This document serves to provide a detailed design of the client components that will be developed as part of the IPA v2 project. It is important to realize that the collection of components, services, libraries and interfaces discussed here has a wider scope than IPA itself. We will describe not only the services that will be built as part of the IPA project, but also components that will exist regardless of any IPA service provider being utilized. For example, in the future, an Active Directory (AD) provider may be introduced, as well as other third party components.



The first step is to provide some context. It is assumed that regardless of whether the machine is hooked into IPA or not, a set of processes will be developed in the scope of the IPA v2 project (by the IPA team or other teams) that will become part of Fedora and will be available as a part of that platform. IPA will then use the pluggable architecture to add necessary functionality.

The components that are IPA-specific will be developed by the IPA team. It is possible that in future some of the processes and libraries developed in the scope of this project will be reused by other service providers (connections to AD or other sources of IDM information), thus creating a common set of entities that would become part of the pre-installed set of components. While we acknowledge this possibility we do not want to go that far at the moment.


It is important to define the terminology that we will use in this specification because we want to be sure we are talking about the same things and that new terms are clear and understandable. Every name that appears on the diagrams (if it is used in a specific context in this project) is described on this page. I will try to get gradually complex and introduce new entities and terms as we progress.


High-Level Diagram#

The following diagram gives a very high-level view of the client-related components.



The server and client will exchange identity-related information. The client will periodically download policy information and upload audit logs.

The IPA related components are the components that are treated as part of IPA. They are not installed as part of the operating system and require users to install and configure the IPA client. The IPA enabled platform applications are applications that exist as part of the OS and are ready for integration with IPA if and when it is installed and configured. The Local data storage, also referred to as Cache, is local data storage that is used for different purposes. The platform applications can (and some will) use this storage to hold local (node specific) data. IPA (or other providers) will use it to store the data downloaded from the server for the offline case and to enhance performance. The details about each of those components are covered in the diagrams below.

The following aspects of the system are not discussed here:

  1. Client Installation and Configuration Scripts – they are not shown on any diagram below but it is implied that they will be installed and used when the IPA client is installed or configured.

  2. Components and processes related to a machine’s identity. This aspect will be discussed separately.

  3. Audit related components. This aspect is covered on a separate page. That page (PAGE TBD) shows the integration of the audit client components with the components described here.

IPA-Enabled Platform Applications#

These applications currently either do not exist or are not IPA-enabled. So far we have identified two applications: the Policy Kit Back-End Daemon (PKBED) and the Info Pipe Daemon (IPD).

Policy Kit Back-End Daemon#

Policy Kit is an interface that applications can use to determine whether a user is authorized to perform an action. It is mostly, and currently, applicable to desktop applications. For example, “Does the current user have the necessary permissions to update the system time?”. When each application is installed, it is designed to install a set of actions and rules about “who can do what” (Authorization Rules). The current implementation of Policy Kit uses local files to store this information. In future, these Authorization Rules, as well as information about groups of users, roles and user identities, will be defined centrally in IPA (or another IDM provider). In order to support different sources of information, a Policy Kit Back-End Daemon (PKBED) will be created.
The PolicyKit Plug-In Architecture page on the PolicyKit Wiki talks about this effort in greater detail.

The IPA plug-in for the PKBED will be discussed later.

Info Pipe Daemon#

The desktop team identified the need to store much more information about users than is currently possible using local password files. This information is currently stored in local files. An example is a welcome screen bitmap image or a user photo. Moving forward, for local users, this information will be provided locally, but for the centrally defined users the information will be delivered from the central server to each machine and stored in local storage, and thus be synchronized. The Desktop Team plans to move from using the current files to using local storage, however it is expected that for greater flexibility the new daemon shall be able to get information both from files and from local storage. The whole purpose of the new daemon is to serve user-related information to any application that needs it.

A more detailed diagram of the Info Pipe Daemon design is available in the Design section below.

Local Storage (Cache)#

Local storage is also referred to as cache.
The purposes of the cache are to:
  • Store local configuration and user information in a structured manner, similar to the way it is stored on the IDM server.

  • Serve as a local information store when the machine is offline.

    If the machine is part of a domain (IPA or other in future) but cannot access the central server, the cache will continue to operate beyond its normal timeout period.

  • Improve performance by storing information locally, removing the need for round trips to the central server on each lookup.

