Providing SSO by integrating Linux (or FreeBSD) with a directory service, like Microsoft Active Directory (AD), is no where as daunting as it once was, and highlights some fascinating subsystems that enable users to be defined from a variety of data sources (such as LDAP) other than just the traditional /etc/passwd file.

Initial setup

Update /etc/resolv.conf to bind to the AD DNS server. This will enable realmd to discover and join the active directory domain (i.e. kerberos realm).


Update /etc/hostname, ensuring the host has a meaningful name suffixed with the domain that it will be joining (e.g. Tip if realm join gives the error message realm: Couldn’t join realm: This computer’s host name is not set correctly then you know you forgot to do this:

Install realm dependency packages, pytalloc, samba-common-tools and samba-libs. If offline, realm join will attempt to do this:

yum install pytalloc samba-common-tools samba-libs


Designed at MIT, is an authentication system that guarantees that users and services are who they claim to be. Using crypto to make nested sets of credentials called tickets, they are passed around the network for certify identity and provide access to network services.

To gain a deeper conceptualisation, its hard to beat Bill Bryant’s brilliant Designing an Authentication System: A Dialogue in Four Scenes.

Create service keytab on AD

While there are a few ways to create the Kerberos keytab, I struggled with all of them, except using this (AD based) method. When the keytab file just doesn’t cut it, sssd will simply log:

Failed to initialize credentials using keytab [MEMORY:/etc/krb5.keytab]: KDC reply did not match expectations. Unable to create GSSAPI-encrypted LDAP connection.

As per the doco, to connect my RHEL box (called HEAPHY) to the AD domain.

  • If needed, on the DC, using the users and computers MMC snap-in, create computer object for the Linux host attempting to join the domain.
  • On a command prompt run:
    • setspn -A host/ HEAPHY
    • setspn -L HEAPHY
    • ktpass /princ host/ /out krb5.keytab /crypto all /ptype KRB5_NT_PRINCIPAL -desonly /mapuser BENCODE\HEAPHY$ /pass \*
  • This sets the machine account password, and UPN for the principal.
  • Transfer the keytab file to the Linux host, placing it at /etc/krb5.keytab
  • Ensure root:root ownership, and 0600 permissions.

Next up, setup /etc/krb5.conf:

includedir /etc/krb5.conf.d/

 default = FILE:/var/log/krb5libs.log
 kdc = FILE:/var/log/krb5kdc.log
 admin_server = FILE:/var/log/kadmind.log

 dns_lookup_realm = true
 dns_lookup_kdc = true
 ticket_lifetime = 24h
 renew_lifetime = 7d
 forwardable = true
 rdns = false
 default_realm = BENCODE.NET
 default_tkt_enctypes = arcfour-hmac
 #default_keytab_name = FILE:/etc/krb5.keytab

  #kdc =
  #admin_server =

[domain_realm] = BENCODE.NET = BENCODE.NET

Verify a Kerberos ticket and session can be obtained:

kinit -k host/

Then list ticket grants:

klist -ke

System Security Services Daemon (sssd)

sssd is a one stop shop for identity wrangling, authentication, caching and account mapping. It supports authentication through LDAP and Kerberos. sssd only supports authentication over encrypted connections (i.e. LDAPS or TLS). The offical documentation was a god send. A sample RHEL 7 /etc/sssd/sssd.conf for integration with a Windows 2016 AD configuration:

domains =
config_file_version = 2
services = nss, pam

enumerate = true
id_provider = ad
auth_provider = krb5
access_provider = ad
chpass_provider = ad
ad_domain =
realmd_tags = manages-system joined-with-samba
cache_credentials = True
krb5_realm = BENCODE.NET
krb5_server =
krb5_kpasswd =
krb5_ccachedir = /tmp
krb5_store_password_if_offline = True
default_shell = /bin/bash
ldap_id_mapping = True
ldap_idmap_autorid_compat = True
ldap_max_id = 2000200000
ldap_idmap_range_size = 2000000000
fallback_homedir = /home/%u@%d

After updating sssd.conf, bounce the service systemctl restart sssd, and tail the logs less +F /var/log/messages, before doing the restart, as any issues will be immediately logged.

