RADIUS Server vs Active Directory – What’s the Difference?

RADIUS Server vs Active Directory – What’s the Difference? Remote Authentication Dial In User Service or the RADIUS is a server networking protocol that runs the application in layers. In addition it is an AAA protocol that provides authentication, authorization and accounting. On the other hand Microsoft developed an Active Directory, which stores the network’s object information and makes it easy for users and administrators to access.

Let’s start with RADIUS Server vs Active Directory – What’s the Difference?

What is RADIUS?

RADIUS is a software and networking protocol. Firstly it delivers centralized authentication, accounting, and authorization (AAA) for the network service users. Runs in application layers and can run either transmission data protocol or user datagram protocol. Developed to authenticate remote users to a dial in server, but it is now used in several authentication processes.

In order to perform AAA operations Radius deals with following communications:

  • VPN Remote and Wireless Access.
  • Internet and Extranet Access.

Moreover RADIUS enables enterprises to maintain the user profile or membership in a central database and all remote servers can use it using the authentication and authorization of the Radius. With the help of RADIUS, enterprises can use the central database, which has considerably reduced the workload. The central database makes tracking the billing usage record easier and helps access the network statistics.

RADIUS Server funcions

With RADIUS server it is an extension of the RADIUS. Used for receiving the users’ connection requests and authenticating them according to the input information. Eventually returning the configuration required by the client to authenticate the user. Before discussing the details of how the Radius server works, it is crucial to know what the AAA of the RADIUS is.

AAA stands for authentication, authorization and accounting.


Confirmation of a user by providing the credentials, such as the username and password.


Authorization means granting a specific resource or rank to the user. That is provided after the successful authentication. Helps in the restricted flow of information to the users according to their ranks.


One of the most enticing features of the Radius. Assists in tracking the consumption of the resources by the users.

We should know about RADIUS server authentication methods. Let’s discuss the most important ones.

Authentication Methods Of RADIUS

PAP: PAP, or the password authentication protocol. One of the most common protocols of the RADIUS.

CHAP: it is a challenge handshake authentication protocol. Uses the challenge and responses protocol. The server challenges the user to prove the authentication.

MS-CHAP: Microsoft challenge handshake authentication protocol.

EAP: Another extensible authentication protocol. Used in wireless connections.

Authentication Process

Simply put when a user tries to log in, it sends an access request to the RADIUS server, which comprises a shared secret. Then Radius reads that shared secret and ensures the message is from the authenticated user.

After ensuring the user’s authentication, Radius reads the authentication method request. Server then reads the credentials, and if the credentials match with the authenticated user it then then extracts the additional information.

Summing up, after getting all the necessary information, Radius allows request. The access request of the RADIUS contains a shared secret and a filter ID. Client of  RADIUS reads the shared secret and the filter ID to get access.

How Does RADIUS Accounting Work?

It is one of the most enticing features of the RADIUS. Let’s discuss how it works.

Firstly the process starts after the authentication of RADIUS users. The RADIUS client sends the accounting request and the accounting request packet comprises the user’s ID, network address, session identifier, and access point.

After this request, the user sends another request known as the accounting stop. Includes all the information, including the total time data and packets transferred and the reason for the disconnection.

Features of the RADIUS Server

  • Flexible authentication protocol. Features are point to point password authentication, simple UNIX login and challenge handshake protocol.
  • Extensible security protocols. Delivers unique credentials to all the users.
  • Allocates one secured and string password, so you don’t need to maintain several passwords.
  • Makes it easier to authenticate, provide the resource and generate the authorization levels.
  • All about the authentication, authorization, and accounting AAA.
  • Gives you an insight into how much data have been used over the month. In nutshell it helps in the billing process.
  • Uses the EAP or the extensible authentication protocols for moving the authentication protocols between two components.

Pros of RADIUS Server

  • The most significant advantage of Radius is unique credentials for all the users. Minimizes the risk of hackers.
  • Accounting is one of the undeniable and most enticing features. You can check the data consumption with the help of RADIUS accounting.
  • Has a central point of authentication, authorization accounting and password management.
  • Login of multiple users more accessible, and because of various authentication processes, it makes the authentication transparent.
  • Secure VPN authentication with the help of Radius; it allows all the users to connect securely and safely.
  • A modern RADIUS server is super easy to use and connect. Additionally it is super easy to work with and connect the RADIUS with your current system.
  • Cloud based RADIUS has easy activation and deactivation. IT admins point their networking to the RADIUS endpoint for the activation and deactivation authentication.

