Directories take center stage in Web development

The focus of Web development and services is shifting from Internet and Intranet surfing to virtual enterprises and communities with distinct values that must be protected by security services and made available through directories. In the coming years,directory and security services will play an increasingly greater role in Web applications development.

This development has to be conceptualized, planned, designed and deployed on a global scale. Gone are the days when corporations could view this development in an isolated paradigm. These services will be the key backbone for their Web environment.

Given all the "circus" activity associated with Dynamic HTML, push technology, XML and the like, why the growing fascination over directory and security services? A very simple value proposition provides the answer -- network-bound information servicing and its associated secure accessibility are key.

How did we get here? The directory and security industry in a distributed paradigm has its roots in the operating-system specific service engines, such as Sun NIS+, OSF DCE, Microsoft Windows NT Directory Services, Novell NDS and Banyan StreetTalk. With the advent of messaging and groupware applications, one began to see the emergence of application-specific directories. Some vertically oriented and proprietary directories included Microsoft Exchange directory, Lotus ccMail post office and Domino/Notes Address book.

Corporations and vendors busily worked to integrate their operating-system-bound directories with application-specific directories in an effort to leverage information stored in both repositories for their business application solutions. As corporations began to communicate internally and externally using interoperable protocols such as X.400 and SMTP, some companies introduced centralized enterprise-scale directories housing information in X.500-based systems as well. Vendors delivering solutions in this space included Nexor, ISOCOR, Control Data Systems and WorldTalk. Unfortunately, pure X.500-based directories did not catch on.

Next, we saw the emergence of meta directories and directory synchronization products from vendors such as Lotus Softswitch, Zoomit VIA, Netvision, Synchronicity and others. These products began to act as large clearinghouses for directory information interfacing into operating system-, application- and Internet-based directories.

LDAP online

In the last year, we have witnessed the rapid acceleration and adoption of Internet-based directories leveraging the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP). Developed at the University of Michigan to act as a compact, fast and reliable method to access X.500 directories, LDAP has emerged as the standard bearer for the Web directory world. With its aggressive adoption of this pioneering directory access protocol via integration of the LDAP client in the Navigator browser and introduction of the LDAP directory server, Netscape Communications, Mountain View, Calif., helped move the industry toward considering Web-centric directories a reality.

Meanwhile, the appearance of directory content providers on the Web such as,,, and have accelerated the use of white page and LDAP client-aware services. The growing trend in the directory space is toward Internet-based protocols such as LDAP V3.0 and away from vendor specific directories. Both Microsoft and Novell are positioning their directories to become more "LDAP aware," with LDAP to be natively embedded in their respective operating systems.

Note that Novell's NDS currently has the market lead in the distributed directories business segment, but strong competition is expected from Microsoft's Active Directory and Netscape's Directory Server. However, I do not see the NDS leadership position eroding anytime soon due to its stability, proven track record, multiplatform availability and incorporation of Internet directory standards.

Look for Internet aware directories supporting LDAP to solve the "magical" single log-on problem within and across enterprises. In addition, directories will provide distributed administration and centralized management of corporate information ranging from people data to business application data contexts and preferences within a network-based registry. Distributed application objects and their pertinent descriptive information and location will be leveraged through the use of directories. Lastly, directories and security services will facilitate the delivery of location independent applications. There will be little need to rely on accessing information locally.

The thrust of the future will be for the information to move to you wherever you may be in your virtual enterprise and community using directories as the underlying repository. In order to leverage this environment, system and application, vendors must begin to deliver LDAP-compliant products. Vendors such as Microsoft, Netscape, Oracle, SAP, Novell, PeopleSoft, IBM and others are embracing LDAP and delivering products that support the standard. More interoperability work needs to be accomplished among these parties to make Web-based directories a permanent fixture in the Internet landscape. Corporate developers need to leverage directory services through the use of LDAP software components in the form of JavaBeans and ActiveX controls.

Designers should not forget the use of Internet-based security services when rushing to introduce directory services. With the use of Secure Socket Layer (SSL), X.509v3 certificates (Digital Ids), smart cards and object signing technologies, a directory's usefulness can be significantly extended.

Certificate servers from Netscape, Microsoft and IBM/Lotus will form the backbone of many Intranet/Extranet security environment. In the coming years, certificate servers will become integrated with directory servers to become network registry servers since these two worlds are becoming more closely interwoven with one another. More reliance will be placed on external security providers such as Verisign, GTE CyberTrust and others to provide certificate (security) management services for virtual enterprises and communities. The use of secure directories to store aggregated profiles of corporations and individuals could be shared and leveraged by multiple content providers and recipients to foster privacy and avoid information clutter.

Electronic commerce and supply chain vendors should leverage directory services to store profile, authorization and business rules in an effort to reuse valuable business information flow when conducting commerce among multiple customers and suppliers. These two business solutions are just the beginning to the types of systems that can be developed and deployed using directory and security services. It's time to embrace directories and security services as the central nervous system for your Web development initiatives.

About the Author

Ameet Patel, ADT contributing editor, is an architectural manager at a Fortune 500 firm