Authenticate users on your Linux system by the numbers with the versatile LDAP.
5. See If It Works

Now that you've added the data to the directory, you can actually determine whether it works with the command

ldapsearch -L -b "dc=azlan, dc=com" -W "(objectclass=*)"

You should get all data in the directory returned as a result (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. ldapsearch

Now that you've come this far, you can do a lot of things with your directory. You could, for example, simply take your browser and look for data in your LDAP directory. That isn't the most interesting part though. As an alternative, you can configure your Linux client so that authentication is no longer done on your local password and shadow files, but on the LDAP server, giving you one central point from which to administer all user data instead of hundreds of computers with all their individual password files. To make it all happen, do the following.

1. Install the Software

Before you can configure your client to authenticate on an LDAP server, you should make sure all necessary software is installed. If you are using RPMs, the packages openldap, auth_ldap and nss_ldap should be present. You can verify that with rpm -q packagename. If they are not present, you can find them at

2. Edit ldap.conf

Often, two files are named ldif.conf on systems. One is in /etc and is used by nss_ldap and pam_ldap to determine where they can find required information. The other is in /etc/openldap and is used by utilities such as ldapadd and ldapsearch to determine in which container they should work. As stated before, delete one of them and make a link to the other to make things easy. Once that's done, you can put the necessary data in it. For a simple configuration you only need two lines:

BASE    dc=azlan, dc=com

The first line specifies the default container where the client should look for data, and the second line gives the name of your LDAP server. Of course, your system must be able to resolve this name by means of DNS or something similar, otherwise you could use an IP address.

3. Edit nsswitch.conf

Next, you have to tell the nameservice switch where it should look for data. Do this by editing the file /etc/nsswitch.conf; it should contain the following lines:

passwd: files ldap
shadow: files ldap
group: files ldap

With these lines, your system first tries to authenticate users on your local password files, and if that doesn't work, it tries to authenticate on the LDAP database. So if a user exists in /etc/passwd, and he or she gives the password that is in /etc/shadow, LDAP will not be used.

4. Edit Your PAM Configuration

Next, you should take a look at PAM. This is the mechanism used on most modern Linux distributions by the different programs that have anything to do with user authentication. It can, for example, be used by login, but also by FTP, su, ssh, passwd, etc. In recent versions of PAM, each of these programs has a configuration file, normally in /etc/pam.d. In this configuration file you can specify the PAM modules that should be used by the module.

If you want the login process to do authentication on LDAP, the corresponding configuration file could look like Listing 3.

Listing 3. Login Doing Authentication

Let's give a brief explanation. There are four processes in which user and password information is used. First there is authentication, represented in the PAM file by “auth”. This process lets you into the system, and one of its responsibilities is to check your password. Then there is “account”, which verifies whether the user has any account restrictions that could prevent him or her from logging in to the system. After that there is “password”, which is used if you want to change your password. Lastly, “session” specifies the tasks to be done if you want to use other resources on the system on which you are already authenticated.

Each of these modules has specific tasks. These tasks are specified in the PAM modules, and one of the most important is This module takes care of the normal passwd/shadow authentication and is normally required if you want access to the system. But if you are using LDAP, it is also good if LDAP is able to let you in. So before the line where pam_unix is called, there is a line where pam_ldap is called. It is not required (you still want to be able to use your system if the LDAP server is down) but it is sufficient. That is, if you can be authenticated by pam_ldap, you don't have to go to pam_unix afterward. Besides these two major modules, there are some minor modules that are not discussed here.



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Re: indepth and pam_mkhomedir

Anonymous's picture

There is better alternative to using pam_mkhomedir which suffers following limitations. Check this at

1) There are some applications which never need to authenticate users
But they need home dirs. -- for example smtp servers which deliver mail to home.

2) Some do use other ways to authenticate, bypassing pam all together.

3) Servers must be root so that pam can creates home dirs. Otherwise
make /home silimiar in permissions to /tmp -- famous sshd problem