Chapter 2

The organisation of information in the Directory


This chapter looks at the models of the information that is held in the Directory. The Directory as a whole is quite complex, and difficult to understand. As an aid to understanding what the information looks like, and how it is distributed and managed, various models are described in the Standard. Each model presents a simplified view of just one aspect of the Directory information. This makes it easier to understand, since we only need to grapple with the concepts of one model at a time. We can then try to link the models together in our mind, in order to get a clearer picture of the Directory as a whole.

One model gives a view of the Directory information, as it is seen by a typical user. (This was, in fact, the only information model described in the '88 edition of the Standard.) This model, the Directory User Information Model, simply called the Directory Information Model in the '88 Standard, does not recognise that the Directory is distributed. From its perspective, there is a large amount of information held in the Directory, and users can access all of it, providing that they have the appropriate access rights. To enable the correct information to be accessed, the users need a way of identifying the items they want. Consequently, chunks of information are given globally unambiguous names. The way in which Directory information is identified, or named, is described in this model. The model is sufficiently general to allow any sort of information to be held in the Directory, and the Standard does not mandate what should be held there. However, if implementations of X.500 are to be globally, or simply widely, accessible, then it is necessary to have a subset of this information internationally standardised, so that implementations from Mongolia to Massachusetts can understand it. The Standard does therefore define a subset of the types of user information that can be held in the Directory, in order to aid the international use of X.500.

The user information needs to be managed and administered by local administrators. Human administrators will need to store management information in the Directory, that controls aspects of the user information. Examples of these controls are: the sort of user information that can be stored in this part of the Directory, and who can access it. The Directory Operational and Administrative Information Model provides the 'administrator's view' of the information stored in the Directory. Administrators 'see' that there is more information stored in the Directory, than do typical users. This model still presents the Directory as a global information base, and the distribution of the information between computer systems is not visible to the model. A certain amount of the administrative information is defined in the Standard. This is regarded as the minimum needed for administrators to manage their portion of the Directory information, in an open environment. Specific implementations may provide administrators with additional non-standard control information. This is not restricted by the Standard.

The Directory User Information Model, and the Directory Operational and Administrative Information Model, collectively make up the Directory Information Models. Directory Information, refers to the Directory from a (single) global perspective, and distribution of the information between computer systems is not relevant. In other words, the Directory information is viewed as if it were held in a single centralised database.

Another model is concerned with how the information is distributed between the different computer systems (DSAs § 4.1.2) that provide the Directory service. This is the DSA Information Model. The DSA Information Model describes a model of the information that needs to be held by a single computer system, in order for it to co-operate with others in providing a service to users of the Directory. It is a 'DSA's view' of the information stored in the Directory. Some of this information will be User Information, some of it will be Administrative Information, and some of it will be its own operational information. As an example of the latter, a system will need to store information about where other parts of the User Information are stored. In this way a DSA can relate its bit of information to the global Directory information.

A global database obviously is not controlled by one central authority, but rather by lots of independent authorities. The way in which the management and administration of the global database is distributed between these independent authorities is explained in the Directory Administrative Authority Model. Each independent authority will be responsible for the information stored in its area of the Directory. The way in which this authority may be delegated to sub-authorities is explained. So is the way in which a clean transition is made between two independent authorities. The Administrative Authority Model is described in § 2.11.


The complete set of all information held in the Directory is known as the Directory Information Base (DIB). As described above, not all of this information is visible to normal users of the Directory. Also, when we talk about Directory information, we are not concerned with the distribution of the information between different computer systems.

The DIB consists of entries, and these entries are related hierarchically to each other. The precise form of this hierarchy is described in § 2.4 and § 2.5. Entries are the basic building blocks of the database.

In the Directory User Information Model, an entry holds information about an object of interest to users of the Directory. These (Directory) objects might typically be associated with, or be some facet of, real world things such as information processing systems or telecommunications equipment or people. So there can be a Directory entry for an X.400 Message Transfer Agent (§ 10.2), and another one for the manager. However, it is very important to note that Directory objects do not necessarily have a one-to-one correspondence to real world things. This has typically caused a lot of confusion to non-experts, many of whom assume that every entry in the Directory contains all the relevant information about one real world thing. This is not necessarily so. Directory objects, and hence entries, can have a one-to-one correspondence with real world things, or can have a many-to-one or one-to-many relationship with real world things. For example, a Directory object/entry may be a mailing list containing the names of many real people (one-to-many correspondence). Alternatively, a real person may be represented in the Directory as both a residential person object/entry and an organisational person object/entry (many-to-one correspondence). In the latter case, the organisational person Directory entry would hold information that is relevant to describing the person in their working environment, holding their office room number, internal telephone extension number, electronic mail address, and the department etc., the residential person Directory entry would describe the person in their residential capacity, holding their home postal address and home telephone number etc.

