Domain Controller vs Active Directory


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Active Directory is a Microsoft proprietary implementation of the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP). Active directory can be used to organize and control access privileges for resources on Windows-based networks. Domain controllers manage objects in Active Directory, provide authentication services, maintain user profiles and control Group Policy settings.

The “domain controller vs dns” is a question that has been asked many times. The difference between a domain controller and an Active Directory is that the former is used to manage your network, while the latter manages your users.

Domain Controller vs Active Directory

A prevalent misconception is that a domain controller and Directory Services are interchangeable. They are, in reality, very different. Understanding the distinctions between the two can help you better comprehend how they operate together.

Domain-Controller-vs-Active-DirectoryDirectory Services vs. Domain Controller

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We’ll concentrate on Windows NT terminology in this post. In Linux, many ideas and phrases are the same or comparable. I’m going to utilize a nightclub scenario to convey the Domain Administrators vs. Directory Services story.

Instead of merely regurgitating material, I think this will better explain the analogous circumstances and differences between Directory Services and domain controller capability.

You’ve come to the correct spot if you need Directory Services explained.

How Directory Services FSMO Roles Work (Explained)

Domain Administrators

At the entryway of the nightclub known as Club BOFH, a bouncer called Ox is on duty. Before admitting someone in line inside the club, Ox checks their names against a list. Everyone in line wants to get to the club, but they must be on the ‘A’ list.

Are you missing from the list? They are denied entry. They will be evicted if they attempt! The bouncer is providing a key service to the nightclub owner, who produces these sorts of blog pieces explaining IT matters when he is not operating a club.

The night club’s domain controller (Ox the bouncer) or DC provides security services. A domain controller maintains an authentication database (known as the ‘A’ list) (the club-goer giving their name to Ox).

Once Ox has verified the clubgoer’s identity, they will remove the velvet rope and let the clubgoer (a user or computer) to proceed. The only way to access domain resources is via this method (drinks, music, and dancing within the night club).

Ox has a few friends (member servers acting as Domain Administrators or DCs) help out. Should one of them get overpowered by an angry person that was ejected from the night club, any one of them can step in and continue providing security services.

When it comes to redundant security services, Ox excels. But how do Ox and his pals receive a list of who is and isn’t authorized to attend Club BOFH?

Directory Services

BOFH is a one-of-a-kind club. There is just one site available. Roscoe, the proprietor of the nightclub, keeps a black book with the names of all members who have paid their dues and are entitled to attend.

Roscoe intends to establish more sites if business continues to improve.

Every night, Ox utilizes this black book to provide security. Roscoe also keeps this book up to date. Names are constantly being added and deleted, along with comments on what a clubgoer may and cannot do within Club BOFH.

Hanz, Ox’s best buddy (who helps out on a regular basis), has a copy of the black book and compares it to what Ox possesses. Any entries in Ox’s book that aren’t in Hanz’s book are added or erased.

Ox has been known to leave the book at home on occasion. This isn’t an issue since Ox can still see Hanz’s recordings and distribute them.

The Directory Services (Club BOFH) Domain consists of an Directory Services Server (Roscoe) or ‘AD’ server and an Directory Services Service (little black book). This service stores objects like user and computer account information.

Ox and friends employed by Roscoe (directory Domain Administrators) all use the same domain service because they are only operating in an Directory Services Domain.

Additional Terms to Be Aware Of

Here’s some important stuff to know:

It’s not just Directory Services vs. Domain Controller

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Remember the Club BOFH sample situations from earlier?

To log in, sit down at your computer. Your machine is already a domain member. It has a network account that has been authenticated using the SID provided to your computer, enabling it to access network resources.

This was accomplished by a security key exchange between the machine and the domain controller.

You next continue to fill in your username, which is your user account’s identification. The security principle grants your privileges to login locally to your account, which has a SID. Your Microsoft Outlook application is already set up to work with the Exchange server at your organization.

Where is all this information stored? It’s assigned to you in Directory Services. The computer account could also have data stored, such as location and who manages it.


The differences between what Directory Services does and what a domain controller does isn’t a difficult subject once you can visualize the process. It’s easiest to remember that Domain Administrators authenticate your authority, and Directory Services handles your identity and security access.

Additional Resources for Learning

Want to learn more? Here are a few resources to read through that covers some deeper technical explanations for Windows & Linux.

The “domain controller roles” are two different concepts. The domain controller is the server that manages and controls a single, specific domain in an Active Directory environment. The Active Directory is the directory service that manages multiple domains.

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