Once sssd is setup to interface with an LDAP or Kerberos domain, the system needs to be configured to use it as the source for identity and authentication information. Two elegantly designed security systems, known as the name service switch and PAM, provide this.

Name Service Switch (nss)

Created to ease the selection between various configuration databases (e.g. for user identity) and name resolution mechanisms. Configured by /etc/nsswitch.conf, the syntax is simple, specify the type of lookup (e.g. passwd for users) and the list of sources in the order they should be queried. For example:

passwd: files sss
shadow: files sss
group: files sss

Instructs nss to consult the local passwd, group and shadow files first, but then defer to Active Directory (or any LDAP store) by consulting sssd.

PAM (Pluggable Authentication Module)

The infamous pluggable authentication system, that breaks the task of authentication into 4 categories; account, authentication, password and session management.

# authconfig --enablesssd --enablesssdauth --enablemkhomedir --update keeps a list of failed authentication attempts per user during a specified interval and locks the account if a threshold is hit. It stores the failure records into per-user files in the tally directory. This can be reset using faillock:

faillock --user bill --reset


Now everything just works, you can list out users and groups with getent.

First ensure there are some custom user objects exist in the AD domain.

Active Directory Users

Listing Users

Note that normally sssd would not accept getent passwd without a specify set of users, as this implies you want to list every single user object in the LDAP directory (not a great idea). I have overriden this for testing by adding enumerate = true to sssd.conf as I have done above.

$ getent passwd
ftp:x:14:50:FTP User:/var/ftp:/sbin/nologin
geoclue:x:996:994:User for geoclue:/var/lib/geoclue:/sbin/nologin
rpc:x:32:32:Rpcbind Daemon:/var/lib/rpcbind:/sbin/nologin
gluster:x:995:991:GlusterFS daemons:/run/gluster:/sbin/nologin
tridge:*:201108:200513:Andrew Tridgell:/home/
brightw:*:201110:200513:Walter Bright:/home/
piker:*:201105:200513:Rob RP. Pike:/home/
tanena:*:201109:200513:Andrew Tanenbaum:/home/

Nice! The AD user objects stand out with their high UID values (which start from 201000).

These users can be used like a vanilla (local) users, example:

# su - tridge
Creating home directory for tridge.

$ date +%A

$ pwd

Listing Groups

Again done with getent:

$ getent group
domain admins:*:200512:administrator
group policy creator owners:*:200520:administrator
enterprise admins:*:200519:administrator
domain guests:*:200514:guest
allowed rodc password replication group:*:200571:
denied rodc password replication group:*:200572:krbtgt,administrator,dodgy-dc$
read-only domain controllers:*:200521:
schema admins:*:200518:administrator
ras and ias servers:*:200553:
domain users:*:200513:administrator,defaultaccount,krbtgt,piker,tridge,tanena,brightw

Groups with high GID (200000+) are AD domain groups.


$ id piker
uid=201105(piker) gid=200513(domain users) groups=200513(domain users),201107(kerneldevs)


Samba (smbd) Join Issues

I noticed when running through the setup that smbd unlinked from the domain somehow, in syslog you’ll get a:

kerberos_kinit_password SERVER$@COMPANY.COM failed: Preauthentication failed

To reproduce try:

net ads testjoin

Joining the domain again made this go away (root cause remains unknown):

net ads join -U Administrator
net ads info

Clock Synchronisation Issues

Make sure that clocks of all hosts participating in the Kerberos realm are syncrhonised. In my fake enterprise network, I just set the NTP server up on the DC, and have the NTP client on the Unix boxes point to it. Kerberos is very sensative about accurate time. If clock discrepencies are detected sssd log:

TSIG error with server: clocks are unsynchronized

To setup an NTP server on the Windows DC, in PowerShell run:

w32tm /config / /syncfromflags:MANUAL
Stop-Service w32time
Start-Service w32time

Then on the RHEL machines, that are using AD for SSO, register the DC in /etc/ntp.conf:

server prefer

Then force a sync (the IP of the DC):

ntpdate -u

Clearing SSSD Cache

To invalidate all cached entries:

$ sudo sss_cache -E

Or brute force:

$ sudo systemctl stop sssd
$ sudo rm -rf /var/lib/sss/db/*
$ sudo systemctl start sssd

End to end script (for Ansible)

