Novell Adopts OpenLDAP

by Craig Knudsen

Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) is a client-server protocol for obtaining directory-based information. It was originally developed at the University of Michigan as a method to access X.500 directory information over TCP/IP.

Today, LDAP servers are typically stand-alone applications rather than gateways to X.500 directories. This isn't a terribly surprising development, since X.500 can be difficult to implement and resource-intensive for X.500 clients.

LDAP is an Internet standard controlled by the IETF and is used in products by Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, Netscape and many others.

While the description of LDAP sounds fairly boring, it's an incredibly useful tool. Most users' first experience with LDAP will be looking up someone's e-mail address on a large LDAP server like Bigfoot. Check out your address book in Netscape, and you'll see that you can use various LDAP servers to search for people.


Founded in 1983 as a LAN specialist, Novell is now best known for NetWare and Novell Directory Services (NDS), and is present in over 80% of Fortune 500 companies.

Novell's major competitor in the commercial network directory market is Microsoft, which is planning to unveil their Active Directory as part of the Windows 2000 release.

In January, Novell announced the planned release of their LDAP Libraries for C Software Development Kit. The new SDK will allow developers to use the LDAP API to access Novell's NDS eDirectory. While this was possible before using third-party LDAP libraries, this is the first Novell developer library to support the LDAP API. The LDAP SDK will be released as part of the Novell Developer Kit (NDK) in March.

The SDK is based on the OpenLDAP Project's client library, written in C. Created to promote and develop commercial-grade open-source LDAP applications and tools, the OpenLDAP Project is coordinated by the OpenLDAP Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation.

How will this new relationship between Novell and OpenLDAP benefit OpenLDAP and the Open Source community? Novell is now a member of the OpenLDAP development community and is contributing enhancements, bug fixes, testing and documentation.

According to OpenLDAP's chief architect Kurt Zeilenga, “Novell developers are active on project mailing lists and have contributed a number of minor enhancements and bug fixes. We look forward to more significant contributions from Novell.”

The impact of Novell's contribution to the OpenLDAP project will not likely be seen by OpenLDAP users until the release of OpenLDAP 2.0, scheduled for general release sometime in the first quarter of 2000.

Not surprisingly, Novell's plans extend beyond just helping the OpenLDAP Project. This includes enhancing the OpenLDAP client libraries by adding NDS-specific extensions that will eventually be available as source code from Novell, creating tutorials and enhanced API documentation and providing commercial technical support. Novell will offer commercial support through its Developer Support program, ranging from free newsgroup access to paid support technicians.

Novell's customers also stand to benefit from the LDAP SDK. Kris Magnusson, open-source architect for Novell, believes, “Novell's LDAP SDK promotes an open standard, LDAP v3, as the preferred access mechanism for NDS eDirectory. Because developers will be able to use the LDAP v3 Internet standard to access NDS eDirectory, they can write to a single, open SDK.”

In order to use the Novell LDAP SDK, Windows developers will use an InstallShield-based self-extracting executable, while NetWare installation will take place through Novell Installation Services. Linux and UNIX users will install source or binary packages distributed as “tarballs”, a common choice for open-source projects.

Using open-source products as part of commercial products is becoming increasingly popular, and OpenLDAP's software is a perfect fit. As part of their eServer product, Caldera Systems has also included OpenLDAP's software.

Novell's adoption of OpenLDAP's open-source SDK and commitment to contribute source code and documentation signal a change in corporate strategy. Novell's LDAP SDK plans provide clear benefits to both the Open Source community and Novell, resulting in a win-win solution.


Craig Knudsen ( lives in Fairfax, VA and telecommutes full-time as a web engineer for ePresence, Inc. of Red Bank, NJ. When he's not working, he and his wife Kim relax with their two Yorkies, Buster and Baloo.
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