9.6 Push/Pull Agents for Directory Synchronization

Push/pull agents are common tools for synchronizing information between directories. In this case, a single agent manually pulls information from one directory service and massages the data to make it acceptable for upload to another directory server. Several directory vendors provide synchronization agents of this type in the form of connectors and drivers. A connector transfers data from one directory to another (see Figure 9-8) using a common format, often XML-based, while a driver translates the connector's data format to something understood by the local directory.

Figure 9-8. Using a connector/driver solution for synchronizing data among different directory services

A partial list of commercial connector/driver offerings includes:

  • SunOne's XMLDAP (http://wwws.sun.com/software/products/directory_srvr/)

  • Novell's DirXML (http://www.novell.com/products/edirectory/dirxml/)

The advantage that most commercial connector/driver solutions enjoy over in-house solutions is an inherent knowledge of when data changes in the directory. This means that the directory can trigger the connector upon any relevant change; in most cases, an external agent can detect a change only by polling the directory.

Despite this disadvantage, home-grown tools that act as middlemen between directory services can be very useful. The next chapter focuses on how to script directory operations using Perl and the Net::LDAP module.

9.6.1 The Directory Services Markup Language

The Extensible Markup Language (XML) has been hyped as the next big thing for several years now. Whether or not it has achieved its promise is a question I won't get into. LDAP has not been immune to the XML fever. The Directory Services Markup Language (DSML) is an XML schema for representing LDAP information using document fragments. DSML v1.0 could really only be described as an attempt to replace LDIF. With Version 2.0, however, released in May of 2002, DSML has grown up and gained some new and interesting functionality.[4]

[4] The latest information about DSML can be found at the OASIS Directory Services Technical Committee's web page (http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/dsml/).

DSMLv2 is designed to provide methods for representing LDAP queries, updates, and the responses to these operations in XML. This means that it would be possible for small, embedded devices to access LDAP services without relying on an LDAP client library; they only need the ability to parse XML. Because XML-based standards such as SOAP will only become more prevalent over time, the Oasis Directory Service TC has included a description of how to embed DSML requests and responses into SOAP messages.

It's too early to provide concrete examples of how to use this technology. Version 1.0 is only mildly interesting, and Version 2.0 of DSML is still in the early adopter phase. DSMLv2 will probably be accepted by the LDAP marketplace. Sun Microsystems will include native support for the specification in the next release of its SunOne Directory Server (Version 5.2). Microsoft is also developing a DSML development kit; this product is currently available as a beta release. Novell has also been very active in the development of DSML. All three companies have members serving on the DSML technical committee.