Found this gem when banging my head against the Kerberos Active Directory wall. This will be very handy for scripting this procedure with Ansible. Note this configures things slightly differently to my working config outlined above, but gives a good gist for taking a scripting approach to things.

export SETUP_FQDOMAIN=site.local
export SETUP_ADMIN_USER=joiner
export SETUP_ADMIN_PASSWORD="nacho libre is king"
export SETUP_ADMIN_GROUP="domain admins"

alias install="yum install -y"

export SETUP_DC=$( adcli info ${SETUP_ADDOMAIN} | grep '^domain-controllers = ' | awk '{print $3}' )

# configure kerberos
cat > /etc/krb5.conf << EOM

 default = FILE:/var/log/krb5libs.log
 kdc = FILE:/var/log/krb5kdc.log
 admin_server = FILE:/var/log/kadmind.log

 default_realm = ${SETUP_ADDOMAIN}
 dns_lookup_realm = true
 dns_lookup_kdc = true
 ticket_lifetime = 24h
 renew_lifetime = 7d
 forwardable = true
 default_keytab_name = FILE:/etc/krb5.keytab

  kdc = ${SETUP_DC}
  admin_server = ${SETUP_DC}



# configure sssd

install sssd

cat >  /etc/sssd/sssd.conf << EOM

services = nss, pam, ssh, pac
config_file_version = 2
domains = ${SETUP_ADDOMAIN}

ad_domain = ${SETUP_ADDOMAIN}
krb5_realm = ${SETUP_ADDOMAIN}
cache_credentials = True
id_provider = ad
auth_provider = krb5
krb5_server = ${SETUP_DC}
krb5_ccachedir = /tmp
krb5_store_password_if_offline = True
default_shell = /bin/bash
#use_full_qualified_names = False
override_homedir = /home/%u
ldap_id_mapping = True
# ldap_idmap_default_domain_sid = <sid>
ldap_idmap_autorid_compat = True
ldap_max_id = 2000200000
ldap_idmap_range_size = 2000000000
access_provider = ad
chpass_provider = ad

# enable dynamic dns updates
dyndns_update = true
dyndns_refresh_interval = 43200
dyndns_update_ptr = true
dyndns_ttl = 3600


chmod 600 /etc/sssd/sssd.conf

# install keytab with ktutil
ktutil << EOM
addent -password -p ${SETUP_ADMIN_USER}@${SETUP_ADDOMAIN} -k 1 -e rc4-hmac
wkt /etc/krb5.keytab

# enable sssd
authconfig --enablesssd --enablesssdauth --enablemkhomedir --update

systemctl enable sssd
systemctl start sssd

# join domain from the sssd side
echo -n ${SETUP_ADMIN_PASSWORD} | adcli join --stdin-password -U ${SETUP_ADMIN_USER} ${SETUP_ADDOMAIN}

# configure samba (member server is default configuration)

install samba

cat > /etc/samba/smb.conf << EOM
  workgroup = $( echo $SETUP_ADDOMAIN | cut -d. -f1 )
  realm = ${SETUP_ADDOMAIN}
  netbios name = ${SETUP_HOSTNAME}
  password server = *
  server string = Samba Server Version %v
  security = ADS
  log file = /var/log/samba/log.%m
  max log size = 5000
  load printers = No
  idmap config * : backend = tdb
  log level = 4
  local master = no
  domain master = no
  preferred master = no
  wins support = no
  wins proxy = no
  dns proxy = yes
  name resolve order = wins bcast host lmhosts
  obey pam restrictions = yes

  comment = Home Directories
  browseable = no
  writable = yes
  valid users = @"domain users${SETUP_FQDOMAIN}"
  path = /home/%U

# join domain from the samba side
echo -n ${SETUP_ADMIN_PASSWORD} | net ads join -U ${SETUP_ADMIN_USER}

systemctl enable smb
systemctl start smb

# sss takes over /etc/nsswitch for sudoers. remove that (avoids frequent "SECURITY information" emails in debian)
sudo sed -i /^sudoers:/s/sss// /etc/nsswitch.conf

# configure selinux
setsebool -P samba_create_home_dirs on
setsebool -P samba_enable_home_dirs on
setsebool -P use_samba_home_dirs on

# NOTE: Read samba_selinux(8) man page for configuring shares