Characteristics of the cache:

  • Makes common information available for system applications

  • Provides a structured way to store information (similar to a DB or LDAP)

  • Is persistent across reboots

Forms of storage:

  • LDB

  • File system

Details about Forms of Storage#

It is important to emphasize that the two forms of storage are not alternatives but rather complementary, and that each form of storage will hold different information. During analysis of the policies and identities for the IPA implementation we concluded that there are two different classes of information to consider. The distinction is vague but we tried to define criteria that separates the two classes. The following table compares these classes of information and tries to give an overview of how and why they are different.



Form of storage

Form of delivery

Identity Information

Identity information is information about users, groups, roles, etc. This information frequently changes and it is important that these changes be readily available. Consequently, on the IPA side, this information is stored in the DS.

See LDB description below.

Fetched over LDAP connection from client to server.

Policy Information

Policy information is more static. It is not expected to change frequently. Once defined it will rarely be modified. A good example is a policy that defines the contents of the sudoers file or SELinux policy.

File system

It is expected that policies on the server side will be stored as blobs in DS or in files (at the time of writing the final decision has yet to be made based on further investigation). Most likely XML blobs will be downloaded from the server through the XML-RPC interface.


LDB is a memory-mapped, LDAP-like database with persistence capabilities developed by the Samba project. Being memory mapped storage, it is quite fast and can act as a cache for dynamic identity data for which IPA will be the authoritative source. It can also be used to store local data. The Info Pipe plans to take advantage of this aspect. LDB, being a local, LDAP-like database, allows storing data retrieved from DS in the same format as it is stored centrally.
Access to LDB is provided via an LDB library that the Info Pipe will use to access data.

File System#

Downloaded policy files will be stored in the file system. The XML files will be stored locally in a predefined directory so that they are not requested unless there is a new policy on the server. Policies are related to different applications. The application configuration handlers will process the downloaded XML files and translate them into configuration files that applications can use. In some cases configuration handlers might post information directly into the LDB cache. An example of such case would be a centrally defined policy that would be locally enforced using Policy Kit. See more details in the Design section below.

Low-Level Process Diagram#

The following process-level diagram shows the relationship between different client components.

Low Level Diagram|Diagram shows processes and libraries that comprise the client footprint related to IPA

Low Level Diagram|Diagram shows processes and libraries that comprise the client footprint related to IPA#


  • Containers:

    • Boxes with round corners are processes.

    • Boxes with sharp corners inside process boxes identify libraries/plug-ins.

    • Elements filled with yellow are components to be delivered by the IPA client package.

    • Element in salmon pink (Info Pipe Daemon) will be built jointly by the IPA and desktop teams.

    • Elements in green include already existing system DBUS and a new service – Policy Kit Back End Daemon developed by desktop team.

    • Userspace applications are shown in blue on the left side of the picture.

    • The red cylinder is the local store and cache database. It is based on LDB and is used by all components that are part of the IPA client.

    • A special area will be allocated on the file system to store copies of XML files.

  • Connectors:

    • Red curved lines identify UNIX, socket-based connections between NSS or Ext libraries and the NSS responder.

    • Thick, black, straight lines are the communication pipes between different components and the data provider to request data be put into the cache. This pipe needs to be a bit more intelligent than the NSS socket layer and provide the capability to pass structures and request operations. We plan to use the DBUS peer-to-peer library for this interface.

    • The magenta line denotes the communication pipe between the PAM module and the PAM responder. The PAM responder will probably use the same UNIX socket used in the NSS responder, or a similar one.

    • Curved, black lines identify communication channels between the data provider and the central server – IPA.

    • Curved, olive-green lines identify requests for policy downloads and delivery via the XML-RPC interface.

    • Thin, straight, black lines show communication flow via DBUS.

    • Thin, blue, dotted lines show interactions between different processes and the LDB data storage.

    • Green lines indicate relationships between the Service Controller and the processes it monitors and controls.

    • The thick, blue line identifies the fact that the downloaded XML data will be stored in the file system cache.

Detailed Design#

This section provides a more detailed description of the components depicted on the low-level diagram.

Service Controller#

The Service Controller is a lightweight process that ensures that all processes are running. It is also responsible for starting and stopping IPA client processes and restarting them after an update.
The Service Controller reads its configuration from the LDB. This data will be populated in the LDB at installation time, and can be changed by the policy engine (if used) or by an administrator using appropriate ldbtools (ldbedit, ldbmodify, etc.)

Implementation details related to the Service Controller can be found on the following page: FreeIPAv2:SSSD/Service_Controller_Daemon.

Data Provider#

The Data Provider is a service that connects to the remote source of information and retrieves all information (on demand) required for PAM, NSS, and other services. All fetched information is stored in the LDB. In the v2 implementation the data provider will fetch data from an IPA server via an LDAP connection. This may be a long-lived, secure, authenticated connection. We will use certificates or machine keytabs (TBD) provisioned during the enrolment process to authenticate this connection.