Cons of RADIUS Server

  • There are chances of a security breach if the RADIUS server is not set up correctly.
  • If your organization already supports on-prem the Active Directory, it would be challenging to integrate the RADIUS into the existing system.
  • The maintenance of the RADIUS server and client could be difficult and time-consuming for the on-prem.
  • The authentication protocol is not robust for the RADIUS server in the clouds.

Next in this blog RADIUS Server vs Active Directory – What’s the Difference? Is to learn Active Directory.

What Is Active Directory?

AD or the Active Directory is a hierarchical database structure. Platform connects the users with the network resource and stores the information on the network. AD DS or the active directory domain service is a window server operating system that holds the directory data and provides it to network administration and users when required.

For instance, it saves the information of a user like a name, password, email, and address and makes this information available to the other authorized users of the network. Importantly AD doesn’t store random data. Requires structured data and the stored data is known as a directory. The domain controller or DC runs the AD DS.

Usually, the enterprises have multiple DCs, and each DC has a copy of the domain for the entire Directory. So AD stores the information about the computer accounts, servers, users, printers, servers and volumes. Crucial to understand that this is only for the on-premises Microsoft work.

Structure of Active Directory

Overall Active Directory has three main components, domains, trees and forests. The domain is a group of related users, computers, resources, and other AD objects. Multiple domains combine to form the tree, and various trees combine to form the forests.

Management periphery is the domain. The information about the object is stored in a single database in a domain but can be together. While the forest is secure around the periphery, two different forests are not allowed to contact until the tree has been authorized or the connection between the two.

Those who run different businesses together need to build a diverse forest and connect them with the help of authorization. Becomes super easier to manage it.

Significantly Active Directory AD is protected through login authentication and access control. With a single login, the management can manage and organize the directory data throughout the network. Importantly AD is also super easy to use and understand. In the following, we will explain some fantastic features of AD.

Active Directory also has:

The schema, a set of rules that defines the classes of objects or the attributes in the Directory. The specific format of these objects’ limits access.

A global catalogue that contains information about every object of the Directory. This helps the authenticated users and the administration find the data in just a few clicks.

Index or the query mechanism: helps publish the network objects properties and make them accessible to users.

A replicate service ensures delivery of the directory data across all the networks. As we have explained above, a directory contains a copy of all databases.

Features of Active Directory

  • The greatest thing about the active Directory is its easy management. Uses many tools for the administration, including the PowerShell commands, and GUI (it helps in running the different applications)
  • Active Directory provides the DNS integration; which resolves your IPs into computer names and provides an easy understanding of users with their computer names.
  • There is no limit if creating the objects in the Active Directory. So you can create as many users as you want. There is no limit.
  • Extensible tool where you can add the features of your choice in the schema and edit them later.
  • Centralized authentication protocol; whenever you create a new user ID in the AD, the centralized system copies this ID information in the entire network.

Pros of Active Directory

  • Enhanced security for the organizers and eases the life of the administrators and the users.
  • Control (that is centralized) over the computer and the user configuration, which is one of the most significant benefits of the AD.
  • Authentication process is a bit strict, but after the authentication, the users get seamless access to all the resources and access to all the information of the objects inside the domain.
  • With the help of AD, you can customize your organization’s data. You can manage or organize the data as per the company’s needs or as it suits you.
  • Single secure sign on with Active Directory.  This sign allows you to access the network information available on all the domain servers.
  • AD provides exceptional security and the authentication process ensures that only an authorized person gets access, which minimizes the chances of data stealing.
  • Thirdly it provides centralized control over the users, making this app super easy to use.
  • Efficient services, and with the up gradation, AD does the auto update.
  • Efficient management of different devices because it automatically saves the information of the connected device.
  • Directory of AD  ensures data protection. Points out even the tiny inconvenience in the domain and reports it.
  • Different versions of the AD for different scenarios.

