Open Source Active Directory®

Written by David Worthington on February 7, 2023

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Updated on June 5, 2024

Microsoft® Active Directory® (AD) remains the cornerstone on-premises identity and access management (IAM) solution after over two decades of service. Times have changed, however,  and IT has shifted to cross-OS platforms and cloud Identity Provider (IdPs) that include device management features, because identity has become the perimeter to access your resources.

That’s partly why AD has been designated a legacy technology. It needs to be propped up for better security and the ability to handle identities beyond Windows endpoints and private networks. These requirements can be costly if you follow Microsoft’s modernization roadmap, which might compel some organizations to consider less costly open source alternatives. 

This article explores the available free and open source options and what they do.

Open Source IAM Overview

The identity management category has produced a limited array of open source solutions, and they are often focused on a particular problem set. Whereas, AD has served as a general purpose directory solution that the vast majority of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can use to manage Windows devices, users, printers, services, and security groups. Neither of these options integrates cross-OS device management to protect your identities. 

It’s possible to assemble an open source stack to do all of these things. For instance, Microsoft requires IT shops to subscribe to its Entra ID and Intune endpoint management services. There’s a cost involved in either scenario whether it’s indirect through having to manage IT infrastructure for open source servers or Microsoft’s subscription fees. IT also faces the challenge of managing identities through the entirety of their lifecycle, which can be error prone.

Next, let’s examine what open source alternatives to AD are available, where Entra ID fits into the architecture, and open source projects that assist with managing users and entitlements.

Open Source Alternatives to Active Directory

There are a number of open source solutions that could be helpful to your organization. OpenLDAP is the most well known, and there are others such as a combination of Samba and FreeIPA. Each of these solutions comes with their own set of strengths and weaknesses.


OpenLDAP is a popular open source LDAP server that quickly became one of the leading open source directory solutions when it was introduced. It’s highly flexible, scalable, and focused on providing core directory services to resources that leverage the LDAP protocol. The challenge with OpenLDAP is that many IT resources prefer other protocols such as SAML, RADIUSOAuth/OIDC, or native integrations. OpenLDAP can be a core directory service but requires other solutions to authenticate to web apps, networking equipment, and other resources.


Samba is best known as a file and print service for non-Windows platforms. It serves somewhat as a directory service/domain controller, and is often utilized in conjunction with Active Directory to extend it to non-Windows® IT resources. Samba is usually not used as a stand alone solution, so the challenge with this open source option is that IT admins still end up having AD in their environment in addition to identity management solutions for single sign-on (SSO).


FreeIPA is focused on managing Linux users and hosts. FreeIPA is a combination of LDAP, Kerberos, DNS, and other protocols. However, FreeIPA is rarely used on its own. Much like Samba, FreeIPA is often leveraged in conjunction with Active Directory or other IAM solutions. So, FreeIPA doesn’t have a reputation for being a standalone directory service.

It’s possible to use these point solutions and several protocols for a limited single sign-on (SSO) implementation. Web apps typically utilize and exclusively support web SSO standards such as SAML or OIDC. 

These can be extremely useful platforms for SMEs, but they’ll ultimately need additional components in order to completely manage and connect users to their entire portfolio of IT resources. For instance, OpenLDAP and Samba don’t include GPO-like policies to manage your Windows fleet like AD does. It’s also rare that users will be working exclusively on a Windows PC, so it’s also important to somehow manage Android, Apple, and Linux devices.

These popular open source solutions can be cloud-hosted, but are more often than not run on-premises. Security conscious organizations would also be well served by integrating a Free and Open Source (FOSS) multi-factor authentication (MFA) component into their stack. The downside is that having more servers and apps increases your management overhead as well as the potential attack surface area.

Univention Corporate Server 

Univention Corporate Server (UCS) is an open source IT management platform designed for infrastructure and identity management. It integrates with Windows, Mac, and Linux systems, offering comprehensive domain services (OpenLDAP/Samba AD) and a management console. UCS features an App Center for easy deployment of enterprise applications, supports virtualization, and can integrate with cloud services. It’s scalable for any organization size and includes some security features. UCS simplifies IT administration, enhancing control and efficiency across your network.


