ESP8266 the unstoppable March of Progress

esp01I’ve been following the progress of this little chipset as you know since day one – having spend a year more developing skills at using horrible little NRF24L01 radios with as much indoor range as my legs – and Arduino Ethernet cards (which to be fair are WONDERFUL other than their need for a marriage-endangering WIRE), out of the blue came a little Chinese board with the potential to change everything. The ESP-01 showed much promise but very little reality at first. The instructions were in Chinese, the documentation was in Chinese or missing, people told me “there are these other boards for only a tenner that do so much more”.

And yet here we are today with much of that about to change. The new so called white ESP8266 board with it’s development “kit” for less than a tenner is winging it’s way to me now – and the ESP-12 boards are neat and even have approval stickers to keep people happy not to mention a health range of I/O.

There are now a range of boards, all cheap  (there is a question mark over the ESP-07 – not for the first time I’ve heard there are 2 versions one of which is “suspect”) – and the ESP-01 remaining, I think true to my original statement – the title of one of my blogs “the cheapest computer in the world”. At under £2 tell me I’m wrong. 1 plug in the wall power supply , one ESP-01, one cheap solid state relay and you have a functioning WIFI-controlled device – with the right software that is.

But like all such devices, software makes or breaks this dream and in recent weeks we’ve seen the emergence of the ECLIPSE environment for Windows – I’m sure there are many such environments for Linux – and others will blog about them – I’m not interested in the command line and haven’t been for a long time. Eclipse and the tremendous work by the fellow who set this all up for us – means everyone from expert to complete beginner can “have a go”.

This week however is a bit special – we have in one corner TUAN and his MQTT code – on the other corner we have ZERODAY and his LUA interpreter – ( I really should find out everyone’s proper names) and this weekend – they look like merging.  I’m hoping that the MQTT code will continue to be developed independently of LUA as I think there are uses for both. I DO have code that WORKS – it’s not just a promise. We have some great tools such as Esplorer for testing Lua and the AT command set.

I can’t tell you what is possible with the software and hardware out there – all I can tell you is what I’m doing and why – I hope my blogs up to date have given you all the links you need. For days now I’ve been testing the MQTT software – and as far as I can tell there is only one “bug” left of note and it’s not even a bug – it’s an inconvenience – something to “wrapped up” – essentially the code works – but it’ not too happy about empty messages. I expect right now that is being fixed and I am so grateful to so many authors who have communicated, helped, changed things – in the main for no commercial gain – because they love it.. it’s almost like the days of the first 8-bit micros – the rush of learning.  Meanwhile I got an email this morning to say that MQTT and LUA were merging and a test set of .BIN files was available.

So, despite a head that is spinning like a TOP due to flu, this afternoon I set up a test rig…  let me take you through that quickly… erm… it works but read on as you need the bits that come before it.

The plot so far:

In order to use MQTT as the base of your control system (in my humble version of this vastly diverse Internet of Things) you need an “MQTT broker” running somewhere and it needs to be reliable – ROCK SOLID. In my case I have a Synology Diskstation (the link is an example – mine is not white) and with a little help I got the free MOSQUITTO running on it – you could put this on an old PC, a Linux box – just about anything with a brain – but it needs to be reliable. There are services out there – the free ones they generally warn you not to rely on them – so I’m not going to – I’ll have my own thanks – I’ve talked about several variations elsewhere – at the end of it I went with Mosquitto.  My disk backup DISKSTATION is on 24-7 so it seemed the ideal place for this. As for testing Mosquitto on a PC – you are not going to beat the EXCELLENT MQTT-SPY.

So now a place to fire messages to – and a place to receive them from… and the software tools for ESP8266 to send and receive those messages – the sky is the limit. But what about issues people have had – swapping modes – you might need the time from a time server for your little board or some other info. Well, I found a way around that.   MOSQUITTO is on all the time – what is needed is for it to make available info to the little boards, be it time, lighting up time, perhaps other information.  I found a PHP library – the nice kind – the type you don’t actually have to understand to use.  Some time ago I documented a web page I was using to fire back time and other information – I used it as I found NTP time servers to be slow at times.  I have cheap web space with a provider much as many of you will – with CPANEL – which means I get all the benefits of using a reliable Linux based web service while staying within my pretty coloured boxes visual interface comfort zone (I’m sure there’s an abbreviation for that).