Objects that have similar characteristics are identified by their object class. Every object entry in the Directory is a member of at least one object class. So, for example, there is an 'organisational person' object class for organisational person entries, and a 'residential person' object class for residential person entries. Object classes are described more fully in Chapter 3.

Fig. 2.1 The Directory (user) information model


Each piece of information that describes some aspect of an entry is called an attribute. An attribute comprises an attribute type and one or more attribute values. An example of an attribute type might be 'telephone number' and an example of a telephone number attribute value might be '+44 61 745 5000'. This is the extent of the information model described in the '88 edition of the Standard, and this is shown pictorially in Fig. 2.1. (The model also describes how entries are named, and the distinguished attribute value will be described in § 2.4 and § 2.5.)

The Standard recognises that users (or their administrators, to be more precise) of the Directory will want to define their own attribute types, and that the number of different attribute types held in the Directory will be almost boundless. However, there will be a set of attribute types that are commonly usable by most, if not all, users of the Directory. It would be sensible to standardise this set, so that different users in different parts of the DIB are not referring to exactly the same type of information but using different identifiers. Part 6 of the Standard defines a commonly usable set of user attribute types, and a selection of these are shown in Table 3.2.


Entries held in the DIB are structured in a hierarchical manner, using a tree structure, which is similar to a structure chart used by most hierarchical organisations. The DIB can therefore be represented as a Directory Information Tree (DIT), in which each node in the tree represents a Directory entry (Fig. 2.2). Many entries have superior and subordinate entries, and these are called non-leaf nodes or non-leaf entries. Entries which only have superior entries, and no subordinate entries, are called leaf nodes or leaf entries. At the apex of the DIT is the root entry, and this is the only entry without a superior. (In an organisational chart it might be the Managing Director or President who has no superior line manager.) Below the root of the DIT there will typically be entries representing countries or multinational organisations, and below these, entries representing organisations and organisational units (divisions) respectively. (Below the President or MD in an organisational structure chart might be vice-presidents or divisional managers of functional areas such as sales and production, and below these various line managers and other employees.) Minor differences between an organisational structure chart and the DIT structure are in how layers of the structure are constructed and named. It is recognised, for example, that the root DIT entry will not actually exist in the real world Directory (who will manage it?, who owns it?), whereas the Head of an Organisation always exists! Consequently, users are not allowed to read the root DIT entry, and it will not contain any user attributes. It only occurs in the DIT model for completeness. Within an organisational structure chart, each box is usually named with the role of the occupant, e.g. Chairman, secretary, Northern Sales Manager, Requisition Clerk, and often contains the name of the person currently occupying that position. The layer below identifies the staff reporting to this person. In the DIT, each layer represents objects contained in or associated with the superior node (e.g. organisations are based in countries, and organisational units are contained within organisations). The naming of the entries in the DIT takes a different form from that of organisational structure charts, and this is described below.
Fig. 2.2 The structure of Directory entries

It will often be a relatively simple task to map an organisation's structure into part of the DIT. However, organisations do not have to rigidly follow their organisational structure when designing their DIT structure. They may opt for a flatter structure in the DIT, so that browsers cannot determine the structure of the organisation. Also, as described in § 8.6, access controls can be used to prohibit browsers from discovering the structure of an organisation's DIT subtree.


Each object entry known to the Directory is distinguished from all other objects by its name. Thus each entry is said to have a distinguished name (DN). Each entry takes the name of its parent (or superior) entry in the DIT, and has appended to this a relative distinguished name (RDN). An entry's RDN uniquely identifies it from all of its peers (Fig. 2.3). Since each RDN is guaranteed to be unique below any particular non-leaf node, each entry is guaranteed to have a unique DN. There could thus be an organisation called ACME Tools in the US, and a completely unrelated company bearing the same name in the UK. Both would still have unique distinguished names, since each is prefixed by a different country name.

A RDN is syntactically a set of attribute type and value pairs, enabling an entry to have a multi-component RDN (as in Fig. 2.3 with the Sales unit in Swindon). However, in the vast majority of real DIT entries to date, RDNs usually only contain one attribute type and value pair. This is very likely to continue to be the case. Only in exceptional circumstances will administrators prefer or need to use more than one attribute value in a RDN.

