Monthly Archives: February 2018

A fun little MQTT program for the ESP8266

I know that last time I said I was going to start soldering, but I really wanted to play with the networking capabilities of the ESP8266 first.

There’s a bunch of example programs to do web requests, such as BasicHttpClient, HTTPSRequest, WifiClient, StreamHttpClient, etc. I had trouble getting these working because there’s no built in certificate store or TLS validation capabilities. That means you can’t do a “normal” HTTPS request to test services like RequestBin (since they’re HTTPS only). The example programs have you type in the server’s SHA1 thumbprint, but that didn’t seem to work for me. The certs I inspected were SHA256, which I assume is the problem.

Anyway, I’m not interested in doing HTTP in any of my project ideas right now, so I moved on to what I actually want to do, which is MQTT. Once again it was Hack-a-day that clued me in to this protocol, which is very popular for small devices & home automation. I started out looking for a “simplest possible MQTT example for ESP8266″ and didn’t find anything simple enough initially. Later I realized that there’s two great places to start looking for libraries & examples. First is the esp8266/Arduino repo on Github, which has a list of miscellaneous third party projects compatible with this specific chip. Second is in the Arduino IDE itself; the Library Manager is searchable:

Arduino Library Manager - Searching for "MQTT"

Arduino Library Manager – Searching for “MQTT”

The problem here is that which (if any) are actually good, useful, or correct for the ESP8266. The first search result in that screenshot is only for the “Arduino Uno Wifi Developer Edition”, for example.

Another challenge here is working through all the company branding. The second library listed, “Adafruit MQTT Library”, is ESP8266 compatible and comes with a “simple” example program to get started. However, it’s oriented around the Adafruit IO IoT web service (which is apparently a thing). I did get it to work with the local MQTT broker I’m running here on my PC, but I had to guess if might and try to peel away their extra stuff just to get to the bones.

The ESP8266 Github linked to lmroy/pubsubclient, which itself is a fork of knolleary/pubsubclient which seems more up to date. I don’t know why they’re linking to an out of date fork, except that it appears to more easily support “large” messages. The original has a default max packet size of 128 bytes, which might be too small for real apps, but I’m looking for a simple example so it should be fine.

Here’s a link to the example program from that repo:


The example is easy to set up; just punch in your Wifi access info & MQTT broker host name. Interestingly it does apparently support DNS… from working with the HTTP examples earlier, some of them used IP addresses rather than host names, so it wasn’t clear if DNS was supported in some of these network libraries. This one does, apparently.

Here’s what the output looks like. I’m running mosquitto 1.4.8 on my PC, with mosquitto_sub running in the lower panel subscribed to # (a wildcard, so all topic messages are shown).

Basic MQTT Example on the ESP8266

Basic MQTT Example on the ESP8266

Actual footage of me as this program was running

Actual footage of me as this program was running

I thought it would be fun to give the messages a little personality, so I found a list of all the voice lines from the turrets in Portal 2, copied them into a giant array, and now instead of “Hello World #37″ it’ll send something like “So what am I, uh, supposed to do here?” or “Well, I tried. Best of Luck!” once every few seconds.

Additionally, I made it so that the power LED blinks as it’s sending a message, as a little visual chirp to let you know it’s alive.


The code is here, and this version is a modification of the Adafruit MQTT example, rather than the other library linked above, because I wrote it before I discovered that simpler example. (Found the list of voice lines here, and removed a few dupes).