concepts of Directory Server from the point of view of someone who must install and manage Directory Server. This section touches on the following topics.

2.2.1 Comparison of Software Installation and Server Instances

For each installation of Directory Server software, you can create multiple server instances. Although you may create server instances in the place on the file system where you install the software, nothing requires you to put both the software and the instances side by side.

The Directory Server software you install includes the executable files, template data, and sample files needed to create, run, and manage actual servers. As the software is separate from the actual servers, you can apply patches or service packs to the software without changing the server data. You therefore do not need to patch each server instance, but instead only the software installation.

A Directory Server instance holds the configuration data and the directory data required to serve directory client applications. Although in production systems you carefully control the user identity of the server, you can typically create and run a Directory Server instance as any user on the system. The directory data belongs then to the user who created the instance.

In Chapter 1, "Directory Server Enterprise Edition File Reference", you see that Software Layout for Directory Server Enterprise Edition is clearly separate from Directory Server Instance Default Layout. In particular, notice that the documentation mentions install-path when referring to the software installation, but instance-path when referring to a server instance.

2.2.2 Communication With Client Applications

Directory Server listens for LDAP and DSML client application traffic on the port numbers you configure. Directory Server listens for LDAP connections as soon as the server starts. Directory Server only listens for DSML connections over HTTP if you enable the DSML service.

By default, Directory Server listens for LDAP connections on port 389 if the instance was created by root, 1389 if the instance was created by non-root. By default, Directory Server listens for LDAP connections over SSL on port 636 if the instance was created by root, 1636 if the instance was created by non-root. The DSML/HTTP port number is not defined by default. Instead, you supply a port number when enabling the DSML service.

In order to enable client applications to reach Directory Server, you create instances on hosts with static IP addresses. The hostname is also usually referenced in DNS. Client applications typically need at least two pieces of information to access the directory.

  1. The hostname, or at least the IP address, of the system on which Directory Server runs.

  2. The port number on which Directory Server listens for client connections.

LDAP clients and servers do not usually open a new connection for every request. In the LDAP model, a client connects to the server to authenticate before performing other operations. The connection and authentication process is referred to as binding. Client applications can bind with credentials, but they can also bind anonymously. Directory Server lets you configure access accordingly both for known and anonymous clients. Client applications can also keep a connection open, but bind again, thus changing the authentication identity. This technique can reduce the costs of creating a new connection.

Once the bind has been performed and the client is authenticated, the client can request the following operations.


Add a new directory entry.


Checks whether an attribute value is the same as a given value.


Delete a directory entry.


Change one or more attributes of a directory entry.


Change the distinguished name of a directory entry.

This operation is for moving directory entries from one part of the directory information tree to another. For example, you could move uid=bjensen,ou=employees,dc=example,dc=com to uid=bjensen,ou=people,dc=example,dc=com.

When you move an parent entry, such as ou=people,dc=example,dc=com, the operation can take a very long time as Directory Server must move all child entries of the parent as well.


Change the relative distinguished name of a directory entry.

The relative distinguished name is the attribute value used to distinguish a directory entry from the others at the same level of the directory information tree.

This operation is for renaming directory entries. For example, you could rename uid=bjensen,ou=employees,dc=example,dc=com to uid=bcubbins,ou=people,dc=example,dc=com.

This operation is a special case of modDN. The modRDN operation is always relatively fast, however, as it involves modifying only leaf entries.


Find all the directory entries under a specified point in the directory tree that have attribute values matching a filter.

A search filter can specify one or more attribute characteristics. For example, to find entries with the surname Jensen, you use the LDAP filter (sn=Jensen). To find entries with surname Jensen and user ID beginning with the letter B, you use the LDAP filter (&(sn=Jensen)(uid=b*)).

When finished performing operations, a client can unbind. After unbinding, the connection is dropped by the client and the server. Client applications can also abandon operations, such as a search that is taking too long.

Directory Server can handle many client connections simultaneously. To handle connections, Directory Server consumes free file descriptors, and manages a number of threads. You can limit the system resources available to Directory Server through the server configuration. See Chapter 6, Tuning System Characteristics and Hardware Sizing, in Deployment Planning Guide for Oracle Directory Server Enterprise Edition for details.

2.2.3 Directory Server Configuration

Directory Server stores server instance configuration data in files, but the configuration data is also accessible over LDAP.

The files are stored under instance-path as follows. Directory Server stores the LDAP schema, which define what directory entries can contain, under instance-path/config/schema/. See Man Page Reference for Oracle Directory Server Enterprise Edition for reference information about the schema, and Chapter 11, Directory Server Schema, in Administrator's Guide for Oracle Directory Server Enterprise Edition for instructions on managing schema. Directory Server stores other configuration information in the dse.ldif file, instance-path/config/dse.ldif. Avoid updating this file by hand.

Over LDAP, the schema information is accessible under cn=schema. The other configuration information is accessible under cn=config. In practice, you do not generally update data under cn=config directly. Instead, you use either the web based Directory Service Control Center, or the dsconf command. Both Directory Service Control Center and the dsconf command change Directory Server over LDAP. Yet, both also spare you much of the complexity of making configuration adjustments with LDAP modify operations.

Almost all Directory Server product documentation is devoted to Directory Server configuration. In Administrator's Guide for Oracle Directory Server Enterprise Edition you find extensive instructions for accomplishing a variety of tasks using command line configuration tools. The Directory Service Control Center online help can help get you back on track when the Directory Service Control Center interface does not seem intuitive enough.

2.2.4 Data Storage in Directory Server

Directory Server manages many binary-tree databases to hold directory data. By default, database files are stored under instance-path/db/. In general, do not change or move these files.