Alternatives to the IPA Provider#

In future we plan to support bindings with other providers, for example with AD. The data provider will be modified to create a pluggable interface that would allow machines to be a part of a non-IPA domain. This is outside the scope of the IPA v2 project, however, and will be revisited later.

Data Flow in the System#

The Data Provider is the main source of the remote data that processes need. The following section describes how processes interact with the Data Provider.


The diagram below shows the design of the Data Provider and client aspects of the interprocess communication pipe.

Data Provider Digram|Diagram shows the data flow, libraries and interfaces

Data Provider Digram|Diagram shows the data flow, libraries and interfaces#

Data Management Interface#

The Data Management Interface is an interface for applications that need to retrieve data either from the local LDB storage or from the Data Provider. It is mainly focused on reading data but there are some write use cases too. The interface partially abstracts the source of the data from the application. The interface consists of two parts:

  • Data abstraction layer – abstracts the fact that the data could have been fetched from the LDB or from the Data Provider. Most of the applications will use this layer since they do not care where the information comes from.

  • Direct LDB interface – in some cases the application needs to access the LDB cache directly. For example, for some local configuration data that is always present it can go to the LDB directly, especially during the process initialization stage. Another use case would be when the process needs to update the LDB with data that it needs to store. Info Pipe, for example, is the process that would take advantage of this functionality. Within the scope of IPA v2, we will limit Info Pipe to updating only local data, but in future we might consider allowing it to make changes that would be propagated to the central location.

Internally the data abstraction layer will implement the cache logic.

Cache Logic#

The Cache Logic defines how and from where to retrieve data to satisfy requests. The suggested logic is as follows:

  • Try to retrieve the requested data from the LDB.

  • If the data is found and not expiring, return it to application.

  • If the data is found and expiring, request a refresh of the data entry from the central server via the Data Provider connection (Data Requester), but return the found data to the application.

  • If the data is not found or expired then:

    Request data from the central server via the Data Provider connection (Data Requester) Indicate to the application that it can begin processing the next request. (See Acynch Processing, below)

In the success scenario, the Data Provider will retrieve data from the central source and store it in the LDB. It would then respond to the original request indicating that the data is ready. The response will be received by the client side of the pipe and the cache logic will fetch the data from the LDB.

In the failure cases there will be a timeout or error returned immediately.
The following error conditions have been identified so far:
  • No data provider – this is the default status that would be returned immediately by the data requester if the data provider (IPA client) is not installed.

  • Connection is not established – this is the condition when the connection with the Data Provider is broken. This can occur when the IPA client is being restarted after a software update. In such a situation, the Data Provider can become temporarily unavailable.

  • No connection to central server – this is the status returned immediately by the data provider if it currently has no connection to the central server.

  • Server is not responding – this will happen when the client is not notified of data delivery to the LDB from the Data Provider in a given (configurable) amount of time.

In any of these cases, the cache logic will serve expired data if that data was present in the LDB. If data was not present in the LDB, the error will be propagated to the calling application.
Different categories of data will have different life spans.

Cache Logic Glossary#

  • Expiring - Entries in the cache have passed their refresh timeout. This timeout will allow us to institute an asynchronous cache update to reduce the number of cache misses. The client will receive the cached copy immediately and the cache replenishment will occur out-of-band.

  • Expired - This entry has not been looked up since passing the expiration timeout. This timeout should be longer than the refresh timeout (it should also be enforced that the difference between them be great enough to account for an out-of-band request completing). This qualifies as a cache miss (slowest response) and will require a real-time cache refresh before replying to the client.

Online Cache Logic By Example#

Consider the following case where the refresh timeout is 150 seconds and the expiration timeout is 300 seconds. This will describe the online case (full connectivity to the IPA server)

  1. The user performs an authentication request for the first time. This is a cache miss, the worst possible performance. The auth daemon communicates to IPA over the network, gets the result and adds it to the local cache along with a refresh timout timeout value (150 seconds) and the expiration timeout value (300 seconds), and then returns the result to the user from the newly cached entry.

  2. The user makes a second authentication request for the same resource 60 seconds later. The response is returned by the cache. This is the fastest performance case, the cache-hit.

  3. The user makes a third authentication request for the resource 95 seconds after that (a total of 155 seconds). At this time, we have passed the refresh timeout, but not the expiration timeout. The cached value is immediately returned to the user as with a standard cache-hit for maximum performance. After the transaction with the user is complete, the cache process will add the request to a queue of cache refresh requests. This will refresh the cache asynchronously from the user requests. The client process continues on needing no knowledge of this occurrence.

