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Troubleshooting: Can’t Join Mac to Domain?




So, you’re trying to bind Mac systems to your Active Directory® (AD) domain but it isn’t working properly. Perhaps you’re doing so for password policy enforcement, to give access to domain-bound resources and the network, or because a higher-up has asked for it.

However, managing Mac® systems with AD is not the same straightforward process that it is with Windows® systems. Macs bind to the domain, but the configuration process poses various challenges to admins working in a heterogeneous environment.

The challenges you could face will depend on which method you’re using, but we’ll run through common scenarios and considerations in connecting Mac systems to the domain.

Considerations before Binding Mac to Domain

Before you undertake the process to bind Mac systems to the domain, there are some considerations to keep in mind.

If you use Directory Utility, which is an application that comes installed on Mac systems, users will enter their core AD credentials to access their machines, and they’ll also be subject to the same AD password policies as Windows users.

However, a direct bind won’t get you the same GPO control that you have over Windows systems. The bind is also at risk of breaking, and users might encounter challenges in file sharing. You won’t get user management over the system remotely through AD, either.

Another thing to note: When AD-bound Mac users change their passwords in AD, they’re prompted to enter their old password upon login. Admins going this route might need to train users to keep their keychain in sync if they change their AD password. This doesn’t address the complications with FileVault2 control either, which can be painful with the addition of Secure Token.

It’s worth assessing why and whether you need to bind the machine to AD before doing so.

Use Native Tools to Bind Mac

If you do decide to implement a direct bind, Directory Utility is an application that comes installed on Mac systems. Through that application, admins can select Active Directory (or LDAPv3) for configuration.

In order to do so, you’ll need the DNS host name. According to Apple’s Directory Utility documentation, you’ll also want to ensure the user has privileges in Active Directory for binding. Don’t use the “.local” domain during the configuration, and instead use an official DNS name.

You’ll also want to ensure the macOS system is up-to-date. If you want to save the AD user’s files, you’ll need to manually select the option to “create a mobile account” during setup.

Using third-party tools, rather than native tools, is another route to consider.

Use Third-Party Tool to Bind or Sync Mac

There are various open-source and proprietary options to bind or sync Mac systems with AD. They introduce management capabilities to replicate those of AD with Windows systems. 

The process will depend on which tool you select. Again, there are considerations to keep in mind before you decide which tool to use.

Considerations before Selecting a Third-Party Mac Tool

A third-party tool might be Mac-specific, or it might federate AD identities to a variety of IT resources. Answering these questions can help guide your selection process:

  • Do you need tools to federate AD identities to resources other than Macs (i.e. web applications, cloud servers, and networks)?
  • What policy suite can you achieve, and is it comparable to AD’s GPOs?
  • Will it manage Secure Token and FileVault 2?
  • Can it writeback password and other attribute changes to AD and elsewhere?

Answering these questions and assessing your needs will help you pick a tool with all the capabilities you need for Mac user management and system management across your fleet. Learn more about macOS Catalina™ user management and how you can achieve it through a cloud directory.


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