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ApacheDS uses an adaptation of the X.500 basic access control scheme in combination with X.500 subentries to control access to entries and attributes within the DIT. This document will show you how to enable the basic access control mechanism and how to define access control information to manage access to protected resources.

Enabling Basic Access Controls

By default the access control subsystem is turned off. Once enabled everything is tightly locked down. Only the special admin user, 'uid=admin,ou=system', is not affected by permissions. Access to all operations are denied by default until enabled using an ACIItem. For this reason enabling basic access controls is a configuration option.

To turn on the basic access control mechanism you need to set the accessControlEnabled property in the configuration to true. This can be set programatically on the StartupConfiguration or via the server.xml.

Types of ACI (Access Control Information)

Three different types of ACI exist. All types use the same specification syntax for an ACIITem. These types differ in their placement and manner of use within the directory.

Entry ACI

Entry ACI are access controls added to entries to protect that entry specifically. Meaning the protoected entry is the entry where the ACI resides. When performing an operation on an entry, ApacheDS checks for the presence of the multivalued operational attribute, entryACI. The values of the entryACI attribute contain ACIItems.

There is one exception to the rule of consulting entryACI attributes within ApacheDS: add operations do not consult the entryACI within the entry being added. This is a security precaution. If allowed users can arbitrarily add entries where they wanted by putting entryACI into the new entry being added. This could comprimise the DSA.

Prescriptive ACI

Prescriptive ACI are access controls that are applied to a collection of entries, not just to a single entry. Collections of entries are defined by the subtreeSpecifications of subentries. Hence prescriptive ACI are added to subentries as attributes and are applied by ApacheDS to the entries selected by the subentry's subtreeSpecification. ApacheDS uses the prescriptiveACI multivalued operational attribute within subentries to contain ACIItems that apply to the entry collection.

Prescriptive ACI can save much effort when trying to control access to a collection of resources. Prescriptive ACI can even be specified to apply access controls to entries that do not yet exist within the DIT. They are a very powerful mechanism and for this reason they are the prefered mechanism for managing access to protected resources. ApacheDS is optimized specifically for managing access to collections of entries rather than point entries themselves.

Users should try to avoid entry ACIs whenever possible, and use prescriptive ACIs instead. Entry ACIs are more for managing exceptional cases and should not be used excessively.

How it works!

For every type of LDAP operation ApacheDS checks to see if any access control subentries include the protected entry in their collection. The set of subentries which include the protected entry are discovered very rapidly by the subentry subsystem. The subentry subsystem caches subtreeSpecifications for all subentries within the server so inclusion checks are fast.

For each access control subentry in the set, ApacheDS checks within a prescriptive ACI cache for ACI tuples. ApacheDS also caches prescriptive ACI information in a special form called ACI tuples. This is done so ACIItem parsing and conversion to an optimal representations for evaluation is not required at access time. This way access based on prescriptive ACIs is determined very rapidly.

Subentry ACI

Access to subentries also needs to be controlled. Subentries are special in ApacheDS. Although they subordinate to an administrative entry (entry of an Administrative Point), they are technically considered to be in the same context as their administrative entry. ApacheDS considers the perscriptive ACI applied to the administrative entry, to also apply to its subentries.

This however is not the most intuitive mechanism to use for explicitly controlling access to subentries. A more explicit mechanism is used to specify ACIs specifically for protecting subentries. ApacheDS uses the multivalued operational attribute, subentryACI, within administrative entries to control access to immediately subordinate subentries.

Protection policies for ACIs themselves can be managed within the entry of an administrative point.

Some Simple Examples

The ACIItem syntax is very expressive and that makes it extremely powerful for specifying complex access control policies. However the syntax is not very easy to grasp for beginners. For this reason we start with simple examples that focus on different protection mechanisms offered by the ACIItem syntax. We do this instead of specifying the grammar which is not the best way to learn a language.

Before you go any further...

Please don't go any further until you have read up on the use of Subentries. Knowledge of subentries, subtreeSpecifications, administrative areas, and administrative roles are required to properly digest the following matterial.

Before going on to these trails you might want to set up an Administrative Area for managing access control via prescriptiveACI. Both subentryACI and prescriptiveACI require the presence of an Administrative Point entry. For more information and code examples see ACAreas.

ACI Trails

Here are some trails that resemble simple HOWTO guides. They're ordered with the most pragmatic usage first. We will add to these trails over time.




Enabling access to browse and read all entries and their attributes by authenticated users.

DenySubentryAccess (TBW)

Protecting access to subentries themselves.


Granting users the rights needed to change their own passwords.

GrantAddDelModToGroup (TBW)

Granting add, delete, and modify permissions to a group of users.

GrantModToEntry (TBW)

Applying ACI to a single entry.

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