  4. The user makes a fourth authentication request for that resource ten minutes later. This is beyond the cache expiration timeout, and we treat it as a cache miss, as in step 1. The cache is refreshed from the IPA server and then returns the result to the client (albeit slowly).

With this approach, we can maximize the number of cache hits while still maintaining fresh data. For very high-traffic requests (dozens of requests per minute or more) this will translate to two IPA requests every five minutes (in this example), and hundreds of cache-hit replies. In the worst case, where a user makes requests less often than the cache timeout, we still only see one IPA request per user request greater than five minutes.


For communication between clients and the Data Provider, we will use the DBUS peer-to-peer library. This is a library that allows easy implementation of the direct, process-to-process, client/server communication. It is capable of convenient RMI data exchange. The requests going from client to server (data provider) will be data “requests”. The server will respond with a “signal” when data is ready.

More details about DBUS can be found here: 1

Asynchronous Processing#

High performance and maximum throughput are the goals of the current design. It is crucial to avoid any possible data bottlenecks. One way to implement efficient processing of the high volume of requests is to avoid blocking the process while it is waiting for data to be fetched. While data is being located the server should continue processing other requests. To achieve this, the Data Provider (as well as all other “servers” on the low-level design diagram) will be implemented using an asynchronous approach. The IPA development team will take advantage of the Event library developed in the scope of the Samba project ([www.samba.org]). Unfortunately, the Event library is not well documented. The IPA team will add more detail to this aspect of the design as the Event library is investigated further.

Data Provider Overview#

The Data Provider will instantiate a DBUS server that will listen on a UNIX socket to incoming requests from the clients. Only clients running in system space will be served. Connections from clients that are in user space will be denied access. The interface will not be public and will be completely controlled by the IPA team for several releases to come. If you are developing an application and are interested in using this interface directly, you need to contact the IPA team and gather more details about the current state of the interface.
The Data Provider will implement an asynchronous processing approach. Every request received by the server will be processed by the request handler. While data is being fetched from the IPA server, the Data Provider will be processing other requests. As soon as data is received (or a timeout occurs) the event will be triggered and a response handler (callback) will be invoked. The Response Handler will then place the data into the LDB. Care must be taken to prevent events interrupting each other in the middle of the LDB update. The Response Handler will also trigger a signal to the client that the data is ready.

What Data can be Requested#

Clients will usually request one entry at a time, however there might be several special requests that have already been identified:

  • Request to pre-populate the LDB with data needed for NSS to quickly serve its maps.

  • Statistics. The debugging and testing tools might ask the data provider for its status and statistics.

  • Who is connected. This capability can also be leveraged by the Service Monitor. Instead of periodically polling to check if the processes are running, it might instead connect to the Data Provider and ask who is connected. It can also subscribe to receive a signal if some process disconnects. This might be a more efficient way of monitoring the system. The problem with such an approach is that the Service Controller becomes very closely coupled with the Data Provider and cannot be easily reused as-is on the server side if needed.

Authoritative Sources of Data#

Generally speaking, two kinds of data are stored in the LDB and needed by the various processes:

Local : Data defined on the machine itself via local files. In the future, this will also refer to locally-stored Info Pipe data.
Remote : Data fetched from a centralized location (IPA server)

It should be clear that from the perspective of the client software the IPA server (via the Data Provider) is the authoritative source of the remote information.

The situation with local information is much more complex.

The ultimate goal is to have all local data stored in the LDB and managed using the Info Pipe, completely replacing the local files. This, however, would not happen overnight. To provide an easier adoption and migration from the current state to the local identities managed via Info Pipe in the LDB we will try to provide the following options in v2 and later:

  1. Info Pipe with the back-end storing all information in the LDB for all local accounts. This is the ultimate situation. The local files will be migrated to the LDB when the platform is upgraded, after which files will not be used at all. The NSS and PAM authentications will use LDB; local files will not be used at all. Our PAM and NSS modules will be moved to be first in the stack. This would require high stability and reliability of the PAM responder code to prevent machine lockout. This approach, though implemented, might not be widely adopted because the first version is usually not stable enough for such critical parts of the infrastructure as PAM and NSS.

  2. Info Pipe with the back-end storing extended user information in the files. This implies that the local password files would be the ultimate source of user information and Info Pipe would manage extra information like user bitmaps in its proprietary files and NOT in the LDB. This back end implementation (if implemented) will be provided by the desktop team.