Fig. 2.3 A hypothetical DIT, showing the relationship of RDNs to distinguished names

An entry's RDN is held in the entry along with all the other attributes. Those attribute values which form part of the RDN are flagged as being distinguished by the DSA software. This explains why Fig. 2.1 contains a distinguished value box. However, users do not have to be told which are the distinguished values, unless they have permission to read them (Chapters 5 and 8). So it is not possible for a user to surreptitiously determine the RDN of an entry from its attributes.

Note. Conforming '88 DSAs do have to return the distinguished name of an entry, in reply to Read operations (and also to Compare, List and Search if an alias name was used by the user). This restriction has been dropped from the '93 version of the Standard.

The only entry allowed to have a null distinguished name and RDN is the root entry. However, as stated before, it only occurs in the DIT model for completeness.


It is often convenient for an object to be known by more than one name, depending upon its role or referenced context. To allow for this, the concept of aliases has been introduced into the Directory model of names. Each Directory object only has one distinguished name, and therefore one entry in the DIB, but it may have one or more alternate alias names (with corresponding alias entries in the DIB). The name of an entry therefore only has to be unambiguous, i.e. given the name you will get to precisely one entry in the DIT, but it does not have to be unique, i.e. the only name that will identify the entry.

Fig. 2.4 An alias entry

Each alias name has a corresponding alias entry in the DIT. This contains a pointer to the object entry, as shown in Fig. 2.4. (The pointer is actually the name - in the '88 edition it has to be a distinguished name - of the object entry which it points to. The pointer, like all other information, is held as an attribute - the aliased object name attribute - of the alias entry.) Alias entries have a special object class of alias (§ 3.5), to distinguish them from object entries. All alias entries are leaf entries in the DIT.

As a real life example, Salford University owns a business known as Salford University Business Services (SUBS), which is an organisation registered at Companies House in the UK. It has the distinguished name {Country = GB, Organisation = Salford University Business Services Ltd}. However, people may think that the business is a department within the University, since it is located next to the university campus. Therefore, an alias has been created below the University of Salford entry, with the (distinguished) name {Country = GB, Organisation = Salford University, Organisational Unit = Salford University Business Services}. This alias points to the real Business Services entry in the DIT. Anyone referencing SUBS via the alias name in the University will be automatically re-routed to the real Business Services entry by the Directory, through a process termed alias dereferencing (§ 2.7).

In the '88 edition of the Standard, an alias may not point to another alias (w/w 2.2) but in the '93 edition of the Standard this restriction has been dropped. The feature may be useful in the following situation. A person moves between divisions within an organisation. The original distinguished name is replaced by an alias which points to the new distinguished name in the new division. The person is thus still contactable by either their old or their new name. Suppose the person moves again within a very short timescale (some organisations re-organise frequently!). A second alias could be inserted into the DIT, replacing their previous 'new' name, and pointing to their new 'new' name. The person can now be identified by all three names. This second alias insertion is not allowed by the '88 edition of the Standard.


A directory user will generally give a 'purported' name as input to a directory query. A purported name is syntactically a name (i.e. a sequence of RDNs) but it may or may not name an actual entry in the DIT. Name Resolution is a procedure carried out by the Directory, which determines if the purported name is valid, i.e. if it unambiguously identifies a single entry in the DIT. Logically, name resolution is the process of sequentially matching each RDN in a purported name to an arc in the DIT, beginning at the root and working downwards in the DIT. If an alias is encountered, this is dereferenced and name resolution recommences again from the root, with the name pointed to in the alias entry.

For example, by reference to Fig. 2.4, suppose a user quoted the purported name {C=GB, O=University of Salford, OU=Salford University Business Services, OU=Software Services, CN=Dave Morgan}. Name resolution would start at the root, and would eventually reach the alias entry {C=GB, O=University of Salford, OU=Salford University Business Services}. Alias dereferencing would replace that part of the purported name that had already been used, by the 'aliased object name' value in the alias. The purported name would thus become {C=GB, O=Salford University Business Service Ltd, OU=Software Services, CN=Dave Morgan}. Name resolution would now start again from the root, with this new name.

A description of how name resolution and alias dereferencing work in the distributed directory, is given later in § 4.5, § 9.13.6 and Appendix B.


It was soon realised after 1988 that the above information model was too simplistic. There need to be different types of information (attributes) stored in the Directory. For example, some user attributes could apply to a whole series of entries, e.g. all the employees of an organisation may be contactable on the same telephone number, with a switchboard operator locally routing the call to an internal extension number. It would be very inefficient to have to repeat the organisation's telephone number attribute in the entries of all the employees. Ideally, the telephone number should be stored once in the Directory, along with an indication of the entries to which it applies. Then when a user reads an employee's entry, to which this shared attribute applies, it would be returned along with the other user attributes of the entry. This new type of information is allowed in the '93 edition of the Standard, and is called a collective attribute.

Collective attributes are a special type of user attribute, which have the above properties. They are part of the '93 Directory User Information Model. They are read from entries like other user attributes, but they cannot be updated like them. This is because they are not actually stored in the entry. They are stored in a special entry, called a subentry (§ 2.12). Subentries are not visible in the User Information Model. They are normally only visible to administrators. A subentry contains a description of the DIT subtree of entries to which its collective attributes apply. Using the example above, there could be a subentry associated with the organisation's entry, which describes the complete subtree below the organisation's entry. This subentry would hold the organisation's collective 'telephone number' attribute. This collective attribute would then apply to all the entries of the employees of the organisation.


There are also other types of information (attributes) that need to be stored in the Directory. Whilst user attributes are typically set and used by users of the Directory, they are transparent to the operation of the Directory system - telephone number is a good example of this. Their presence or not in the DIB does not affect the actual operation of the Directory. The system will still function perfectly well without them (although their absence may cause considerable frustration to one or more users of the Directory). In the '93 edition of the Standard, these types of attribute are called user attributes. It was decided that the attributes described in the '88 edition of the Standard most nearly match this definition, and so all '88 defined attributes have been re-classified in the '93 Standard as user attributes (but see w/w 2.1).

Other attributes however, are related to the operation of the Directory itself. Some might be set by the software, in order to monitor or control the system, e.g. the date-and-time an entry was last modified. Others might be set by administrators or users of the Directory, and be used by the software in order to correctly process users' requests. Access Control attributes are examples of this type. These attributes are called Directory operational attributes. They are part of the Directory Administrative and Operational Information Model.

A major property of Directory operational attributes is that they are not normally visible to ordinary users of the Directory. This means that if a user wishes to read all the attributes in an entry (assuming they have the required permissions - see Chapter 8), a simple Read request (§ 5.6) asking for all attributes will not return any operational attributes in the result. (Only user attributes are returned.) In order to be accessed, operational attributes have to either be specifically named in the Read request, or selected via a '93 extension parameter Extra Attributes. Table 3.5 lists the Directory operational attributes that have been standardised.

Besides these 'hidden' attributes - hidden to normal users, that is - there are also some 'hidden' entries, that are usually only visible to administrators. These hidden entries are called subentries. Subentries mainly hold operational and administrative information. A fuller description of subentries is given in § 2.12.

Whether an attribute is user/collective or operational is specified at the time that it is defined. It cannot change definitions during its lifetime.


Another new concept introduced in the '93 standard is that of attribute hierarchies. This acknowledges the fact that some attribute types may be very similar to each other, and are in fact refinements of a more general type. For example, telephone number is more generic than office telephone number, which is more generic than direct dial office telephone number. A more general attribute type is said to be a supertype of a more specific attribute type. Conversely, a more specific attribute type is said to be a subtype of a more generic attribute type. When accessing the Directory for a particular attribute type, the Directory will return any values of that type, and of any of its subtypes, that it finds. Thus if an entry had all three types of telephone number attribute present, and a user requested the values of the telephone number attribute, the values of all three attribute types would be returned. If a user requested values of the office telephone number attribute, then these values, and those of the direct dial office telephone number would be returned. The user is always able to tell which type of attribute is returned, e.g. which is the direct dial number, since the actual attribute (sub)type is returned in the answer along with the values.


A significant enhancement to the '88 standard is the addition of an Administrative Authority Model. This recognises that different parts of the DIT will be administered, or managed, by different organisations. At some point in the DIT, there will be a complete break between one administration and another, whilst at other points in the DIT there will be a devolving of some power onto sub-authorities. An example of the former might be between the administrator of a country entry, and the administrator of an immediately subordinate organisational entry. (A country's entry (name) may be administered by the national PTT or the national standards body, since these are the official representatives of the country at the ITU-T and ISO. An organisation's entry may be administered by the organisation.) An example of the latter might be the delegation of some authority within an organisation to the administrator of an organisational unit. Both of these are catered for in the administrative model, by allowing the DIT to be divided into subtrees, that are controlled, or administered, by different authorities. Two types of subtree are defined: autonomous administrative areas (AAA), and inner administrative areas. Autonomous administrative areas start at an entry in the DIT, called an autonomous administrative point (AAP), and continue downwards until either leaves or other autonomous administrative points are encountered (Fig. 2.5). Applying Fig. 2.5 to the USA, the first AAP under the DIT root could be the {C=US} entry. Below this could be entries for each of the 50 States. These might be administered jointly by the national carriers such as AT&T and MCI, since they represent the US at ITU-T. Below these would be entries for American organisations. Each organisation would be completely responsible for administering their part of the DIT, i.e. their organisation's entry and all the entries below it (although they could always sub-contract this to a service provider).

Fig. 2.5 Autonomous administrative areas

Inner administrative areas start at an entry in the DIT - an inner administrative point, or IAP - that is within an autonomous administrative area. (IAPs are always subordinate to AAPs.) Inner administrative areas continue downwards until the end of the autonomous administrative area is reached. Entries within an inner administrative area are still under the overall control of the autonomous administrative authority, but some degree of control is also exercised over them by the administrator of the inner administrative area. Inner administrative areas may be nested (Fig. 2.6), but the bottom of all inner areas is always the bottom of the enclosing AAA (actually the specific area, § 2.11.1). The fact that inner areas always go to the bottom of the enclosing specific area has caused confusion at the Standards meetings, even amongst the experts. This is because areas are always implicitly defined - they only stop when a leaf or a new specific administrative point (administrative entry) is reached. However, collections of entries within an area may be explicitly defined (§ 2.12.1), and these can always stop before the bottom of the area is reached.

Fig. 2.6 Inner and autonomous administrative areas

2.11.1 Specific Administrative Areas

According to the Standard, administrative areas control three specific aspects of administration. In other words, the administrative authority for an administrative area can operate in three different roles.
  1. Subschema administration is concerned with administrating the Directory subschema that is in operation in this part of the DIT (Chapter 3 gives a fuller description of the schema).
  2. Access control administration is concerned with administrating the security policy that is in force in this part of the DIT (Chapters 7 and 8 give a fuller description of security).
  3. Collective attribute administration is concerned with administrating the collective attributes in this part of the DIT (§ 3.11.1).
An AAA can therefore be viewed from each of these three aspects, the view revealing either a subschema specific administrative area, an access control specific administrative area or a collective attribute specific administrative area. In order to visualise this, try to imagine that an AAA subtree has been sliced horizontally into three layers, i.e. an access control specific administrative area sandwiched between a subschema specific administrative area and a collective attribute specific administrative area, see Fig. 2.7.

Fig. 2.7 Autonomous administrative area
Fig 2.7a Subschema administrative area
Fig 2.7b Access control administrative areas
Fig 2.7c Collective attribute inner administrative areas

For each specific aspect of administration, the AAA can be partitioned into one or more specific administrative areas. In order to visualise this, imagine that any one layer of the sandwich can be sliced vertically into pieces.

In order to understand the complexity of the model, consider, for example, the organisation {C=GB,O=XYZ} shown in Fig. 2.7. The organisation's entry represents an autonomous administrative point, with the AAA extending down to the leaves. The organisation consists of three operating divisions: sales, production and R&D. The subschema needs to be consistent across the whole organisation, so that the divisions may freely understand each other's information. Thus the subschema specific administrative area is congruent with the AAA. (Note that the Standard forbids subschema inner administrative areas.) Any division which wishes to define a new data type, must first register it at the organisational level, via the administrator responsible for the subschema. Security policy, on the other hand, does not need to be consistent across the whole organisation. This is because the R&D division undertakes a lot of collaborative research with outside institutions, and needs to impose its own (more liberal) security policy. Thus the AAA is partitioned into two specific security administrative areas, one covering the R&D division, and one covering the rest of the organisation. The two administrators can thus act independently with respect to security administration. With respect to collective attributes, it is decided that this specific administrative area should be congruent with the AAA, so that, for example, the main switchboard telephone number can be attributed to every entry. However, each division is delegated authority to define its own collective attribute inner administrative areas, to which their own specific collective attributes may be attached as shown in the bottom diagram of Fig. 2.7.

Operational and collective attributes can be attached to an administrative area. They then appear to be shared by, and present in, all of the entries enclosed within the area. It is also possible to explicitly define subsets of the entries within an administrative area, i.e. entry collections (§ 2.12.1), and to attach operational or collective attributes just to them. Access control information, collective attributes and subschema management make extensive use of the administrative model.

Remember that the Directory Administrative Authority Model does not depend upon the distribution of the DIT between different systems (DSAs). When the DIT is distributed between many DSAs, and an administrative area spans one or more DSAs, the Directory has in-built mechanisms to ensure that the administrative information is copied to the right systems. The administrative information is propagated from one DSA to another via Hierarchical Operational Bindings (§ 4.8 and § 9.19).

2.11.2 The 'Administrative Role' Directory Operational Attribute

The model defines an operational attribute, called administrative role, that is used to identify the start of autonomous, specific and inner administrative areas. The attribute is positioned at administrative entries, and is multi-valued. Each value indicates one of the roles of the administrative point. Six values are defined: one value signifies autonomous area, there is one value for each of the specific aspects of administration, i.e. subschema, access controls and collective attributes, and one value for each of the allowable types of inner area (subschema cannot have an inner area). For example, an AAP entry must hold this attribute with four values stored in it. (An AAP is always the start of a specific area for each of the three aspects of administration, plus it is autonomous.) A specific administrative point below this, that identifies the start of another partition of a specific administrative area, will contain the administrative role attribute with a single value that identifies the specific aspect. An inner administrative point below this will also hold the attribute, only this time its values will be either or both of the allowed inner areas (access control and collective attributes).


So how and where is this operational and collective attribute information stored in the DIT, so that it can be attached to a set of entries within an administrative area. The original idea, as might be deduced from Fig. 2.7, was to store the shared information in the administrative points. This information needs to comprise: However, an entry consists of a set of unrelated attributes. Here we have relationships between several sets of attributes. This could be solved by creating one complex attribute, that contained both a subtree specification, and the shared attributes. Then each value of the complex attribute would contain the information describing one set of shared attributes. Alternatively, and this is the method that has been chosen, the administrative entry could be regarded as having several subentries contained within it. Each subentry would consist of: This is shown in Fig. 2.8. But we have forgotten one thing. Each entry, as we shall see in the Chapter 3, has an object class attribute that controls which attributes can be stored in it. So why should not a subentry have one too? It should, so that accounts for the final component of a subentry as shown in Fig. 2.8.

Fig. 2.8 The structure of a subentry

Thus each administrative point has a set of subentries beneath it, which are conceptually part of the administrative entry. Subentries are not visible to normal users of the Directory. Each subentry is uniquely identified by its own RDN. Each subentry contains a description (subtree specification) of the DIT subtree or collection of entries that it governs. It also contains a list of operational and collective attributes that are to be applied to each entry within the scope of the subtree specification. Finally, this list is controlled by an object class attribute. Subentries are used to describe the subschema that is to control a DIT subtree, to apply collective attributes to a set of entries, and to enforce access controls on a part of the DIT.

2.12.1 The Subtree Specification Attribute

Subtree specifications are very comprehensive. Not only can DIT subtrees be precisely defined, but specific types of entry within a subtree can also be identified. The latter are sometimes known as entry collections. Entry collections will probably not be a true subtree of the DIT, and so the term subtree refinement is also used to describe them.

The subtree specification consists of three optional components. If all of them are absent, then the subtree starts at the administrative point, and contains all of the entries in the administrative area. This is the default.

Each of the components may be individually selected for inclusion in the subtree specification. Fig. 2.9 shows the sorts of subtree (or subtree refinements/entry collections) that can be specified by different combinations of the above components. By way of a further example, referring to Fig. 5.3, suppose a subtree specification is to be placed in a subentry below the {O=XYZ Plc} administrative point. The subtree refinement is to include only the people in the R&D unit, but it is also to exclude the Communications Team. The subtree specification would be as follows:

Base is OU=R&D,
Chop Before OU=Communications Team,
Filter on Object Class = organisational person

Fig. 2.9 Examples of subtree specifications

Once the precise shape of the subtree or collection of entries has been defined, the administrator can then attach access controls, collective attributes and subschema operational attributes, to the entries described by the subtree specification.


Up to this point in time, all our deliberations have been about models of the global Directory information, viewed as if it was held in a single centralised database. Distribution of the data between computer systems (DSAs) was not important. Neither was replication of the information between systems. Once we start to look at the subset of the global information that is held on just one system (DSA), we have left the world of the global Directory database behind, and have entered a world where information is only seen from a system's eye view. This system's eye view is called the DSA Information Model. Anything that is not held within a DSA's local database is not known about, and consequently appears not to exist. Thus the DSA Information Model needs to consider what information an individual DSA needs to hold in its local database, in order to successfully co-operate with other DSAs to provide a distribution and replication transparent service to the user. Unless the DSA holds the entire global database (this is not too unreasonable from an organisation's initial perspective - see § 9.9), the DSA will need to know where and how its bit of the DIT fits into the bigger picture. A typical DSA that only holds some of the DIT, will need to have the following sorts of information: A lot of this information is not visible in either of the Directory Information Models. We thus need to define some additional types of entries and operational attributes, that can hold this extra DSA information. These attributes are described in § 2.13.1, the entries are described in § 2.13.2.

