Extending Your Azure Active Directory – Part 1

I don’t know about you guys, but I use Microsoft Azure all the time (it’s not Windows Azure any longer). Not for everything I do, I still have servers at home and at work, but if I need to deploy something to "the cloud" that cloud is often Azure. One of the features in Azure I’ve taken a liking to recently is Azure Active Directory, which lets you either extend your current on-premise AD or setup a cloud-only AD. Since this AD provides APIs as well as the UI management tools you would expect by default this gives you the benefit of not having to implement a separate identity system for stuff that you create, and users can reuse the credentials they already have instead of having to remember multiple logins.

The general workings of Azure AD works may be familiar to you already, so I’m not going to do an introduction on how to get started with Azure AD. If however it doesn’t ring a bell you may check out MSFT’s site:
http://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/active-directory/

To follow along with this article you will need access to an Azure AD tenant. It doesn’t matter if it’s cloud only or the full DirSync experience. The code stays the same.

When you break it down to the basics you could say that Active Directory is just a database. For a long time it’s been possible to use AD as a database by "extending the schema", but if you’ve ever tried to convince a sysadmin that "hey, my app wants to put extra stuff into your directory" you will know that’s a pretty tough sell. (I am equally hard to convince if an app I didn’t create wants to insert config data into my AD, so I don’t blame the admins.)

Microsoft recently introduced a new feature called "Directory Extensions" to Azure Active Directory. Still only in preview, but that’s not a problem as far as introducing it to the lab 🙂 These extensions live exclusively in the cloud, (if this will change later on I do not know), so they do not get synced back to your on-prem AD.

A blog post from the AAD Graph Team should give you an idea:
http://blogs.msdn.com/b/aadgraphteam/archive/2014/03/06/extend-azure-active-directory-schema-using-graph-api-preview.aspx

Graph API is the term for the RESTful interface that developers use to access the Azure Active Directory tenants; you don’t get to talk directly to the underlying files that make up the directory 🙂

The idea is that your app might be in the possession of data that it would make sense to attach directly to the user object in the identity directory, and/or data that might be of interest to other apps. This data should be inserted in, and extracted from, Active Directory in a manner that doesn’t interfere with the internals or break something.

It’s not necessarily easy at first glance to understand what this feature could be used for, or how it works, so I thought I’d try to create a walkthrough where I implement a simple scenario to illustrate what you can leverage these extensions for.

Read more