  3. Info Pipe with user information in files and extended information in the LDB. This is an option we might not implement in v2. Regardless of the Info Pipe presence the PAM and NSS stacks at least in v2 will be configured by default to get information from the local configuration files. This means that the PAM and NSS parts of the client should not expect to be asked about information stored in the local files at all. If the machine is fully migrated there will be no local files at all so NSS and PAM look-ups will fall through. But if it is not a fully migrated machine and files still exist, then the look-ups will use local files. For example, for local root logging into the box the pam_unix will perform authentication and control will never be passed to the PAM module discussed on this page. Similarly with NSS, in the first implementation we will configure nsswitch.conf to check the local files for user, group and other similar information before even trying to get information from the local LDB or external provider. This, however, creates a naming conflict if locally defined users or groups have the same names as users and groups defined in the central location (IPA). For the first implementation we will require that customers avoid such collisions unless they realize that a local user can be returned as a member of the centrally defined group. To avoid this collision in the future we might consider returning fully qualified names in the NSS lookups. This approach would need to be evaluated more because in this case our NSS module would have to be the first one, creating the same concerns as were outlined above.

  4. The Info Pipe will manage local users with UIDs above some configurable value. Red Hat has traditionally used UIDs greater than 500, Debian-based systems use 1000. Those accounts will have all their information in the LDB while accounts with lower UIDs will be stored in the local files. PAM and NSS will be configured in such a way that local files would go first so PAM and NSS discussed below would not get requests about local accounts or groups at all. If the user is not in the local files the cache logic will (if Info Pipe is present) first check local user information stored in LDB and only after that will check the remote portion and request an update from the provider if needed. We will implement this approach if we have time. It is a slight compromise of options a) and c) and allows a smoother migration path.


The following diagram illustrates the internals of the PAM library and PAM responder.

PAM Diagram|Diagram illustrating how the PAM responder would work

PAM Diagram|Diagram illustrating how the PAM responder would work#

The PAM library is a very lightweight implementation of the standard PAM interface. All requests to the interface that require any kind of processing will be marshaled to the PAM responder over the UNIX sockets layer (most likely). Inside the PAM responder the main processing loop will be implemented in much the same way as in the Data Provider:

  • Requests will be read from the socket and processed by the Request Handler.

  • The Data Management interface will be used to collect the data necessary for authorization checks

  • The actual authentication will be forwarded to the Data Provider. The Data Provider will be the kerberized component capable of performing machine authentication or requesting user authentication on behalf of the PAM responder.

  • The PAM responder will be implemented following the asynchronous processing paradigm. While data is fetched by the provider or authentication is performed, the PAM responder will be processing other requests.

  • The Response Handler callback will be invoked when the external processing of data is complete. The response will be prepared for the client and sent back to the library over the UNIX socket.

  • The response will be unpackaged. In some cases there would be some post-processing required inside the library. A good example of this post-processing is setting the environment variables. For example, setting the variable that points to the Kerberos ticket so that child processes of the user process can access the Kerberos ticket and participate in the SSO.

  • The results are passed back to the calling application via a standard interface.

Access Control Decision#

While processing the authentication initiated via the PAM stack, the client must ensure that the user trying to access the host has not only the right identity and credentials, but is allowed to access the host. The Kerberos server by nature will not do the authorization checks centrally – this is the responsibility of the client software. This means that the IPA client will perform the authorization check. The flow of operations in this scenario will be as follows:

  • The application (ssh, telnet, ftp, console login, etc.) will collect the user name and password. The PAM framework will be invoked using standard PAM calls. Since the IPA client will be installed as the first PAM module in the stack, it will get all the requests.

  • The PAM module will forward the credentials to the PAM responder.

  • The PAM responder will forward the authentication request to the IPA provider.

  • The IPA provider will perform authentication. This will be a Kerberos authentication against the KDC embedded into the IPA server. If the client machine is offline, the authentication will be performed against locally cached user credentials stored in hashed or encrypted form in the LDB.

  • The result will be returned to the PAM responder, passed to the PAM library and the application itself.

  • The application will then invoke a PAM authorization call and the authorization request will be passed to the IPA provider in the same way as the authentication.

  • The PAM responder will perform authorization checks using data stored in the DS. The actual representation of this data and LDAP search specifics are discussed on a separate page (TBD to be added). Here we will mention that the host-based access control logic will make decisions based on the following factors:

    • The identity of the user and his group membership

    • The host he is trying to access

    • The host he is trying to access from

    • The service used (ftp, console login, ssh, etc.)