Cons of Active Directory

  • A bit costly and the configuration changes are also expensive after the final setup.
  • Some security has also reported a security breach at the point of the domain.

Differences between RADIUS Server vs Active Directory

On one hand RADIUS is a network protocol. With the feature to secure the network and allows centralized authentication and authorization. On the other hand Active Directory provides multi factor authentication, one of the most widely used applications for single sign on. Both Active Directory and RADIUS have several things in common, yet they are pretty different from each other. Let’s see how these applications are different from each other:

Basic Differences

In case of AD is an identity management database. With central repository for storing the identities, e.g., users’ accounts. The active Directory allows the list of people or devices to connect to resources. After connecting, the user got a user account on the AD. Now it can be logged in from different devices.

In contrast Radius is a process of passing the authentication requests. Set of communication between the Radius server and the client for the authentication process. Generalized system and only allows the authentication of completely unknown devices if the authorized person is using them.

Authentication Process

To illustrate RADIUS it uses the older authentication process. Allows your network devices (VPN concentrators, switches, routers) to authenticate the users. What’s more it does not have complex membership requirements. The user only needs to share the shared secret and the credentials for the authentication.

In particular AD offers a couple of more complex authentication processes; it uses LDAP, NTLM, and Kerberos for authentication. This application needs a more complex authentication process. They asked for device authentication before authenticating the users.

When to use RADIUS vs AD

Subsequently Active Directory helps to organize your users, computers, and more. Moreover it allows you to maintain the data of your enterprises into a structural hierarchy. You need the Active Directory when you require the security certificates such as LDAP, single sign on, and management.

You need RADIUS when you want a remote access server to communicate with the central server.  For providing the authentication, dial in users, and finally authorize their access to the service. Therefore it gives the accessible devaluation properties and assigns individual users their credentials. That prevents the user’s private information from being leaked.


Pricing is one of the crucial factors to consider. Here Active Directory offers many free services, but also Radius provides free services, but they are far less than Active Directory. Without the doubt, the cost of the Active Directory domain is less than the cost of RADIUS. Ultimately Active Directory provides you with the best value for money.

User Friendliness

From one point of view RADIUS is more user friendly and easier to set up and use. But Active Directory is a bit complex, and initial understanding takes time.

Try our InfraSOS Reporting Tool for Active Directory.

Take a look at our Reporting and monitoring tool by developed by Active Directory experts. With AD reporting solution you get detailed reports on Active Directory, Office 365, Azure AD on all your Active Directory Objects and attributes. That is the only SaaS reporting platform for Active Directory Auditing.

Our unique only Saas platform InfraSOS is the leading active directory reporting and monitoring tool on the market. In there you can have 200+ reports for Office 365 plus other comprehensive AD reports that can be exported in various formats.

You can find your users that are active or inactive, blocked, locked out or have their accounts disabled. Information that can be reported includes the last time they had logged on or changed their passwords.

It aids the Admin that can access information about the current status of user accounts, their security permissions, password expiry dates (or when they had changed their passwords), failed login attempts, and much more.

That tool offers unique settings, so that you can create custom filters to search for AD attributes – including missing attributes – based on user attribute entries.

Not to mention Active Directory Health Check reports that report on the status of the domain controller (DC) itself and any Domain Nameservers (DNS) with the ability to set alerts on AD DC replication statuses.

That is it! Thank you for reading RADIUS Server vs Active Directory – What’s the Difference?

RADIUS Server vs Active Directory - What's the Difference Conclusion

Summarizing Both the Radius server and Active Directory are pretty different from each other. Both are built for entirely different protocols. Radius is a secure server. It can be authenticated against the user credentials saved within the server, but it is made more secure by using any directory. When combined, the RADIUS and the active Directory give the best authentication protocols and security.

Take a look at our Active directory content here and Radius here.  

Avatar for Farhan Yousuf
Farhan Yousuf

I am a content writer with more than five years of experience in the field. I have written for a variety of industries, and I am highly interested in learning new things. I have a knack for writing engaging copy that captures the reader's attention. In my spare time, I like to read and travel.

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