One of the benefits of Active Directory is that it is useful for more than just user authentication. As a store of information, Active Directory can be queried to find details about objects that we know about (such as a user’s telephone number), as well as to find objects that we perhaps didn’t know existed at all. Many objects are published in Active Directory by default, such as users, groups, and computers. However, it is also possible to publish information about other useful objects, most notably printers and shared folders. Once a resource has been published, the resource can be moved, and users will still be able to find it, as long as you update the shortcut to the object in Active Directory.
Let’s start with a look at printers. Printers are published automatically in Active Directory as long as they were created on a print server running Windows 2000. However, it is possible that you have a printer that is using a downlevel system as a print server, say Windows 98 or Windows NT. These can also be published to AD, either by using Active Directory Users and Computers, or by using the file pubprn.vbs found in the Windows 2000 system32 directory. Printers are published using their UNC path, in the format \\print_server\printer. The screen below shows a printer being published in AD Users and Computers.
The pubprn.vbs script needs to be run from the command prompt, using the cscript scripting host. The command needs to specify the container into which the printer(s) should be published, in LDAP format. The example below first shows a single printer being published into the printers OU, and then the command to have all printers from a print server published to the printers OU.
Cscript %systemroot%\system32\pubprn.vbs \\ntserver\hp4 “LDAP://OU=Printers, DC=2000trainers, DC=com”
Cscript %systemroot%\system32\pubprn.vbd ntserver “LDAP://OU=Printers, DC=2000trainers, DC=com”
Once the printer has been published, it is then possible for users to search for it in Active Directory, using the Search command from the Start menu. Note that the only printers that will be returned by a search are those to which the user has access.
Among the most useful features in the ability to search for a printer is the ability to search by location, according to the location listed on the properties of the printer itself. It is also worth noting that there is a very powerful option associated with locations called printer location tracking. In this setup the location field is automatically populated with the location name of the subnet where the user is located. Essentially subnets must be given location names (in AD Sites and Services, discussed below), printers must be given location names that correspond to their subnet location, and location tracking must be enabled in group policy. If these have been done, when a user tries to search for a printer, the location field will be populated with the name of the current location, based on the user’s subnet location. As such, the user would be presented with a list of printers which (in theory at least) should be close by. The screen shot below outlines the setting in group policy for printer location pre-population. The setting is found in \Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\Printers.
In order for printer location tracking to work, all subnet objects must have an associated location. This is set in the properties of the subnet object in AD Sites and Services.
Location names follow the convention Name/Name/Name etc, where any name can be only 32 characters, and the maximum length for an entire location is 260 characters. It would be a very good idea to map out a location naming convention that makes sense and maps to the actual physical network topology. For example, in a multinational corporation with a presence in many countries might use the format:
Company/USA/Boston/Building 1/Floor 3
Just remember that location names correspond to IP subnets. Once enabled in policy, the printer search box changes to automatically include the location.
Shared folders can also be published in Active Directory in order to simplify the ability to find information. Any folder accessible by a UNC path can be published in Active Directory. To do this, in AD Users and Computers right click and choose New Shared Folder. Users can now browse for the folder in Active Directory, or a shortcut can be created to it. The UNC location of the folder can also be changed, by accessing the properties of the published folder, making it easy to change physical locations without affecting how users see resources. Just as importantly, you can also associate keywords with the folder (these are set in the properties of the published shared folder), which would allow users to search for it by those keywords. Searching by keyword is done by using the Find command in either AD Users and Computers, or by browsing to the AD domain in My Network Places, right clicking and choosing Find.
Note that the published object, like all objects in Active Directory, has a discretionary access control list (DACL) associated with it. As such, the permissions granted to the user via the published folder may differ from the NTFS or Share permissions set on the folder itself, which may restrict a user’s ability to access it with appropriate control. To view the permissions associated with the folder, remember that you will need to have the View – Advanced Features option selected in AD Users and Computers prior to accessing the object’s properties – this will allow you to view the DACL via the Security tab.