Historically, Unix systems have stored user and password information in “flat” text files located in the
/etc directory and let applications access that data directly. This works well enough when you only have to administer one machine. However, in the 1980s, with the advent of the Unix-based workstation and the proliferation of personal computers allowing mass deployments of computers in offices and universities, managing user information on each machine became a serious administration problem. The problem only became worse as administrators tried to cope not just with setting up users, but setting up printers, servers, and other network resources.
Various solutions have been invented over the years to alleviate this problem. Sun introduced Network Information Services (NIS, also known as “Yellow Pages”), NeXT developed NetInfo , Novell built a business around NetWare (and failed), and Microsoft ended up taking it away from Novell with Active Directory. All these solutions have a common goal: to centralize the information needed so that a group of users across a variety of machines can be managed effectively.
When development on Mac OS X started, Apple inherited the NetInfo code that came with NEXTSTEP. The company knew it was not going to be enough to just provide for management of homogenous networks of Macs, so Apple set out on a path to build a set of technologies collectively known as Open Directory. These technologies brought support for the Lightweight ...