PAM and nsswitch

PAM and nsswitch are the core mechanisms used by Linux and BSD clients to resolve identities from an IDM service like Kanidm into accounts that can be used on the machine for various interactive tasks.

The UNIX Daemon

Kanidm provides a UNIX daemon that runs on any client that wants to use PAM and nsswitch integration. The daemon can cache the accounts for users who have unreliable networks, or who leave the site where Kanidm is hosted. The daemon is also able to cache missing-entry responses to reduce network traffic and Kanidm server load.

Additionally, running the daemon means that the PAM and nsswitch integration libraries can be small, helping to reduce the attack surface of the machine. Similarly, a tasks daemon is available that can create home directories on first login and supports several features related to aliases and links to these home directories.

We recommend you install the client daemon from your system package manager:

# OpenSUSE
zypper in kanidm-unixd-clients
# Fedora
dnf install kanidm-unixd-clients

You can check the daemon is running on your Linux system with:

systemctl status kanidm-unixd

You can check the privileged tasks daemon is running with:

systemctl status kanidm-unixd-tasks

NOTE The kanidm_unixd_tasks daemon is not required for PAM and nsswitch functionality. If disabled, your system will function as usual. It is, however, recommended due to the features it provides supporting Kanidm's capabilities.

Both unixd daemons use the connection configuration from /etc/kanidm/config. This is the covered in client_tools.

You can also configure some unixd-specific options with the file /etc/kanidm/unixd:

pam_allowed_login_groups = ["posix_group"]
default_shell = "/bin/sh"
home_prefix = "/home/"
home_attr = "uuid"
home_alias = "spn"
use_etc_skel = false
uid_attr_map = "spn"
gid_attr_map = "spn"
selinux = true
allow_local_account_override = ["account_name"]

pam_allowed_login_groups defines a set of POSIX groups where membership of any of these groups will be allowed to login via PAM. All POSIX users and groups can be resolved by nss regardless of PAM login status. This may be a group name, spn, or uuid.

default_shell is the default shell for users. Defaults to /bin/sh.

home_prefix is the prepended path to where home directories are stored. Must end with a trailing /. Defaults to /home/.

home_attr is the default token attribute used for the home directory path. Valid choices are uuid, name, spn. Defaults to uuid.

home_alias is the default token attribute used for generating symlinks pointing to the user's home directory. If set, this will become the value of the home path to nss calls. It is recommended you choose a "human friendly" attribute here. Valid choices are none, uuid, name, spn. Defaults to spn.

NOTICE: All users in Kanidm can change their name (and their spn) at any time. If you change home_attr from uuid you must have a plan on how to manage these directory renames in your system. We recommend that you have a stable ID (like the UUID), and symlinks from the name to the UUID folder. Automatic support is provided for this via the unixd tasks daemon, as documented here.

NOTE: Ubuntu users please see: Why aren't snaps launching with home_alias set?

use_etc_skel controls if home directories should be prepopulated with the contents of /etc/skel when first created. Defaults to false.

uid_attr_map chooses which attribute is used for domain local users in presentation. Defaults to spn. Users from a trust will always use spn.

gid_attr_map chooses which attribute is used for domain local groups in presentation. Defaults to spn. Groups from a trust will always use spn.

selinux controls whether the kanidm_unixd_tasks daemon should detect and enable SELinux runtime compatibility features to ensure that newly created home directories are labeled correctly. This setting as no bearing on systems without SELinux, as these features will automatically be disabled if SELinux is not detected when the daemon starts. Note that kanidm_unixd_tasks must also be built with the SELinux feature flag for this functionality. Defaults to true.

allow_local_account_override allows kanidm to "override" the content of a user or group that is defined locally. By default kanidm will detect when a user/group conflict with their entries from /etc/passwd or /etc/group and will ignore the kanidm entry. However if you want kanidm to override users or groups from the local system, you must list them in this field. Note that this can have many unexpected consequences, so it is not recommended to enable this.

You can then check the communication status of the daemon:

kanidm-unix status

If the daemon is working, you should see:


If it is not working, you will see an error message:

[2020-02-14T05:58:10Z ERROR kanidm-unix] Error ->
   Os { code: 111, kind: ConnectionRefused, message: "Connection refused" }

For more information, see the Troubleshooting section.


When the daemon is running you can add the nsswitch libraries to /etc/nsswitch.conf

passwd: compat kanidm
group: compat kanidm

You can create a user then enable POSIX feature on the user.

You can then test that the POSIX extended user is able to be resolved with:

getent passwd <account name>
getent passwd testunix

You can also do the same for groups.

getent group <group name>
getent group testgroup

HINT Remember to also create a UNIX password with something like kanidm account posix set_password --name idm_admin demo_user. Otherwise there will be no credential for the account to authenticate with.


WARNING: Modifications to PAM configuration may leave your system in a state where you are unable to login or authenticate. You should always have a recovery shell open while making changes (for example, root), or have access to single-user mode at the machine's console.

Pluggable Authentication Modules (PAM) is the mechanism a UNIX-like system that authenticates users, and to control access to some resources. This is configured through a stack of modules that are executed in order to evaluate the request, and then each module may request or reuse authentication token information.

Before You Start

You should backup your /etc/pam.d directory from its original state as you may change the PAM configuration in a way that will not allow you to authenticate to your machine.

cp -a /etc/pam.d /root/pam.d.backup

Configuration Examples

Documentation examples for the following Linux distributions are available: