LDAP Referential Integrity

An old issue with LDAP servers has found the spot light again: referential integrity. This time it’s a call for attention made by James:

I also asked the question on How come there is no innovation in LDAP and was curious why no one is working towards standards that will allow for integration with XACML and SPML. I would be happy if OpenDS or OpenLDAP communitities figured out more basic things like incorporating referential integrity.

Pat pointed James to what he thinks is prove of support for referential integrity in LDAP (OpenDS, OpenLDAP and any Sun derivative):

For some reason, James has a bee in his bonnet over referential integrity and LDAP. I’m really not sure where he’s coming from here – both OpenDS and OpenLDAP offer referential integrity (OpenDS ref int doc, OpenLDAP ref int doc), and Sun Directory Server has offered it for years (Sun Directory Server ref int doc). Does this answer your question, James, or am I missing something?

I can’t answer for James of course, but if I had been asking that question … no Pat, it does not answer my question. Well, it kind of does, since it confirms that those LDAP incarnations have limited to no support for decent referential integrity. Let’s follow one of Pat’s links and see what it says (Sun Directory Server ref int doc):

When the referential integrity plug-in is enabled it performs integrity updates on specified attributes immediately after a delete, rename, or move operation. By default, the referential integrity plug-in is disabled.

Whenever you delete, rename, or move a user or group entry in the directory, the operation is logged to the referential integrity log file:


After a specified time, known as the update interval, the server performs a search on all attributes for which referential integrity is enabled, and matches the entries resulting from that search with the DNs of deleted or modified entries present in the log file. If the log file shows that the entry was deleted, the corresponding attribute is deleted. If the log file shows that the entry was changed, the corresponding attribute value is modified accordingly.

So it seems that Sun Directory Service let’s you delete a user but it promises to make sure that it will do it’s very best to delete any references to this user within a “update interval”. It does not mention what a read after the deletion but before the plug-in kicks in will see. Will it still see the user as a member in a group although the user is deleted? I am pretty sure it does. This is of course, at least for me, enough prove that this functionality does not offer referential integrity. At best it offers some kind of deferred cascading deletes (or updates) with no semantics for reads done during the time interval between the original operation and this cascaded deletes and updates.

Does this mean an LDAP server is something to avoid in any production environment? Absolutely not! In fact, I am not even sure if an LDAP server should offer “real” referential integrity at all. If you need that kind of guarantees, you are not far from full transaction support either, so why not upgrade to a relational database? Just my 2 cents of course.

To Sun (and any other LDAP implementator): what would the impact be on read/write performance in LDAP if they would implement full referential integrity?