LDAP Programming in Python

An introduction to the python-ldap package for writing applications.

You've heard about the next generation directory protocol called LDAP (lightweight directory access protocol), and you're wondering if it's possible to write programs that can interact with it. Maybe you've even set up an LDAP server of your own, and now you want to write programs for it. To these ends, this article gets you ready to write your own programs to automate the querying process of LDAP servers. Hopefully, it also provides you with a solid foundation for extending your knowledge to write configuration scripts and whatever else you want to do with LDAP.

Most major programming languages have an LDAP API, but I chose to use Python because it is perhaps the easiest and clearest language with which to demonstrate. If you do not already understand the basics of the Python programming language and LDAP, you probably should come back to this tutorial after you have become better acquainted with them.

Meet python-ldap

Writing programs that access LDAP servers is easy to do using Python and python-ldap. The python-ldap package contains a module that wraps the OpenLDAP C API and provides an object-oriented client API to interact with LDAP directory servers. The package also contains modules to do other tasks related to LDAP, such as processing LDIF, LDAPURLs and LDAPv3 schemes and more.

Currently, standard implementations of Python do not come with python-ldap, but you can download it as a third-party package from SourceForge.

A Simple python-ldap Application

The best way to learn is to write an example program, so let's write a small and complete program to fetch some specific contact information from an LDAP server. Because indentation matters in Python, all the code given below is indented, so copy it as you see it.

The first thing we need to do is import the ldap module. So open your favorite text editor and type import ldap. For this program, we need to create two simple functions:

  • a main() function that binds the program to an LDAP server and calls a search function

  • a function called my_search() that is used to retrieve/display data from the server.

Let's create our main function and set up variables to authenticate with the LDAP server by using def main():.

If you are using a public server, you can leave the values for the who and cred blank. You can get a list of some public LDAP servers here

. It looks something like this:

   server = "ldap.somewhere.edu"
    who = ""
    cred = ""

Now we need to make a keyword set to what we want our search string to be. I use my first name for this sample program:

   keyword = "ryan"

Next, we need to bind to the LDAP server. Doing so creates an object named "l" that is then used throughout the program.

        l = ldap.open(server)
        l.simple_bind_s(who, cred)
        print "Successfully bound to server.\n"

We're now ready to query the server. We also now catch any possible errors if there is a problem authenticating:

       print "Searching..\n"
        my_search(l, keyword)
    except ldap.LDAPError, error_message:
        print "Couldn't Connect. %s " % error_message

Having written our main function, we now can create our search function:

   def my_search(l, keyword):

In a moment we will be calling python-ldap's built-in search method on our l object. Four variables--base, scope, filter and retrieve_attributes--are the parameters of that search method. Base is used for the DN (distinguished name) of the entry where the search should start. You can leave it blank for this example:

   base = ""

For scope we use SCOPE_SUBTREE to search the object and all its descendants:

   scope = ldap.SCOPE_SUBTREE

Our search filter consists of a cn (common name) and our keyword. Putting asterisks around our keyword (ryan) will match anything with the string ryan, such as Bryant.

   filter = "cn=" + "*" + keyword + "*"

The last argument we pass to the search method is used to return all the attributes of each entry:

   retrieve_attributes = None

Now, let's setup a few more variables, including a counter to keep track of the number of results returned:

   count = 0

a list to append the results to:

   result_set = []

and a variable to specify the length, in seconds, we're willing to wait for a response from the server:

   timeout = 0

Now we can begin our search by calling python-ldap's search method on our l object:

        result_id = l.search(base, scope, filter, retrieve_attributes)

Store any results in the result_set list

       while 1:
            result_type, result_data = l.result(result_id, timeout)
            if (result_data == []):
                if result_type == ldap.RES_SEARCH_ENTRY:

If we were to print result_set now, it might look like a big list of tuples and dicts. Instead, step through it and select only the data we want to see

       if len(result_set) == 0:
            print "No Results."
        for i in range(len(result_set)):
            for entry in result_set[i]:                 
                    name = entry[1]['cn'][0]
                    email = entry[1]['mail'][0]
                    phone = entry[1]['telephonenumber'][0]
                    desc = entry[1]['description'][0]
                    count = count + 1

Display the data, if any was found, in the following format:

    1.    Name:    Description:    E-mail:    Phone:    2.    Name:    Description:    E-mail:    Phone:    etc..

                   print "%d.\nName: %s\nDescription: %s\nE-mail: %s\nPhone: %s\n" %\
                           (count, name, desc, email, phone)
    except ldap.LDAPError, error_message:
        print error_message



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thanks very much, I tried

Anonymous's picture

thanks very much, I tried your code, it works well. But when I learn it from someother ldap server, i found that i cann't use the base="", I must write the concrete base if i want it to work. I really want to know what is the problem. I googled for this question, failed to get the reson, could you help me. I am really confused about this: why you said, in this example: base can be "". fortunately, the first example I tried with "" is also ok. I am a fresh bird, can someone help me?? That will be very appreciated.

I have just start to learn python

Anonymous's picture

thanks for your share. i will have a try and learn.

I tried python for the first

Anonymous's picture

I tried python for the first time and noticed that tabbing cripples the whole python language. Thanks and goodbye


KOMTET's picture

We have translated your article in russian. If you have no objection - posted it on our website.

Quite poorly written. The

Anonymous's picture

Quite poorly written. The following is a much more practical explanation of getting started with python & ldap.


It was good for the time

Anonymous's picture

Keep in mind that in 2003, when this article was written, there were no other articles on LDAP programming in Python. So I think it was quite good for the time.

By the way, the linked code

Anonymous's picture

By the way, the linked code is terrible. It's like someone tried to adapt another language for python.

The search code uses a permanent TRUE statement with a break.

Bad code

Anonymous's picture

I was able to pick out the basics from this example, but the python code is terrible...

Re: LDAP Programming in Python

Anonymous's picture

The code, for the most part, works for me. But I'm having trouble slicing the data portions out of the search result.

When grabbing 'description' (or any other attribute), I'm getting back:

string indices must be integers " entry[1]['description'][0] "

Re: LDAP Programming in Python

Anonymous's picture

try this:

look for Python's Manual about List, Tuple and Dictionary!