Hopefully this is a quick answer: I'm starting some work with Azure AD and a term I'm seeing over and over is an Azure AD "tenant". It seems to be synonymous and used interchangeably with an Azure AD "directory", but is it?

I'm probably just being pedantic, and I'm guessing it's obvious to everyone else, but nothing I can find explains this plainly. This is the closest thing I've found and even that makes a jump I can't follow, switching terms from "tenant" to "directory" without explaining:

With the identity platform provided by Microsoft Azure, a tenant is simply a dedicated instance of Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) that your organization receives and owns when it signs up for a Microsoft cloud service such as Azure or Office 365.

Each Azure AD directory is distinct and separate from other Azure AD directories. Just like a corporate office building is a secure asset specific to only your organization, an Azure AD directory [...]

Can anyone just confirm the relationship between these two terms, for the record?


You are correct, in order to use Azure AD you must become a "tenant" within the system. So a tenant is basically just securing a .onmicrosoft.com sub-domain. At that point you would have one account registered in your Azure AD. From there, you can activate Office365, Intune or any of the Azure services.

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  • 2
    Thanks, so the precise relationship between the terms is, then: an AD "tenant" is an account on Azure AD (in the usual sense of being a tenant on a multi-tenant system) that comes with a subdomain, etc. plus an associated AD "directory"? This comports pretty much with what I've seen so far. – user1454265 Oct 23 '15 at 15:20
  • Yes, that's how I would describe it. – Jennelle Crothers Oct 25 '15 at 6:02
  • @JennelleCrothers You can have multiple AAD directories, correct? Under the same tenant? Or is it a one to one relationship? – James Wierzba May 25 '17 at 0:11
  • You can have multiple AAD directories assigned to a single subscription. – Jennelle Crothers May 26 '17 at 6:05
  • How does a subscription relate to an AD tenant? Are they synonyms, or is there a technical difference? – dthrasher Jul 23 '17 at 16:32

I don't have enough rep to comment on the other answer, but the comment "You can have multiple AAD directories assigned to a single subscription." is not correct per the documentation, rather the opposite. https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/active-directory/active-directory-how-subscriptions-associated-directory

Multiple subscriptions can trust the same directory, but each subscription trusts only one directory.

My understanding is that "tenant" and "directory" are basically used interchangeably in the Active Directory documentation. I think it's just more convenient to use "tenant" sometimes since the title of the service is "Active Directory" so referring to an "Active Directory directory", for example, would be confusing.

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You may find this blog post and associated diagram helpful:

The author's answer to your question seems to depend on how you obtain your Azure,

many of you would be setup with Azure in the middle (account) [tenant] level by possibly using a credit card or other type of licensing. Or some might be setup with the bottom level only in the case of CSP licensing.

Azure account / tenant / subscription hierarchy

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Azure tenant A dedicated and trusted instance of Azure AD that's automatically created when your organization signs up for a Microsoft cloud service subscription, such as Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Intune, or Office 365. An Azure tenant represents a single organization.

Azure AD directory Each Azure tenant has a dedicated and trusted Azure AD directory. The Azure AD directory includes the tenant's users, groups, and apps and is used to perform identity and access management functions for tenant resource

source: What is Azure AD

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Simply put, an instance of Azure AD is what an organization receives when the organization creates a relationship with Microsoft such as signing up for Azure, Microsoft Intune, or Microsoft 365.

A tenant is similar to a forest in an on-premise environment.

An Active Directory forest (AD forest) is the topmost logical container in an Active Directory configuration that contains domains, users, computers, and group policies

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