Active Directory Logical and Physical Components

Forest – a forest is the largest unit in Active Directory and is a collection of trees that share a common Schema, the definition of objects that can be created. In a forest all trees are connected by transitive two-way trust relationships, thus allowing users in any tree access to resources in another for which they have been given appropriate permissions and rights. By default the first domain created in a forest is referred to as the root domain. Amongst other things, this is where the Schema is stored by default. You cannot rename or remove the root domain – this will force the removal of your entire Active Directory forest.

Organizational Unit – An organizational unit (OU) is a container object that helps to organize objects for the purpose of administration or group policy application. An OU exists within a domain and can only contain objects from that domain. OU can be nested, which allows for more flexibility in terms of administration. Different methods for designing OU structures exist including according to administration (most common), geography, or organizational structure. One popular use of OUs is to delegate administrative authority – this allows you to give a user a degree of administrative control over just the OU, and not the entire domain, for example.

Global Catalogs – Global Catalogs are listings of every object that exists within an Active Directory forest. By default, a domain controller only contains information about objects in that domain. A Global Catalog server is a domain controller that contains information about every object (though not every attribute for each) stored in the entire forest. This facilitates and speeds up the search for information in Active Directory. By default only the first domain controller created in a forest has a copy of the global catalog – others much be designated manually.

Author: Dan DiNicolo

Dan DiNicolo is a freelance author, consultant, trainer, and the managing editor of He is the author of the CCNA Study Guide found on this site, as well as many books including the PC Magazine titles Windows XP Security Solutions and Windows Vista Security Solutions. Click here to contact Dan.