IETF girds for batlle over LDAP extensions

Having last month achieved one milestone - final publication of Version 3 of the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is turning its attention towards the next hurdle - developing extensions to the protocol. Intense political battles are expected, as the different players in the directory market struggle to have their proposals adopted as official LDAP extensions. First of these battles could be for replication services, where the main protagonists -- Microsoft, Netscape, and Novell -- all agree that replication should move from a 'master/slave' model to a 'multimaster' replication model, where any single directory can replicate across to any other. Naturally, each company is presenting a different proposal for achieving this.

Having last month published the finalised Version 3 of the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is turning its attention toward developing extensions to the protocol.

However, this process is expected to generate intense political battles, as the different players in the directory market struggle to have their proposals adopted as official LDAP extensions.

One of the first of these battles could be for replication services, where the IETF is known to have received several competing proposals. The main protagonists -- Microsoft, Netscape, and Novell -- all agree that replication should move from a "master/slave" model, where one master directory replicates down to slave directories, to a "multimaster" replication model, where any single directory can replicate across to any other.

However, each company is presenting a different proposal for achieving this.

In addition to replication, IETF working groups have been formed to develop other LDAP v3 extensions, like server discovery and authentication.

According to Michael Simpson, Novell's vice president of product marketing, schema definitions will also become crucial extensions to Version 3.

"[Version 3 of] LDAP doesn't include definitions for how to develop common schema," Simpson says. "Without that, you have discrepancies on the client side and no guarantee that your application will work with anyone else's."

Simpson also said that administrative additions such as single sign-on are crucial if vendors want the protocol to appeal to application developers.

Although the IETF is moving to plug the gaps in LDAP, some industry observers think that it is focusing its efforts in the wrong way.

"The IETF is spending its time forming the working groups that will create replication and other standards, rather than working on the standards themselves," says Jamie Lewis, president of the Burton Group.

Lewis also says the extensibility of Version 3 -- through which the new capabilities will be extensions to LDAP, rather than integral components of the standard -- is "both good news and bad news."

Although extensibility is good, Lewis fears that giving vendors free rein to pick and choose which LDAP extensions they implement may result in "idiosyncrasies which will compromise interoperability."

The Internet Engineering Task Force is at http://www.ietf.org.

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