Zentyal is an open source server solution designed for SMEs. It integrates with AD, providing essential IT services like directory management, domain control, email, file sharing, DNS, DHCP, VPN, firewall, and HTTP proxy. Zentyal offers a user-friendly web-based interface for administration, supports KVM virtualization, and includes backup and recovery tools to ensure data protection and business continuity. Its benefits are being cost-effective, reliable, and providing Windows-compatible server management.

The next section provides an overview of several open source device management solutions.

Device Management

Headwind MDM

Headwind is an open source mobile device management (MDM) platform that manages, monitors, and only supports Android devices. It’s on-premises, which makes external users dependent on SASE, VPN, or ZTNA systems.

Flyve MDM

Flyve MDM is another Android-only MDM that manages, monitors, and tracks your devices. The community edition is hosted on-premises with commercial editions also running in the cloud.

These platforms must be integrated with a directory infrastructure and whatever SSO solution you’ve adopted. The software is free, but the work will consume IT’s time and resources. There’s also a lack of truly cross-OS open source device management software, which could leave some of your devices unmanaged. Devices without a baseline security posture shouldn’t access your resources, especially as there are more laws with penalties for data breaches.

Identity Lifecycle Management

Disparate systems and device management platforms create siloed identities and authentication mechanisms. It’s important for SMEs to automate and scale identity management as much as possible. Afterall, resources, like time, are limited. There are a few standalone open source projects that focus on identity governance and managing user lifecycle events.

Apache Syncope

Apache’s Syncope platform is an open source system identity lifecycle management system. It provides identity and access management, provisioning/deprovisioning, and more. Its setup involves many steps that could consume significant IT resources.


The OpenIAM project focuses on managing the full user lifecycle with features such as auditing and access review, certification, delegated administration, workflows, provisioning/deprovisioning, and more.

Unfortunately, none of these directory, device management, and identity lifecycle management projects provides a holistic approach to identity management. They also don’t come pre-integrated. This makes assembling a modern, cross-OS alternative to Microsoft challenging.

It’s Not Just About Open Source 

A true AD and Entra ID alternative not only takes on the responsibility of managing the availability, maintenance, and configuration that is part of being a directory service, but also extending user access and management to a wide range of IT resources through multiple protocols (as well as managing your endpoints). An integrated cloud directory platform can streamline work for IT admins, giving them more time to focus on higher priority organizational initiatives and the capacity to streamline identity lifecycle management.

Open Source Active Directory Alternative — JumpCloud

Fortunately, JumpCloud’s open directory platform unifies identity, access, and device management capabilities, regardless of the underlying authentication method or device ecosystem. JumpCloud authenticates users whether they use biometrics, digital certificates, passwords, or SSH keys.

The platform treats identities as the new perimeter, and password management is one element of that. Secure, frictionless access is fundamental for IT organizations, and is why JumpCloud ensures that every resource has a best way to connect to it. For example:


JumpCloud also includes environment-wide MFA for every authentication method, including a phishing resistant credential.

Additionally, JumpCloud is platform agnostic, so organizations can implement unified system management or MDM for any major OS (Android, Apple, Linux, and Windows). Managed devices are essentially secure gateways to your resources, and users are managed through the directory. JumpCloud handles the entire identity lifecycle from onboarding to access control, and uniquely, can help to automate user access to groups and applications when changes occur.

Discover More About JumpCloud

JumpCloud’s unified approach to identity and devices provides strong access control while consolidating your tools for IT operational efficiency. Try JumpCloud for free and find out if it’s the right option for your organization’s journey away from AD.

Our customers tell us that asset management is also important for security and IT operations. JumpCloud is enhancing its platform to unify SaaS, IT security, and asset management.

Learn more about how admins will be able to consolidate security, asset, device, access, and identity management with JumpCloud and how those features go hand in hand.

David Worthington

I'm the JumpCloud Champion for Product, Security. JumpCloud and Microsoft certified, security analyst, a one-time tech journalist, and former IT director.

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