  • Because the authorization data is very sensitive information, the IPA client would perform online authentication and authorization checks if it can connect to the IPA server. It will only perform offline authentication and authorization if the IPA server is not reachable. This will be the default behavior. To improve the performance and decrease network traffic, the customer would be able to override this default behavior and allow authorization checks against the LDB. In any case the IPA provider will be the service responsible for performing authentication (local or remote) and making sure that user can access the host. All the information that the IPA provider will receive to make its decision will be stored in the LDB so that the client would be able to authenticate when the machine is offline. This also includes capturing a user’s password and storing it in hashed or encrypted form in the LDB to allow user authentication if the machine is offline.

Pluggable Architecture#

In future the PAM responder will be extended to allow 3rd party applications to install hooks into its processing loop. This feature will not be implemented in the v2 time frame, and consequently its detailed design has been deferred.

NSS and Extension Library#

The NSS architecture and processing will be very similar to that previously described for PAM, with the following key deviations:

  • Only following maps will be served by the NSS IPA:

    • Passwd - User passwords, used by getpwent(3) functions.

    • Group - Groups of users, used by getgrent(3) functions.

    • Netgroup - Network-wide list of hosts and users, used for access rules. C Network names and numbers, used by getnetent(3) functions.

    • Automount – Mount entry points

  • The NSS responder will also be able to serve user roles for the Extension Library. This is currently the only interface the Extension Library will have. Other functionality can be identified in the future. The NSS provider will listen on the same socket for requests coming from the NSS Library and the Ext Library. There is no need to have two different sockets for this because requests from the Ext Library are very similar to those from the NSS Library.

  • The enumeration functions by default will return errors to prevent downloading huge sets of data. The customer would be able to switch it on but he would have to acknowledge potential performance impact.

  • There will be a special command that will require the Data Provider to download and prepare data in the LDB that the NSS responder would need. This will be a request for the data set rather than the usual entry-by-entry requests.

  • Data ready to be shipped to the NSS Library will be cached in the NSS responder. The NSS interface is known to request the same data multiple times, so the data will be cached in the buffer format and will be ready to be shipped to the NSS responder at any moment.

As one can see there are some differences but also a lot of similarities between the function of the PAM responder and the NSS responder. It might be beneficial to combine the two responders and have a single responder capable of responding to requests coming from NSS, Ext and PAM libraries. This would reduce code duplication and the client footprint. This decision will be made during the implementation phase based on the prototype implementation of both responders.

It is important to realise that calling the NSS interface from within the implementation of any component discussed on this page shall be done with extreme caution to avoid endless loops during data lookups.

Policy Downloader#

The Policy Downloader is the service responsible for delivering policies to the client machine. The following diagram shows the internals of the Policy Downloader.

Policy Downloder|Diagram of the Policy Downloader

Policy Downloder|Diagram of the Policy Downloader#

The policy downloader will get its configuration from the LDB. It will then periodically query the IPA server using the LDAP interface to identify if there are any new or updated policies that need to be downloaded. If so, the policy downloader will use (most likely) XML-RPC interface to download the policies from the IPA server. The policy handler component is responsible for:

  • Saving the downloaded policy files in the file system cache

  • Merging the policies. The policies need to be merged if there are several policies of the same kind that are assigned to this host directly or through the host’s group membership.

  • Transforming the policies into configuration files or storing them in the LDB.

Merging Policies#

The policy downloader will implement the default merge method that will merge the policies based on their priority as defined in the IPA server. There may, however, be situations when policies need to be merged differently. In these cases, a specific merge plug-in can be installed to handle a specific type of policy file. The interface of the plug-in modules will be determined later.

Transforming Policies#

The policies are downloaded in the form of XML blobs and stored (cached) in the file system as files. In addition, the XML policies need to be translated into the format that the application this policy is related to understands. For example, the XML policy for SUDO needs to be transformed into the SUDOERS file. The IPA server will be able to support policies for multiple, different applications. For those applications that use flat files to store their configuration information, a plug-in will be developed that will take an XML file and translate it into a text file (sudoers file for SUDO) using an XSLT template. The plug-in will be able to render different policies using different templates. For IPA applications that store information in the LDB, there will be a transformation plug-in that will take the IPA policies and load them into the LDB. Most likely there will be separate IPA-related policies for different IPA components, including: general policies controlling how clients should behave, audit policies that control the “A” aspect of IPA, and possibly others. The current understanding is that the same transformation plug-in will be able to load the policy from the XML files into the LDB for all these different cases. Finally, different applications have different needs so there will be cases when the policy does not need to be (or can’t be) rendered using these two types of plug-ins. In those cases a specific transformation plug-in will be developed. So far at least one type of such an application has been identified – SELinux. There might be others in the future.

