Understanding the Differences Between LDAP and Active Directory

04 Apr 2023

Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) and Active Directory (AD) are two of the most popular user authentication systems. While the two are often wrongfully used interchangeably, they have significant differences and are meant to meet different needs for your network.

Recent years have seen the exponential growth of business IT systems, including their networks and network management systems. The advent and adoption of technologies such as cloud computing, bring your own device arrangements, and an increase in the number of remote workers have made centralized user authentication systems vital.

What is the key difference between LDAP and AD?

The main difference between the two is that AD is a directory server and hence stores important user information while LDAP is the protocol that governs the way applications access and modify the information in the active directory. LDAP is not limited to the AD as it can be used to query other directory databases, including FreeIPA and OpenLDAP.

An Overview of Active Directory (AD)

Active Directory (AD) is a directory server developed by Microsoft for Windows users. It serves to store important information such as usernames, email addresses, phone numbers, and devices on an organization’s network in a hierarchical database. However, it can also authenticate users, allow for group management, and enable clients to set access policies.

Active Directory simplifies administration tasks since it allows users in an organization to access all permitted applications using the same credentials. This way, the administrator can update user information in one location when needed instead of doing the same for each application and the users only need to remember a single pair of login credentials.

The directory service constitutes five main components including:


 A domain can be defined as the basic unit of administration in an active directory. It is composed of users, computers, and organizational units with the same security policies, databases, and resources.

Domain controller

 A domain controller is a server that operates in a network domain and functions to authenticate users and devices. It stores a copy of the database in the active directory, which it uses for authentication.

Active directory services

These include Domain Name System (DNS) services, LDAP, certificate, Kerberos Authentication, and group policy services.


A tree is a collection of domains in a logical hierarchy with a trust relationship between them. Each domain tree is made up of a parent domain and one or more child domains.


This is a collection of domain trees.

An Overview of LDAP

LDAP is a product-agnostic protocol that applications can use to access and manage extensive data in distributed directories at speed. Active directory is an example of directory services that this protocol can be used to communicate to. The protocol can query user information in the directories, read it and perform modifications.

This protocol, which is often used in Linux and other UNIX-like environments, has found numerous applications in the telecommunications industry where it supports telephone wireless carrier applications. These applications typically serve millions of phone network subscriber requests. It is also commonly used in the airline industry.

LDAP excels in different areas including quick data reading and modification, user authentication, and search. The simplest form of LDAP authentication involves checking the information in a directory server against the one entered by the user during login. If the information matches, the user is allowed.

Authentication in LDAP involves binding to a service. During a bind operation, the application can query the directory servers with the user input for validation. Advanced LDAP authentication could also include client certificates and Kerberos token.

The Differences Between LDAP and AD

The key difference between the two is that LDAP is a protocol used to access directory services while AD is a directory service that a user can access using the LDAP protocol and many others. While the active directory contains a hierarchical database that stores important information, such as usernames and email addresses, the LDAP protocol allows applications to access, query and modify this information.

In addition, LDAP is non-proprietary and can be used in Linux, MacOS, and Windows systems while AD was developed by Microsoft for use by Windows users and applications. LDAP can also be used with multiple directory services.

Finally, AD is more suited to large scale deployments with thousands of domains while LDAP would struggle in such an environment.

SGRwin integration capabilities

In conclusion, effective network management calls for a clear understanding and distinction between LDAP and AD. Selecting the best option for your network enhances your its security and efficiency.

At SGRwin, we understand how important it is to have a suitable centralized user authentication system for your organization. That’s why our Network Management System (NMS) is designed to seamlessly integrate with corporate LDAP and LDAP servers. Furthermore, our solution offers a security module enabling you to manage users, roles, permissions etc.

In addition, Active Directory is also enabled in our system, giving you the freedom to choose the authentication method that works best for your organization.

Reach out today to learn more about our NMS and how we can help you manage your network more effectively.

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