ADFS vs Active Directory

Saad Afzal

Saad Afzal

· 4 min read
active directory and ADFS in microsoft

In the realm of enterprise IT infrastructure, two terms frequently come up in discussions surrounding authentication and access control: Active Directory (AD) and Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS). While they both play crucial roles in managing user identities and access, they serve distinct purposes, particularly in the context of enterprise private clouds.

Understanding Active Directory (AD) and Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS)

Active Directory, developed by Microsoft, serves as a centralised database that stores and manages information about network resources and user identities within a domain. It enables administrators to authenticate and authorize users, computers, and applications, providing a single sign-on (SSO) experience across the network.

On the other hand, Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) extends the capabilities of Active Directory by enabling single sign-on access across different domains or organisations. It acts as a federated identity provider, allowing users to access resources in one security domain using their credentials from another trusted domain.

ADFS in Enterprise Private Clouds

In enterprise private clouds, where security and seamless access are paramount, ADFS plays a critical role in enabling secure authentication for applications and services. Here's how it works:

  1. Authentication Flow: When a user attempts to access an application hosted in the private cloud, the application redirects the authentication request to the ADFS server.
  2. Token Generation: The ADFS server authenticates the user against the Active Directory and generates a security token containing claims about the user's identity and permissions.
  3. Token Validation: The application validates the security token issued by ADFS to ensure its authenticity and integrity.
  4. Access Granted: Upon successful validation, the user is granted access to the application, and the session begins.

Practical Examples of ADFS Endpoints


In practice, ADFS endpoints serve as the communication channels through which authentication requests and responses are exchanged between the application and the ADFS server. Here are some practical examples:

  1. /adfs/ls/IdpInitiatedSignOn.aspx: This endpoint allows users to initiate the sign-on process directly with the identity provider (ADFS) by visiting a specific URL. For example, users can access this endpoint to log in to a cloud-based service using their corporate credentials.
  2. /adfs/ls/SingleSignOn.aspx: This endpoint facilitates single sign-on (SSO) by processing authentication requests from applications and redirecting users to the appropriate authentication method, such as username/password or multi-factor authentication.
  3. /adfs/services/trust/mex: Metadata Exchange (MEX) endpoint provides metadata about the ADFS server, including its capabilities and supported protocols. This metadata is essential for applications to establish trust and communicate securely with the ADFS server.
  4. /adfs/ls/Logout.aspx: When a user logs out of an application, the application redirects the logout request to this endpoint, triggering the termination of the user's session and clearing any associated authentication tokens.

In conclusion, ADFS serves as a crucial component in enterprise private clouds, enabling secure authentication and access control for applications and services. Understanding the role of ADFS endpoints and their practical implementations is essential for IT administrators and developers tasked with integrating authentication mechanisms within private cloud environments.

Saad Afzal

About Saad Afzal

With a Master's degree in Structural Engineering, I began my journey in engineering consultancy, where I discovered my passion for automation and software development. As I delved deeper, I integrated Python scripts into my workflows, revolutionising structural design and analysis.

Driven by a desire to embrace the scalability of web applications, I transitioned into full-stack development and cloud engineering. Through relentless self-study, I honed my skills and collaborated with esteemed organizations to develop cutting-edge solutions. Today, I specialize in architecting robust systems and leveraging cloud technologies to create scalable, secure, and user-centric applications.

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