Most likely the plug-ins will be implemented as separate executables and the policy downloader will just launch the appropriate one, passing in the file as soon as the merged XML file is ready for transformation.

The policies rendered using the XSLT plug-in will be of two classes:

  • Ultimate policies - those that completely override local policies. In other words, if the local file exists it is overwritten.

  • Default policies - those that can be adjusted by local settings so that local configuration takes precedence.

This property will be specified on the IPA server side when the policy is defined. To be able to merge policies with the local configuration the rendered text file will then be processed using the Augeas library (2).

The current plan is to load the configuration text file (rendered with XSLT) using Augeas into the Augeas tree, and then overload this tree with the local file and then save it back into the local file. In any case, when dealing with the local files (either completely overwritten or the ones that need to be merged with) the policy downloader will store an original copy of the file to enable rollback to original state if needed.

The implementation of each individual file’s merge logic might be specific for each type of configuration file. Most likely these merge modules will also be implemented as separate binaries that will be launched by the policy downloader after rendering is complete for those policies that are marked as the “default” ones (i.e. requiring merge with the local files).

IPA Plug-in into Policy Kit Back-End Daemon#

PKBED will be a service that answers questions about whether the user can perform a specific action or not. The PKBED is called into existence to be able to use different sources of information (local files or LDB/IPA) to make such authorization decisions. To be able to make such decisions the IPA plug-in needs to have information about the user’s role and information about what actions this role allows regarding a specific application. The roles will be defined centrally in IPA in the DS portion, while the mapping between roles and and what actions that role allows will be stored in the policy (XML) section of the IPA server. The XML part will be downloaded by the Policy Downloader and put into the LDB using the mechanisms described above. To make a decision, the plug-in would have to retrieve the user’s role and then check the LDB to get the list of actions the role allows. To retrieve the roles it will use the Extension Library. For access to the LDB it will use the LDB Library directly. The plug-in will not use the Data Management Interface because it does not need to speak to the Data Provider directly. Neither does it need the caching logic. This means that the detailed diagram above is not exactly correct. It is correct conceptually, however. Further, we are not planning to change it because modifying it would make it harder to understand. The following diagram illustrates the plug-in design.

PKBED Plug-in|IPA plug-in into Policy Kit Back End Daemon

PKBED Plug-in|IPA plug-in into Policy Kit Back End Daemon#

The PKBED will use the same event-based paradigm as any other daemons in the current design. There will be an event loop using the glib main loop. The methods on the plug-in will be asynchronous. The plug-ins should and would never block. To accomplish this the plug-in would have to spawn a thread (one per plug-in) to implement its own asynchronous event processing loop. Since the plug-in will have its own internal processing loop and will be event-based, its logic will be very similar to the other daemons already described. The loop will consist of getting the request from the PKBED process and submitting a request to the Ext Library to fetch the user role. The callback that will be invoked when the role is fetched will then reach out into the LDB and get the mapping of the role to the set of actions. The resulting answer will then be returned to the calling process. This logic is shown on the diagram as “Data Lookup Logic”.

Info Pipe Daemon#

Info Pipe Daemon is the service that allows applications to get and update user related information. It allows the storage and management of a much richer data structure than the data stored in the password file. Firstly, of all Info Pipe Daemon allows managing data for local user accounts. This means that it becomes the authoritative source of the local data as it was discussed before. Info Pipe will use the LDB as its storage irrespective of whether IPA is installed or not. There might also be an alternative implementation when the back-end storage for Info Pipe is files (its specific files that store information in addition to password file). Although the goal is to migrate from files to a more robust data storage, the design should allow decoupling the Info Pipe daemon from the LDB and using it with the alternative back end.

In future we envisage that Info Pipe Daemon would become not only a gateway for the applications to get and set local user data and to get remote (IPA) user data, but would also allow saving changes into the central location. This feature is out of scope of IPA v2.

The following diagram illustrates the internals of the Info Pipe Daemon.

Info Pipe Daemon|Internal structure of the Info Pipe Daemon

Info Pipe Daemon|Internal structure of the Info Pipe Daemon#

The DBUS interface provides the set of Create/Read/Update/Delete commands. The exact specifics, method names and parameters will be determined later. The internal asynchronous processing loop is similar to all other daemons described in this document. The Request Handler will invoke a “Data Abstraction Layer” that will encapsulate access to the back-end data storage (file or LDB).

The file-based implementation is out of scope for the current design. The LDB-based implementation will use the Data Management Interface to deal with the remote data and the direct LDB calls to manage local user data. The Response Handler will be responsible for sending retrieved data or operation status (in case of create/update/delete) to the process that requested the operation.