2.13.1 DSA Operational Attributes

Operational attributes that are needed by a DSA, but which are not needed by either of the Directory Information Models, are called DSA operational attributes. By reviewing the list in § 2.13, we can see that there are actually two different sorts of DSA operational attribute.

DSA shared attributes are operational attributes that are dependent on the way that the DIT is distributed and replicated between computer systems (DSAs), but are independent of the computer systems (DSAs) in which they are held. In other words, they always have the same value whichever system they are stored in. The specific knowledge attribute, which contains the names and addresses of the DSAs which hold the master and shadow copies of a Directory entry, is an example of a DSA shared attribute. The value of the specific knowledge attribute will be the same for a particular entry, whichever computer system it is retrieved from.

Note. This was originally correct at the time of its definition. It is now not strictly true, because of security or administrative reasons, a particular administrator is allowed to remove some of the DSA Access Point values from the attribute before copying it to another system. In a completely open world, the shared value would be the same in all DSAs.

DSA specific attributes are operational attributes whose values depend both on the way that the DIT is distributed and replicated between computer systems (DSAs), and also on the specific computer systems in which they are held. An example of a DSA specific attribute is the supplier knowledge attribute. This is the name and address of the DSA that is providing a copy of part of the DIT to a particular DSA. Assuming that several computer systems are holding copies of the same entries from the DIT, and that each system is getting the information from a different source (Chapter 6), then the value of the supplier knowledge attribute stored in each system will be different.

2.13.2 DSA Specific Entries

The DIT consists of Directory entries. Clearly DSAs must hold Directory entries. A DSA will need to know the name of each entry that it holds, as well as the entry information associated with each entry, i.e. Directory operational and user attributes, as shown in Figs 2.1 and 2.2. However, DSAs also need to hold other information, i.e. DSA operational attributes, along with the names of Directory entries. Sometimes the name of an entry will be held, without any of its associated entry information. Only DSA operational attributes will be held with the name. DSAs need to do this, in order to link their Directory entries to other ones in the DIT. For example, the name of a remote entry may be held, along with a pointer saying in which DSA it actually resides. Therefore different DSAs may hold the same DIT name, but with different contents, the contents often being specific to the holding DSA. When writing the Standard, it was thought to be more precise, and less confusing, if it was said that DSAs do not hold Directory entries as such (since their contents are fixed), but rather, that they hold DSA Specific Entries (or DSEs). In this way different DSAs could hold the same name, but with different contents. In other words, the contents of an entry, as held in any given DSA, are DSA specific.

Fig. 2.10 Part of a DSA Information Tree and its DSEs

The portion of the DIT held by a particular DSA, is called the DSA Information Tree. It is a subtree of the DIT, but it always starts at the root. A DSA must hold all the DSEs from the root of the DIT to the Directory entries that it holds. So for example, a DSA holding entries for the XYZ organisation, must also hold DSEs for the root and for the country in which XYZ is located. Fig. 2.10 shows part of a typical DSA Information Tree. In the example, the DSA holds all the Directory entries for the XYZ organisation, except for the entries within the credit control division. These are held in another DSA, and are pointed to by a subordinate reference. The DSA also holds an indirect pointer (or superior reference) to the root of the DIT, in order to connect this DSA Information Tree into the global DIT. (See Chapters 4 and 9 for more details.)

Fig. 2.11 Various views of a DSE's attributes

Figure 2.11 shows the three different views of the information held in a particular DSE. Figure 2.12 shows the three different views of a DSA Information Tree. The three views, Directory User, Directory Administrator and DSA Administrator, correspond to the information that is defined in the Directory User Information Model, the Directory Operational and Administrative Information Model and the DSA Information Model respectively. (Real Directory users are not restricted to one view. A normal Directory user might be able to see administrative information and DSEs without entry information, and an administrative user will certainly be able to see all DSEs and DSA operational attributes. A 'real' user's view will typically depend upon their access rights.)

Fig. 2.12 Various views of a DSA Information Tree

Each DSA must hold, as a minimum, one or more DSA specific attributes for each DSE that it holds. The other types of attribute are optional, as shown in Fig. 2.10. The DSA specific attribute that must be held in each DSE, is the DSE Type attribute. This attribute signifies the type of a DSE, and it governs the other attributes that can be held in the DSE. The attribute can only have one value, and this is encoded as an ASN.1 bit string. More than one bit may be set for any given DSE. Each bit has the meaning described in Table 2.1.
So, for an entry that has been copied from another DSA, bits 3 and 11 would be set (w/w 2.3). It will be necessary to read Chapter 9 before a full understanding of all of the meanings can be gained.

