Searching Using Range Retrieval

Retrieving the contents of a multi-valued attribute from a group, such as a distribution list, can often result in a large number of returned values. LDAP servers often place limits on the maximum number of attribute values that can be retrieved in a single query. If an attribute has more members than can be returned by the server in a single call, the only way to enumerate all of the attribute values is through the use of the range option.

Range retrieval involves requesting a limited number of attribute values in a single query. The number of values requested must be less than, or equal to, the maximum number of values supported by the server. To reduce the number of times the query must contact the server, the number of values requested should be as close to this maximum as possible.

Active Directory servers set a limit on the maximum number of attribute values returned. The version of the server that supplies the requested data determines the maximum number of values that can be retrieved in a single query. The following table lists the server version and the maximum number of values that can be retrieved in a single query.

Server Version Maximum Values Retrieved
Windows Server 2003 1500


For more information, see Enumerating Groups.

Range Retrieval Specifiers

The range specifiers for an attribute query require the following form:

range=<low range>-<high range>

where <low range> is the zero-based index of the first attribute value to retrieve and <high range> is the zero-based index of the last attribute value to retrieve. Zero is used for <low range> to specify the first entry. The wildcard character (*) can be used for <high range> to specify all remaining entries.

The following table lists examples of range specifiers.

Example Meaning
range=0-* Retrieve all attribute values. This is subject to limits imposed by the server.
range=0-500 Retrieve the 1st to 501st values inclusively.
range=2-3 Retrieve the 3rd and 4th values.
range=501-* Retrieve the 502nd and all remaining values. This is subject to limits imposed by the server.


Range Retrieval Results

When an Active Directory server returns the values of the member attribute as the result of a directory search query, its behavior varies depending on whether the total number of attribute values for that object exceed the maximum limit on values retrieved. For example, if a distribution list on a Windows Server 2003 contains 1500 or fewer member values, a search query will return all of the values in a single call. However, if the list contains 2497 member values, the first call to the search query function will return the member attribute with no values, and an additional member;range=0-999 attribute that contains the first 1000 member values. To retrieve the next group of member values, the search query should be repeated using a range specifier that begins at the attribute number one past the number of the previous group returned. In this example, the search query function would request the member;range=1000-* values, which would return the member;range=1000-* attribute with no values and a member;range=1000-1999 attribute with the next 1000 values. This process is repeated until the last group of values is retrieved. The end range on the last group retrieved from the server would be indicated by an asterisk (*) in the returned attribute name.

Range Retrieval Example Code

The following C++ code example prints the members of a group object. It contains parsing routines to handle any required range retrieval transparently.

// PrintGroupMembers
// Takes a pointer to an ldap connection, and a distinguished name, and prints
// all of the values of the 'member' attribute. Uses the range option if necessary.
void PrintGroupMembers(LDAP *ld, char *groupdn)
    LDAPMessage *res, *entry;
    char *attrs[2];
    DWORD err;
    int   i;
    DWORD start;
    DWORD end = 0;
    PCHAR *vals;
    char rangeattbuf[20];
    int  rangesize;

    attrs[0] = "member";
    attrs[1] = NULL;
    do {
        err = ldap_search_s(ld,

        if (LDAP_SUCCESS != err) {
            printf("ldap_search_s failed with %d, %d.\n", err, LdapGetLastError());

        entry = ldap_first_entry(ld, res);
        if (!entry) {
            printf("ldap_first_entry failed with %d, %d.\n", err, LdapGetLastError());

        vals = GetRangeValue(ld, entry, "member", &amp;start, &amp;end);
        if (!vals) {
            printf("GetRangeValue failed.\n");

        for (i=0; vals[i]; i++) {
            printf("%s\n", vals[i]);

        if (vals) {

        if (-1 != end) {
            rangesize = ConstructRangeAtt("member", end+1, -1, rangeattbuf, 20);
            if (20 < rangesize) {
                printf("Not enough buffer to construct range.  Need %d bytes.\n", rangesize);

            attrs[0] = rangeattbuf;
    } while (-1 != end);

// GetRangeValue
// Given an entry returned from a search and an attribute type this function
// will find the attribute type and return the set of values.  Works even if
// the range option is present on the attribute.  If the range option is 
// present then the DWORDs pointed to by the start and end parameters are
// set to the range values.  Otherwise they are set to 0 and -1 respectively.
// The function indicates that the server has sent the last values of the 
// attribute by setting the DWORD pointed to by end to -1 on return.
// On success GetRangeValue returns the set of values returned from
// ldap_get_values. As a result the pointer returned from this function must
// be freed with ldap_value_free().
// On failure GetRangeValue returns NULL.
// ld      - pointer to a valid ldap connection
// entry   - an entry returned from ldap_first_entry or ldap_next_entry
// atttype - the name of the attribute queried for
// start   - pointer to a DWORD where the beginning of the range is stored
// end     - pointer to a DWORD where the end of the range is stored
PCHAR * GetRangeValue(LDAP *ld, LDAPMessage *entry, char *atttype, DWORD *start, DWORD *end)
    BOOL  rangefound = FALSE;
    BerElement *ptr = NULL;
    char *attdescr;
    PCHAR *vals = NULL;
    // Verify that the server sent the atttype requested.
    attdescr = ldap_first_attribute(ld, entry, &amp;ptr);
    while ((NULL != attdescr) &amp;&amp; !rangefound) {
        while ((NULL != attdescr) &amp;&amp; !(rangefound = ParseRange(atttype, attdescr, start, end))) {
            attdescr = ldap_next_attribute(ld, entry, ptr);
        vals = ldap_get_values(ld, entry, attdescr);
        if (!vals || !(vals[0])) {
            if (vals) {
                vals = NULL;
            rangefound = FALSE;
            attdescr = ldap_next_attribute(ld, entry, ptr);

    ber_free(ptr, 0);
    return vals;

// ParseRange
// Given an attribute description returned from and LDAP directory, this
// function parses any range option found. If the attribute description
// does not have the attribute type passed in the ParseRange will return
// FALSE. Otherwise ParseRange returns TRUE on success.
// atttype  - The attribute name queried for.
// attdescr - The attribute description returned from the server.
// start    - Pointer to a DWORD where the start of the range will be stored on
//            return. Set to 0 if there is no range option.
// end      - Pointer to a DWORD where the end of the range will be stored on
//            return. Set to -1 if there is no range option.
BOOL ParseRange(char *atttype, char *attdescr, DWORD *start, DWORD *end)
    int atttypelen, attdescrlen;
    char *rangestring = "range=";
    int rangestringlen = strlen(rangestring);
    char *optionstart;
    BOOL rangefound = FALSE;
    char *startstring, *endstring;
    int i;

    if (!_stricmp(atttype, attdescr)) {
        // The attribute was returned without options.
        *start =  0;
        *end   = -1;
        return TRUE;

    atttypelen = strlen(atttype);
    attdescrlen = strlen(attdescr);

    if ( (atttypelen > attdescrlen) ||
         (';' != attdescr[atttypelen]) ||
         (_strnicmp(atttype, attdescr, atttypelen))
        return FALSE;

    // It is the correct attribute type. Verify that if there is a range option.
    // Start verification after the first semicolon.
    *start = 0;
    *end = -1;
    optionstart = attdescr + atttypelen + 1;

    do {
        if ((attdescrlen - (optionstart - attdescr)) < rangestringlen) {

            // No space left in the string for range option.
            optionstart = attdescr + attdescrlen;

        } else if (!_strnicmp(optionstart, rangestring, rangestringlen)) {

            // Found a range string. Ensure that it looks like what is expected
            // and then parse it.
            startstring = optionstart + rangestringlen;
            for (i=0; isdigit(startstring[i]); i++);

            if ((0 != i) &amp;&amp; 
                ('-' == startstring[i]) &amp;&amp; 
                ( ('*' == startstring[i+1]) || 
                // Acceptable. Finish parsing.
                endstring = &amp;startstring[i + 1];

                *start = strtol(startstring, NULL, 10);
                if ('*' == endstring[0]) {
                    *end = -1;
                } else {
                    *end = strtol(endstring, NULL, 10);
                rangefound = TRUE;
        // If necessary, advance to the next option.
        if (!rangefound) {
            while (('\0' != *optionstart) &amp;&amp; (';' != *optionstart)) {
            // Skip the semicolon.
    } while (!rangefound &amp;&amp; (attdescrlen > (optionstart - attdescr)));

    return TRUE;

// ConstructRangeAtt
// This function constructs an attribute description with a range option
// attached. This function returns the number of bytes of buffer required
// for the attribute description. If the returned number is larger than 
// outbuflen, then nothing was written to outbuf, and ConstructRangeAtt should
// be called again with at least the amount of buffer returned.
// atttype   - The name of the attribute with the range option.
// start     - The start of the range.
// end       - The end of the range.
// outbuf    - The buffer where the attribute description will be constructed.
// outbuflen - The length, in bytes, of outbuf.
int ConstructRangeAtt(char *atttype, DWORD start, DWORD end, char *outbuf, int outbuflen)
    char startstring[11], endstring[11];
    int  requiredlen;

    startstring[10] = endstring[10] = '\0';

    // Calculate buffer space required.
    _snprintf_s(startstring, 10, "%u", start);
    if (-1 == end) {
        strcpy_s(endstring, "*");
    } else {
        _snprintf_s(endstring, 10, "%u", end);

    requiredlen = strlen(atttype) + strlen(startstring) + strlen(endstring);
    // Add in space for ';range=' and '-' and the terminating null.
    requiredlen += 9;

    // Verify that enough space was passed in.
    if (outbuflen < requiredlen) {
        return requiredlen;

    _snprintf_s(outbuf, outbuflen-1, "%s;range=%s-%s", atttype, startstring, endstring);
    outbuf[outbuflen-1] = '\0';

    return requiredlen;