What Is the Difference Between LDAP and Active Directory?
October 10th, 2021

The two most common tools for setting up IT systems are Active Directory and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP). It is important to know what these components are and how they affect your system.

What Is Active Directory?

Active Directory is a Microsoft product that helps consolidate various IT assets in an organization (e.g. computers, printers, users, etc.) and integrate them with Microsoft Office and Server products.

If you have Microsoft assets in your organization, it is unreasonable to ask users to have a separate password for every product they access. However, without a directory, users are forced to have a username and password for every application. 

System admins also want the ability to consolidate users and manage their access to different computers and printers. Without a directory, they have to manually assign users to each application. And if someone wants to update their password or last name, these changes have to be made in every application the user accesses.

This is where Active Directory comes in handy. Active Directory consolidates data about all users, computers, printers, and other assets of an organization in a single, central service.

Active Directory also stores username and password credentials for application authentication. It has several security features to keep this data safe, including user authentication, security groups, and group policy. It also supports different mechanisms for user authentication, including LAN Manager, Kerberos, and NTLM.

What Is LDAP?

Unlike Active Directory, LDAP is a protocol—not a service. As a protocol, LDAP is primarily concerned with directory structure; adding, updating, and reading data; authentication; and mass queries. 

LDAP is used to communicate with certain directories, including Active Directory. While Active Directory is designed for organizations with a few thousand workers and computers, LDAP is designed for applications dealing with millions of requests to verify subscribers using wireless carriers. The LDAP protocol enables applications to quickly query user information at a large scale. It has proven to be particularly suitable for the telecommunications and airline industries. 

It is also important to mention that LDAP is product-agnostic. In fact, Active Directory is applied with LDAP support to enable LDAP-based applications to work within an existing Active Directory environment. 

In summary, Active Directory is a service for Microsoft products, while LDAP is a protocol not exclusive to Microsoft. According to Okta, a trusted identity and access management company, both Active Directory and LDAP are useful tools and their unique benefits work better for different businesses. 

Active Directory and LDAP can also work together to benefit an organization. You just need to find experts who know how to connect them and merge the data into one universal directory.

For further reading, check out our other articles like Active Directory Account Management Best Practices and Identity Provider Versus Authorization Server.