LDAP and SAML SSO: What's the Difference?

LDAP and SAML SSO: What's the Difference?
LDAP and SAML SSO: What's the Difference?

Different IT organisations have leaned upon various technological protocols when it comes to the security of data and confidentiality for actions and communications. LDAP and SAML are two such protocols that work on the authentication and authorisation of user identities.

If you are an IT organisation hosting a network of applications, you might feel the need to utilise the best kinds of authentication standards for organisational management and access control. Since the two standards, SAML and LDAP, are different from each other, the IT team will not have to choose among these.

There is no need to go with a discussion like SAML vs LDAP, where we discuss which one is better. Let us understand the difference between these two authentication protocols to learn their significance in your network.

What is SAML-SSO?

SAML, short for Secure Assertion Markup Language, is an authentication protocol that deals with securing the information exchange between identity provider and service provider. It is an extensible markup language-based authentication protocol; hence, it stores, formats, reconstructs, and transmits login-related information of the users.

This authentication protocol, SAML, is used in SSO, single sign-on process functioning. With the help of SAML, a user can log into various applications of the same network using one login attempt. You do not have to log into those accounts separately. This proves to be a benefit since it reduces password fatigue and login attempt hassles.

Since these offer different attributes and functions, there is no valid comparison of SAML vs SSO since one is a protocol for authentication and the other is a process of authentication.

What is LDAP?

LDAP stands for Lightweight Directory Access Protocol. It helps users find information about resources, persons or organisations in a network either on the public internet or on the corporate intranet.

It is a way to access and maintain directory services within a network. You can think of it like a phonebook for different resources stored in a network that can be regularly accessed.

For example, if a company stores information about all their printers in a directory, users will be able to use LDAP to search for a specific printer, locate it on the network and connect to it. The most common use case for LDAP is for storing usernames and passwords.

The main reason people confuse LDAP vs SSO vs SAML  is that they all happen to function as identity and access management (IAM) solutions that target user authentication. We can say that SAML works on the security of information exchange, SSO works towards easy access, and LDAP works on on-premise authentication and authorisation.

Difference Between SAML, SSO and LDAP

Functioning of SAML and SSO

  1. When the user sends a request to the server for optimal access, the request is first sent to the service provider. This service provider is the application or network in concern.
  2. The service provider receives the request and forwards it to the identity provider. An identity provider is an authority that verifies the identity and the credibility of the user using various tools and methods.
  3. The identity provider will formulate a SAML assertion. This is a message that a user receives if they are verified and are already signed in. This message holds the authenticated user's information.
  4. The message is sent to the service provider, and then it is validated. The user is granted access to the system. The access is always verified by the level of authority the user holds.

Functioning of LDAP

  1. The LDAP port is used by an employee multiple times a day. LDAP is connected with the active directory and application server, both at the same time. As the name suggests, it is a protocol that the network system has to follow, a standard set of rules that is followed by this port.
  2. First,  the user is authenticated by the directory and the LDAP port. The data is bound with the system, and the user is memorised.
  3. When the user raises a query or a request to access an application, e.g., an account, the LDAP port receives this request. It is then forwarded to the active directory to verify.
  4. The directory compares the information to the existing information regarding the user login data. If it matches, the user is granted access.

Benefits of SAML and SSO

  • Easy Application

Although it is not the easiest tech tool to implement in your network's functioning, it is well understood since it comes with a plethora of pre-made libraries and integrations.

  • Cross-Domain Authentication

You can utilise the services of SAML across web browsers, allowing web-based authentication. This also enables the connection between cloud-based applications to your network's domain.

  • Easy Authentication

The login procedure becomes extremely simplified and secured with SAML-SSO. First of all, with the help of SAML, SSO can log the user into multiple accounts using one authentication attempt. Secondly, the authentication is secure, and all the communication stays encrypted and confidential, thanks to SAML.

Benefits of LDAP

  • Centralised System

With LDAP, the user information and login data are consolidated and gathered in a single place in the active directory. This makes authentication easy and fast. This creates a centralised environment for all the user-related information in the form of an LDAP port, which is connected to both the application and the active directory.

  • Flexible

The LDAP solution is compatible with various operating systems and is vendor-agnostic, open-source, and open-standard. It is a very flexible system and makes work possible from anywhere.

  • Secure Data Transmission

LDAP ports usually enable secure data transmission when integrated with encryption tools like transport layer security (TLS). When the data is transmitted within the network, it gets encrypted with the help of TLS, resulting in safe information exchange and communication.

Drawbacks of SAML

  • Not a Directory Protocol

SAML is not an active directory protocol; it instead uses identity providers and service providers. SAML only provides services and information related to authentication, unlike LDAP, which provides information related to user accounts on applications, resources used by the network, and also the individual devices authenticated by the system.

  • Relies on IdP

As mentioned above, the SAML protocol is an identity provider-based service utilised for authentication purposes. The organisations that use SAML rely a lot on the IdPs and their authority to decide and verify the user's credibility and identity.

Drawbacks of LDAP

  • Complex Implementation

The set-up and maintenance of an LDAP port demands a lot of expertise and types of equipment. This can lead to huge expenses and difficulties in the deployment of the set-up. This is mainly because the solution is fairly old and requires its own LDAP port.

  • Rigid

LDAP port is called rigid because the functioning relies on the active directory and its capacity to hold data. The organisation will have to rebuild the entire directory in order to increase or decrease the storage capacity of the directory and, consequently, the LDAP.


With the help of a good IT team, you can definitely implement a combination of both of these authentication protocols, SAML and LDAP, for your network of applications and the organisation's system. It is a great way to optimise the identity and access management of your business network.

With the help of these technologies, you can secure your work network from unwarranted and unauthorised access. Ensure to check out the authentication, and Identity and Access Management tools like SSO provided by Instasafe's tech solutions.

We at Instasafe offer the best security solutions for business-critical applications that are easy to use and provide a seamless user experience.

People Also Ask (PAA)

1. Which one is a better protocol, SAML or LDAP?

The answer depends on the scope of your use. If you want to use SSO for your employee login, opt for SAML, and if you want to authenticate users for applications, opt for LDAP.

2. What are the similarities between SAML and LDAP?

The biggest similarity between these two, SAML and LDAP, is that they connect users to IT networks and resources. Both of these come under the umbrella of Identity and Access Management tools.

3. Are SAML and LDAP compatible with each other?

The two protocols, SAML and LDAP, can be combined and used to maximise the access control of your organisation. Hence, we can say that they are highly compatible and complementary to each other.