The University Record, April 30, 1996

Netscape implements U-M-developed standard for directory services

By Janet Eaton
Information Technology Division

A giant step toward having global directory service on the Internet was taken today when the University of Michigan and Netscape announced that Netscape will incorporate Lightwe ight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) directory service technology developed at the U-M into its World Wide Web software.

Directory service on the Internet can be thought of as akin to an enormous online distributed phonebook. Just as the phonebook provides name, phone number, address and other directory information about people, organizations and businesses, directory service on the Internet can provide similar information in cyberspace.

The Internet directory service, however, will have some advantages---the information provided will be more up-to-date, better organized and easier to search. Also, it can be integrated with Internet applications such as electronic mail and Web browsers. The technology developed at the U-M provides the infrastructure to make this possible.

"We're very excited that Netscape has chosen to use our technology," says Kitty Bridges, director of product development and deploy ment for the Information Technology Division. "It's good for the Internet, and it's good for the U-M. It will make it easier for people to find the information they need on the Internet."

In 1992, U-M staff members began developing the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) in cooperation with other Internet developers and the Internet Engineering Task Force to address the directory service needs of the U -M and the Internet at large. That same year, U-M staff members began work on implementing LDAP at the University. It is that implementation of LDAP that Netscape is adopting. It includes client and server software that together make up a complete directory service.

"As the World Wide Web continues to extend its reach, it will support global learning communities," says Douglas Van Houweling, vice provost for information technology and dean for academic outreach for the U-M. "Higher education is focusing increasing attention on the knowledge services required by individuals and organizations worldwide. Standards-compliant directory services are a key enabler for both these communities and their support, and we are delighted that Netscape has elected to incorporate LDAP into their products."

The LDAP implementation at the U-M provides a complete electronic directory of faculty, staff, students and more. There are more than 130,000 entries in the U-M online directory, including entries for people, groups of people, documents and additional resources. Using five replicated directory servers, the service responds to around five million queries a week.

The U-M LDAP implementation has been developed with support from a National Science Foundation grant. LDAP is available free of charge to anyone who wishes to use it. The U-M is currently in discussion with several software vendors who are interested in supporting LDAP. Other Internet developers are invited to join the University, as Netscape is doing, to facilitate implementation and deployment of LDAP.

LDAP is the leading Internet directory service protocol and is already widely in use across the Internet. Tim Howes, one of the original LDAP developers, says, "LDAP can be used to support a wide array of applications and environments, from white pages to yellow pages, from the enterprise to the global Internet itself."

"With many major industry names lining up behind LDAP as a standard, enterprise customers can be assured of true interoperability between directory servers and applications, whether they are managing enterprise directories or searching out information across the Internet," says Eric Hahn, senior vice president of enterprise technologies at Netscape.

The transfer of this technology and the U-M's strategic relationship with Netscape, which is still under development, represent an important pairing of academia and industry. LDAP's move to a more commercial environment represents a logical evolution and a continuation of the work begun at the U-M to address the Internet's directory service needs.