If you examine the content of the instance-path/db/ directory, you find database log files. You also find subdirectories for each database managed by the server. For instance, instance-path/db/example/ holds data for the directory entries under dc=example,dc=com. When you examine the files, you find a number of database indexes, such as example_sn.db3 for surname attribute values. You also find a example_id2entry.db3 file containing directory entry information. You can configure Directory Server to encrypt the information in these files if necessary.

From the point of view of client applications, Directory Server presents the directory data stored as directory entries arranged in the directory information tree. Directory Server uses the attribute value indexes to retrieve entries quickly. You can configure which indexes Directory Server maintains.

For instructions on backing up directory data, see Chapter 8, Directory Server Backup and Restore, in Administrator's Guide for Oracle Directory Server Enterprise Edition. For instructions on configuring indexes, see Chapter 12, Directory Server Indexing, in Administrator's Guide for Oracle Directory Server Enterprise Edition. You can also back up directory data and configure indexes using Directory Service Control Center.

2.2.5 Data Structuring With the Directory Information Tree

The directory information tree (DIT) provides a way to structure directory data so that the data can be referred to by client applications. DIT Terminology

A well-designed DIT provides the following:

  • Simplified directory data maintenance

  • Flexibility in creating replication policies and access controls

  • Support for the applications that use the directory

  • Simplified directory navigation for users

The DIT structure follows the hierarchical LDAP model. The DIT organizes data, for example, by group, by people, or by geographical location. It also determines how data is partitioned across multiple servers.

DIT design has an impact on replication configuration and on how you use Directory Proxy Server to distribute data. If you want to replicate or distribute certain portions of a DIT, consider replication and the requirements of Directory Proxy Server at design time. Also, decide at design time whether you require access controls on branch points.

A DIT is defined in terms of suffixes, subsuffixes, and chained suffixes. A suffix is a branch or subtree whose entire contents are treated as a unit for administrative tasks. Indexing is defined for an entire suffix, and an entire suffix can be initialized in a single operation. A suffix is also usually the unit of replication. Data that you want to access and manage in the same way should be located in the same suffix. A suffix can be located at the root of the directory tree, where it is called a root suffix.

Because data can only be partitioned at the suffix level, an appropriate directory tree structure is required to spread data across multiple servers.

The following figure shows a directory with two root suffixes. Each suffix represents a separate corporate entity.

Figure 2-1 Two Root Suffixes in a Single Directory Server

Description of Figure 2-1 follows
Description of "Figure 2-1 Two Root Suffixes in a Single Directory Server"

A suffix might also be a branch of another suffix, in which case it is called a subsuffix. The parent suffix does not include the contents of the subsuffix for administrative operations. The subsuffix is managed independently of its parent. Because LDAP operation results contain no information about suffixes, directory clients are unaware of whether entries are part of root suffixes or subsuffixes.

The following figure shows a directory with a single root suffix and multiple subsuffixes for a large corporate entity.

Figure 2-2 One Root Suffix With Multiple Subsuffixes

Description of Figure 2-2 follows
Description of "Figure 2-2 One Root Suffix With Multiple Subsuffixes"

A suffix corresponds to an individual database within the server. However, databases and their files are managed internally by the server and database terminology is not used.

In the special case of cascading chaining, the chained suffix might reference another chained suffix on the remote server, and so on. Each server forwards the operation and eventually returns the result to the server that handles the client's request.

2.2.6 Data Replication Between Server Instances

Directory Server allows you to replicate directory data among as many server instances as necessary. Directory Server replication works as an LDAP extended operation that replays update operations from one server to another. The protocol for Directory Server replication is optimized to work quickly over the network. The protocol is also optimized to resolve conflicts when the same data is modified simultaneously on two different server instances.

The unit of Directory Server replication is the suffix. A replication agreement between two servers handles all the directory entries under a base entry in the directory information tree, such as dc=example,dc=com. Each agreement to replicate is set up point to point. On one hand, point to point agreements prevent replication from single points of failure when the network becomes partitioned. On the other hand, point to point agreements can be complex to manage as the number of replicas increases. Luckily, Directory Service Control Center handles much of the complexity for you. Directory Service Control Center allows you to manage groups of replicas that provide a common directory service.

You can configure timing, priority, and which data is replicated. You can also configure some servers, called masters, to accepts both updates and lookups. You can configure other servers, called consumers, to accept only lookups. In addition, you can publish update information over LDAP for client applications that must follow updates as they happen. For further explanation of replication, see Chapter 7, "Directory Server Replication". For instructions on configuring replication, see Chapter 10, Directory Server Replication, in Administrator's Guide for Oracle Directory Server Enterprise Edition.

2.2.7 Access Control in Directory Server

Directory Server offers an access control mechanism that works through aci attributes placed on directories entries. ACI stands for Access Control Instruction.

ACIs are evaluated based on a user's bind identity. ACIs can be evaluated therefore for all users who can bind to the directory. ACIs can also be applied for anonymous users who did not provide bind credentials. Rules about the bind identity can specify not only which users, but also which systems the users connect from, what time of day they connect, or what authentication method they use.

You configure an ACI to apply to the entries in its scope. Entries that can be in scope include entries on the branch of the directory information tree starting with the entry holding the ACI. Directory Server allows you to configure ACIs to be applied according to a number of different criteria. Directory Server also lets you configure ACIs not only to allow access, but also to deny access.

ACIs can specify which operations are allowed and denied. For example, you typically allow many users to read information, but only a few to update and add directory data.

For further explanation of access control in Directory Server, see How Directory Server Provides Access Control. For instructions on configuring access control, see Chapter 6, Directory Server Access Control, in Administrator's Guide for Oracle Directory Server Enterprise Edition.