With such a setup you can write PHP pages like one that will send time messages for example and with the ability to run those pages on demand using CRON (doddle) you can make the time and over information available to your toys.

Here’s the deal.


$mqtt = new phpMQTT("", 1884, "somenamePub");
if ($mqtt->connect(TRUE,NULL,"mymqttuser","mymqttpass")) {
            if ($_GET[‘loc’]!="") $locn= $_GET[‘loc’];
            if ($_GET[‘lat’]!="") $lat= $_GET[‘lat’];
            if ($_GET[‘lon’]!="") $lon= $_GET[‘lon’];
            $dateTimeZoneLocal = new DateTimeZone($locn);
            $dateTimeLocal = new DateTime("now", $dateTimeZoneLocal);
            $localDateTime = date("H:i l d-m-y", time());
            $sun_info = date_sun_info($localTime, $lon, $lat);
            foreach ($sun_info as $key => $val) {
                if ($key==’civil_twilight_end’) $mqtt->publish("dusk",$val %86400),0);
                if ($key==’civil_twilight_begin’) $mqtt->publish("dawn",$val %86400,0);

No knocking my coding please – I do not profess to be a PHP expert – indeed – can you think of decent extra publications this page could produce for the little gadgets? If so lets have those ideas! 

This web page connects to your MOSQUITTO or other MQTT broker and every minute (every week if you want – my choice of every minute – gadget turns on – worse case it waits a minute to know the time) I am here publishing 4 items – the TIME in standard seconds-since-1970 format, British lighting up time (DUSK) in seconds since midnight, DAWN in seconds since midnight and TIMESTRING for those with no space in their project to format the time. ANY of my gadgets can choose to subscribe to these  publications – or not. And as you can imagine I’m planning more publications – timed an otherwise. The server load of the above is irrelevant – I don’t see anyone’s provider griping about this.

So – the people I’ve been with keep my web pages up and running 24-7 and and have done for as long as I can remember – why would I not trust this info.

And all of this brings us around to LUA+MQTT – possible only since this morning!!!

Check this out. Sorry it’s not formatted.

mqtt = net.createConnection(net.TCP, 0)
— init mqtt client with keepalive timer 30sec
mqtt:mqtt("myid", 30, "mymqttuser", "Tmqttpassmakeitagoodone")

— on publish message receive event
mqtt:on("receive", function(conn, topic, data) print(topic .. ":" .. data) end)
— on connection event (all event inherit from net module)
mqtt:on("connection", function(con) print("connected") end)
— subscribe topic with qos = 0
mqtt:subscribe("time",0, function(conn) print("subscribe success") end)
— publish a message
— mqtt:send("/topic","hello",0,0, function(conn) print("sent") end)

print (node.heap())

mqtt:subscribe("temperature",0, function(conn) print("subscribe success") end)

mqtt:send("dusk","hmm",0,0, function(conn) print("sent") end)

THAT which you see above and the code to log into your access point (which, once entered should stay there) is it – that code is all I had to put in – to have the little board be subscribing to time, dusk, dawn and temperature from another device (oh – a pair of minuses means comment – you need to see how to publish).

The REST is what you do with such info – Lua has timers (to keep that time going if you lose the internet connection) and GPIO control – to do things – already discussed previously – I’ve had a solid state relay running directly off the board and powering a mains lamp.

And that is it for now – the information isn’t here – it’s out there – check out the links here and in my previous blogs and bear in mind that before Christmas I knew NOTHING about compiling this stuff and I was determined determined not to get into Linux (and still successfully avoiding it)  – I’m now just about ready to openhabproperly embark on some real projects with real control in the comfort of my pretty-coloured Windows environment…  I hope that by putting all of this in one place gives you a head start.

For my next challenge – OpenHab but I think I’ll wait until the flu has gone – this one’s not going to be easy.