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How to cache automounter maps using SSSD
How to cache automounter maps using SSSD

In Fedora 17, we are introducing a new feature - the SSSD gets an ability to cache automounter maps and map entries stored in a remote database the SSSD can access, which is mostly LDAP. Because there is no user-facing documentation available to describe how this feature works, I decided to introduce it in a little more detail in this blog post. The post is quite verbose as it explains the native LDAP case as well - if you are familiar with automounter and how automounter is configured to access map in LDAP, feel free to skip to the last section.

A brief introduction to automounter

The automounter is a very useful software that lets the user access removable media or network shares without explicitly mounting them and unmounts them when they are not needed. The user would simply access the directory where the remote file system is located and the automounter then takes care of mounting the correct share with the desired options. Obviously, the automounter needs to know which share should be mounted from which location. The configuration files for autofs are called maps and are similar to /etc/fstab at a high level. The main, top-level map is called the master map and is typically located in /etc/auto.master. There's quite a lot of resources on automounter on the Internet, the reader may continue to the Red Hat Documentation, for example.

A hands-on example: automounter configured with flat files

To illustrate the capabilities of the automounter, here is a simple example. Consider there's an NFS file server on the network called that exports a share called pub. We'd like to configure the system to automatically mount this share at /shares/pub. First, we'll include an entry for the /shares directory in the master map. Edit the file /etc/auto.master to include a nested map for pub:

/shares/ /etc/auto.shares

Then define the mount point pub in the file referenced from the master map, called /etc/auto.shares:

pub -fstype=nfs
The three fields are pretty much self-explanatory. The first is the name of the mount point, the second are the options passed to the automounter daemon and the last is the filesystem that should be mounted, a NFS server:share in our case.

We're nearly done - the last step is to start the automounter daemon and create the top-level directory:

mkdir /shares
service autofs start

Entering the directory /shares/pub should now automatically mount the remote filesystem.

Storing automount maps in LDAP

When the maps are stored in files, the administrator faces a problem on a large network - he needs to distribute the files to all the hosts that he manages on the network. One possible solution is to use a tool such as puppet or cfengine to help distributing the files. Another solution is to get rid of the files altogether and fetch the maps from a centralized directory, LDAP in particular. The automounter then only needs to know the location to download the maps from.

A hands-on example: automounter configured to access maps in LDAP

We'll define the same share mounted at the same location as we did inthe previous example, just not using the automounter native syntaxbut rather the LDIF, which can be loaded in LDAP. I assume the reader is familiar with LDAP and utilities to manage an LDAP directory. In the following examples, we will be considering an LDAP server running at machine with host name with a base DN dc=example,dc=com and using the RFC2307bis schema. Before proceeding with the example, remove the /shares entry from /etc/auto.master so that the automounter does not load the files-based map for this particular mount point anymore. The first step is creating the container all the maps will reside in:

dn: cn=automount,dc=example,dc=com
objectClass: nsContainer
objectClass: top
cn: automount

We can now load the auto.master map into the container:

dn: automountMapName=auto.master,cn=automount,dc=example,dc=com
objectClass: automountMap
objectClass: top
automountMapName: auto.master

The auto.master map is going to be linked to the auto.shares map, as was the case with the files based maps. The map itself is an object of object class automountMap, the "link" that contains the information about the mount or share itself is of object class automount. The map looks quite similar to auto.master map:

dn: automountMapName=auto.shares,cn=automount,dc=example,dc=com
objectClass: automountMap
objectClass: top
automountMapName: auto.shares

Here is an example of the automount object that establishes the link between the auto.shares map and the /shares mount

dn: automountKey=/shares,automountMapName=auto.master,cn=automount,dc=example,dc=com
objectClass: automount
objectClass: top
automountKey: /shares
automountInformation: auto.shares

The last and final object is the mount point pub itself. This automount object is going to include the NFS share information in the automountInformation attribute.

dn: automountKey=pub,automountMapName=auto.shares,cn=automount,dc=example,dc=com
objectClass: automount
objectClass: top
automountKey: pub
description: pub

Load the database into the server with a tool such as ldapadd and the server side setup is ready. The second part of our setup is configuring the automounter client daemon. This example is going to illustrate the native LDAP support, the following section is going to show the new SSSD integration. The client configuration touches two files - one is /etc/sysconfig/autofs, which  contains all the options passed to the autofs daemon. In order to fetch data from the LDAP server, we need to specify the LDAP server URI, search base and the schema used:

# The schema attributes are present in the config file, just uncomment them

The second file that needs amending is /etc/nsswitch.conf. This file is supposed to contain the Name Service Switch map sources, but is frequently used by third party programs such as sudo or the automounter to specify their data sources as well. The automounter parses only a single line from the file - the one that starts with automount:. The default value should be files, changing it to files ldap would tell the automounter to try mounting from the files-based maps first, then try the LDAP-based maps. Change the line to read files ldap and restart the automounter. Accessing /shares/pub should mount it from the central location just like it did with flat files.

Accessing the LDAP maps using the SSSD

Storing the automounter maps in LDAP has the advantage or centralizing the data on one place but also brings the disadvantage of relying on network connectivity for downloading the maps. If there is an network outage or the LDAP server goes down, the clients will not be able to mount the shares. The SSSD is able to cache the automount maps in its persistent on-disk cache, allowing offline operation even when the LDAP server is unreachable. Apart from the offline access, the other benefits of using the SSSD for automounter lookups are:

  • unified configuration of LDAP parameters such as the servers used, timeout options and security properties at one places (sssd.conf)

  • autofs would take advantage of the advanced features SSSD has such as server fail over, server discovery using DNS SRV lookups and more

  • only one connection to the LDAP server open at a time resulting in less load on the LDAP server and better performance

  • caching of the data - again, less load on the LDAP server and better performance on the client side as the client wouldn't have to go to the server with each request
Please note that the caching only applies to the mount information, not the data itself!

A hands-on example: migrating the client configuration to use the SSSD

The logic to access data sources in the automounter is implemented in lookup modules. The sss lookup module, which is part of autofs itself, communicates with a small client library that is included in the libsss_autofs package. Make sure this package is installed before proceeding. The last example will show you how to configure the client setup to perform mounts using the SSSD lookup module. You will need to have the SSSD client package libsss_autofs installed along with an autofs version that contains the SSS lookup module. In Fedora 17, that means autofs-5.0.6-11 or newer.

In case your environment is already using the SSSD to perform user and group lookups with the SSSD, there's only a couple changes that need to be done:
  1. Create a new [autofs] section in the /etc/sssd/sssd.conf config file. Leaving it empty will use the defaults which should be good enough for most deployments. The sssd.conf manual page contains the single currently available option.
  2. The services parameter in the [sssd] section must be amended to include the autofs service as well:
    services = nss,pam,autofs
  3. The last parameter in the sssd.conf file that might optionally need amending is the search base. The default is to use the ldap_search_base parameter but you can also specify the search base using the ldap_autofs_search_base option:
  4. The last step during the client configuration is to tell autofs to contact the SSSD for automounter maps. This is done in by changing the automount: line in the /etc/nsswitch.conf config file to say sss instead of ldap:
    automount: files sss
  5. Restart the SSSD:
    service sssd restart
The schema and in turn the attribute names that are being used for the LDAP searches by the SSSD are set to default values depending on the schema that the SSSD uses. The prevalent schema for storing the autofs maps is RFC2307bis, while the default LDAP schema of the SSSD is RFC2307. The LDAP provider of the SSSD has a couple of options that can be used to override the attribute names. The following example illustrates using the RFC2307bis-style attribute names in the RFC2307 schema:


The autofs-SSSD integration is quite new feature, so there inevitably are bugs. In particular, be sure to run a package that fixes the bad key length calculation. If you think you found another bug, please find us on the #sssd channel on Freenode, we'll be glad to help you debug your problem or relay the question to Ian Kent, who wrote the sss automounter module inside autofs and maintains the autofs package in Fedora and RHEL.
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autofs ignores sssd if it starts too slowly...


2012-06-03 03:31 pm (UTC)


I've been trying the feature with a freshly installed fedora 17 (to have sssd answer autofs before it is actually started).

It works... until I enabled nss-mdns (I use this for my local network). Then autofs seems to start before sssd is ready and ignores its information (and all my ldap maps !).

Jun 3 16:44:19 black-cube automount[846]: setautomntent: lookup(sss): setautomntent: Connection refused

I tried adding an After = sssd.service in the systemd unit of autofs, but sssd is not ready by the time sssd is.

Edited at 2012-06-03 03:37 pm (UTC)

Re: autofs ignores sssd if it starts too slowly...


2012-06-07 07:08 am (UTC)

Right, the startup order might be a problem. In the traditional SysV scripts on RHEL6, we solved this by choosing the correct startup order.

I'm surprised that After=sssd.service didn't help, though. Maybe it's another case similar to upstream bug where SSSD reports it's up when it's really not, or, more precisely, only the main monitor SSSD process is up but none of the responders such as the autofs responder.


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