Petter Reinholdtsen

Pieces of the roaming laptop puzzle in Debian
19th May 2010

Today, the last piece of the puzzle for roaming laptops in Debian Edu finally entered the Debian archive. Today, the new libpam-mklocaluser package was accepted. Two days ago, two other pieces was accepted into unstable. The pam-python package needed by libpam-mklocaluser, and the sssd package passed NEW on Monday. In addition, the libpam-ccreds package we need is in experimental (version 10-4) since Saturday, and hopefully will be moved to unstable soon.

This collection of packages allow for two different setups for roaming laptops. The traditional setup would be using libpam-ccreds, nscd and libpam-mklocaluser with LDAP or Kerberos authentication, which should work out of the box if the configuration changes proposed for nscd in BTS report #485282 is implemented. The alternative setup is to use sssd with libpam-mklocaluser to connect to LDAP or Kerberos and let sssd take care of the caching of passwords and group information.

I have so far been unable to get sssd to work with the LDAP server at the University, but suspect the issue is some SSL/GnuTLS related problem with the server certificate. I plan to update the Debian package to version 1.2, which is scheduled for next week, and hope to find time to make sure the next release will include both the Debian/Ubuntu specific patches. Upstream is friendly and responsive, and I am sure we will find a good solution.

The idea is to set up the roaming laptops to authenticate using LDAP or Kerberos and create a local user with home directory in /home/ when a usre in LDAP logs in via KDM or GDM for the first time, and cache the password for offline checking, as well as caching group memberhips and other relevant LDAP information. The libpam-mklocaluser package was created to make sure the local home directory is in /home/, instead of /site/server/directory/ which would be the home directory if pam_mkhomedir was used. To avoid confusion with support requests and configuration, we do not want local laptops to have users in a path that is used for the same users home directory on the home directory servers.

One annoying problem with gdm is that it do not show the PAM message passed to the user from libpam-mklocaluser when the local user is created. Instead gdm simply reject the login with some generic message. The message is shown in kdm, ssh and login, so I guess it is a bug in gdm. Have not investigated if there is some other message type that can be used instead to get gdm to also show the message.

If you want to help out with implementing this for Debian Edu, please contact us on

Tags: debian edu, english, nuug.

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