Name Collision Resolution Logic#

With the two sets of users - locally defined on the machine and remotely in IPA (or other data provider) - there is a need to be able to deterministically resolve naming collisions between local and remote users. For example, the user “dwalsh” could be a local or a remote user. The usual way of resolving such problems is to fully qualify the name. For example, dwalsh@local or dwalsh@ipa.redhat.com. However, it turns out that different UNIX/Linux utilities use different kinds of separators and interpret them differently, and there is no standard way to fully qualify the name. We could introduce a special character that we know is not widely used, for example “dwalsh!local”, but this is not very user friendly. For this reason, the IPA client logic by default shall work with the short user names and be able to determine the user.

The following algorithm is proposed to determine which user is referred to by a provided name:

  • Lookup in local users area first

  • Lookup in the domain the machine belongs to

Trusted domains might add some additional lookups but this will be investigated separately.

We will also support fully qualified user names with some symbol (or several symbols) to allow applications and internal interfaces to refer to local or remote users explicitly. Trusted domains will add a challenge and remain something to be resolved.

If the user is looked up by UID we will follow the same set of rules. It is generally bad practice to have overlapping UIDs or names between local and remote users. Administrators should avoid this and ensure they do not overlap. IPA would make decisions following the above rules but administrators might be confused with the results not realizing the cause of the problem. In the future, Info Pipe might be called on to perform additional checks to ensure that the account being added does not create duplicates and warn the caller of the issue, but this is out of scope of the current design.

LDB Data Organization#

The following tree gives a high level overview of the LDB organizational structure. This is an example only and subject to change as we work more on the different aspects of the system:

              ... data related to InfoPipe configuration
              This hive is populated at the install time with the default values.
             This area is controlled by InfoPipe.

           ... list of services the Service Controller needs to control.
           This hive is populated at the install time with the list of services currently installed.

      ... Local accounts information. See the discussion about the authoritative source of this information earlier on this page.

                      ... And other information taken from IPA in the same format
                      ... Area where centrally downloaded policies for other applications (like applications leveraging Policy Kit) are stored.
                      ... different communication timeouts, default ports, cache lifetime, default server name,
                      default failover, paths to machine credentials in FS, configuration about what server side entry defines the layout of the data on the server
                      (this is needed to be able to change server DIT without updating client) etc.
                      This hive is populated at the install time with the default values.
                      There will be a policy downloadable from IPA to overwrite the values
                       ... policies that control audit.
                       This hive is populated at the install time with the default values.
                       There will be a policy downloadable from IPA to overwrite the values

In future the schema might be extended to have cn=AD, cn=SQL or other sources of remote information on the same level as cn=IPA. v2 only supports the inclusion of a machine in a single IPA domain. In future we will be able to potentially support more domains; that is why the tree is organized as shown. This tree also does not currently take into account that it would have to store information for the multiple, trusted IPA (or other domains). How “trust” would affect the DIT is yet to be determined.

Service Skeleton#

There is a set of common tasks that each service needs to perform. This includes:

  • Setting up signal handlers

  • Handling input and output streams and sockets

  • Setting up the communication layer

  • Starting the main loop

  • Cleanup before shutdown

To address these common tasks a skeleton of the service will be created. It will be reused by different daemons as a shared library that would provide a common framework for the daemons.

Building Blocks#

The following libraries have been identified as building blocks of the IPA client:

  • Talloc – memory management library (comes from Samba [www.samba.org])

  • LDB – library to access shared memory-mapped local LDAP storage (comes from Samba [www.samba.org])

  • libreplace – library that provides platform compatibility abstraction layer (comes from Samba [www.samba.org])

  • Event library – library that provides mechanism to perform asynchronous processing (comes from Samba [www.samba.org])

  • DBUS library – library that provides peer-to-peer communication (comes from 3)

General Implementation Considerations#

This section discusses best practices related to the implementation of the client components. It is planned to implement most of the services in C, however it is not clear which language would be best for the Policy Downloader and its plug-ins. When writing code the considerations described below should be taken into account.


Avoid creating threads until it is absolutely necessary. Threads in general create a level of complexity that is much harder to implement and test. If forced to use threads make sure that you:

  • Protect access to shared data and code with synchronization objects (mutex, semaphore)

  • Use only reentrant functions

  • Do not use static data

Buffer copying#

Avoid copying data around if it is not required, but if you reference external data make sure it does not get out of scope or deallocated while you still hold a pointer to it.

Blocking and Asynchronous Processing#

The process should never block during the data retrieval operation. The main loop and the event library would take care of this. Refer to the following Sample Implementation (TBD).