User accounts and shared home folders in Debian based cluster

by | October 3, 2017

My notes from setting up shared user accounts and home folders on a small cluster based on Debian 9.

I am setting up a small cluster for running some weather simulations using WRF. The cluster consists of 8 compute nodes, a fileserver and a utility node. I want to have shared home folders and login information for the users across all of the computers in the network. In Linux, this can be done by by installing a directory database server on one computer which holds the user accounts and authentication clients on the rest of the computers.

Server side

I used slapd server application from OpenLDAP. It comes from repositories:

apt install slapd ldap-utils ldapscripts

I reconfigured the package after the installation:

dpkg-reconfigure slapd

I used phpldapadmin as a GUI to access the database. Unfortunately, it is not in the repository for Debian 9. However, I was able to download the package manually and install it into the system:

dpkg -i phpldapadmin_1.2.2-6_all.deb
apt-get -f install
apt install php-xml
systemctl restart apache2.service

Then it has to be configured. The configuration is at /etc/phpldapadmin/config.php and the following lines has to be edited according to the configuration of slapd:

$servers->setValue('server','name','Example LDAP');
$servers->setValue('server','base', array('dc=example,dc=com'));

Then go to http://ip/phpldapadmin and login using the admin credentials.

In the GUI, I created two Organizational Units groups and users. Under groups, I have created a Posix Group with gid 1000. Then I added a user under users with uid also 1000.

The process of adding a new user through the phpadmin was quite painful so for next time I should figure out a better way of adding new users. The GUI is quite ok for browsing the database though.

Client side

The configuration on the client side was simpler.

The only thing I did was to install the module for the authentication system:

apt install libpam-ldapd

The package manager asked a bunch of questions and configured everything.

Shared home

I’m using ZFS on the fileserver. So first step was to create a new ZFS dataset and set the mountpoint to /home

zfs create -o mountpoint=/home storage/home

The I had to install the necessary service and libraries:

apt install nfs-kernel-server

and share the dataset:

zfs set sharenfs=on storage/home


I had to install the utilities on the client:

apt-get install nfs-common

and mount the folder:

mount -t nfs fileserver1:/home /home

This was only a temporary test. To make the mounts permanent I used autofs.

apt install autofs

Then I configured autofs to automatically mount home directories after the user accesses the folder. Autofs will listen for file accesses and when it detects a request for path in /home/username/… it will try to dynamically mount the folder. First, the master configuration has to be modified. The file is at /etc/auto.master

/home /etc/auto.home --timeout 60

This means that autofs will watch the directory /home and use the configuration file /etc/auto.home to mount the folders. The configuration file /etc/auto.home has to be created:

*  -rw,soft,intr,rsize=8192,wsize=8192 fileserver1.wcc:/home/&

Star is used as a placeholder for the username and the ampersand will be replaced with the username when the fileserver is asked for the home directory.


I have used OpenLDAP to share the login credentials across machines in my cluster so that I can log in as the same user (including the same uid and git) on all of the machines. I have also configured sharing of users’ home folders using NFS and autofs so that everywhere I login I have the same home folder.

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