A DSA is modelled as always holding DSA specific attributes in its root entry. One example of such an attribute, is the My Access Point attribute. This is a DSA's own name and address. Another example is a superior reference, which points to a DSA holding entries higher up in the DIT.

Table 2.1 The meanings of the bits in the DSE Type attribute

BIT  Name  Meaning for this DSE 
0 root  The root of the DSA Information Tree
1 glue  Represents knowledge of a name only. No other information is held with it 
2 cp The context prefix of a naming context
3 entry  Holds an object entry
4 alias  Holds an alias entry
5 subr Holds a subordinate reference
6 nssr Holds a non-specific subordinate reference
7 supr Holds a superior reference
8 xr  Holds a cross reference
9 admPoint  An administrative point
10 subentry  A subentry
11 shadow  Holds a shadow copy of an entry
13 immSupr  Holds an immediate superior reference
14 rhob  Holds information about a superior administrative point or subentry, passed by a RHOB 
15 sa Subordinate reference DSE points to an alias entry 


2.1 '88 systems make no distinction between user, collective and operational attributes. They all have the same semantics, i.e. they only apply to the entry in which they reside, they may be set by the user, and they are all returned with a Read All Attributes operation (w/w 5.6). All of them except two do not affect the operation of the Directory. They are thus most similar to '93 user attributes. The decision was made that All Attributes defined in the '88 standard would become user attributes in the '93 standard. Under this '93 classification of attributes, the two '88 attributes that cause a problem are the object class attribute and the aliased object name attribute. (The former attribute describes the type, or class of an entry, and this controls which attributes can be stored in it (§ 3.5), and the latter is the pointer held in an alias entry, and used in alias dereferencing.) Although they may be set and read by users, they are clearly bound up with the operation of the Directory, and therefore are technically operational attributes. But operational attributes were defined as not being returned in a Read All Attributes request. It was suggested that these two attributes should indeed be classified as operational attributes, and that the restriction on Read All Attributes be slackened, so that specifically named operational attributes could be returned by this operation. However the international decision did not favour this approach, and instead chose to classify them as user attributes, but to add a paragraph in the Standard saying that they are really semantically operational attributes but must remain as user attributes to facilitate interworking with '88 systems.

2.2 The original reason for not allowing aliases to point to other aliases was not documented. However, the author believes that it was either to avoid looping, or to prevent aliases from having both backwards and forwards pointers (in the original model entries used to have back pointers to their aliases). Whichever reason it was, neither now exists in the '88 Standard. Alias back pointers were removed at the Draft Proposal stage. Looping was avoided by the introduction of trace information. However the restriction on aliases was never removed, and this resulted in an extra parameter being added to Chaining Arguments (aliased RDNs), and extra procedures being written for Part 4 of the Standard, to enforce the restriction (§ 9.13.6). After all that, the '93 edition of the Standard removed the restriction, which caused even more procedures to be written to describe how '93 DSAs should deal with the aliased RDNs argument!

The original model of aliases, initially proposed during the development of the '88 Standard, had forward pointers from the alias entry to the object entry, and back pointers from the object entry to its aliases. But the back pointers were dropped when it was realised that modifying the relative distinguished name of an entry, or removing an entry from the DIT, would be too complicated to define in a distributed environment. A two-phase commit protocol would almost certainly be needed, and many experts did not want to introduce transaction processing into the Directory. Consequently we can now be left with 'dangling' aliases. These are aliases that point to a non-existent object entry, because it has been either deleted or renamed. It is up to administrators or implementors to clean up these old aliases.

2.3 Observant readers will notice that Table 2.1 does not define bit 12. Bit 12 was originally used, during development of the '93 Standard, to signal an entry that had been deleted from the DIT, but that had a 'name re-use' timestamp attached to it. This indicated the time during which the name of the entry could not be re-used to create a new entry with the same name. The entry was thus 'dead' to users, but still 'alive' in the DIT. It was called a Zombie DSE (the living dead!). However, the 'name re-use' timestamp was subsequently replaced by allowing entries to have a unique id assigned to them (§ 8.4.2). Names can then be re-used immediately, but each re-use will involve the allocation of a different id. This is the feature that actually appears in the '93 Standard. Whilst the Zombie DSE is no longer needed, it still lives on in spirit, by keeping bit 12 from being re-assigned. Who says that Standard's writers do not have a sense of humour!