Node-RED’s cool GUI for the Internet of Things

Node-RED and a quick IRC bot flow
Node-RED and a quick IRC bot flow
The latest version, 0.5.0 of IBM’s Apache licensed, incredibly useful and very cool Node-RED has landed but before going further, I suspect a lot of readers will want to know what Node-RED is.

There’s usually a lot of connecting of things involved with making the Internet of Things do something useful. Whether it be detecting messages on Twitter, listening to IRC, watching a Websocket or grabbing a web page, each source then needs to be processed and if required make something happen. Now, you can write a lot of code to do that or you can check out Node-RED. Billing itself as a “Visual tool for connecting the Internet of Things”, Node-RED is built atop of Node.js and offers a graphical world of IoT building blocks in the browser for you to wire up as needed and test.

Those building blocks, nodes in Node-RED, start with the simple, inject to send something, function to process it using JavaScript and debug to see what is being sent. They then build up to more powerful capabilities such as Http requests, MQTT subscription and publication, WebSocket listening and writing, tcp and udp comms and sentiment analysis. To connect up to social networks, nodes for Twitter and IRC listening and publishing are included. There’s also file storage, logical switches, data manipulation and delay nodes and, for the brave, even a node which will exec a process on the system.

Each node can be placed, configured and its outputs connected to other nodes inputs in the Node-RED GUI, and with the click of the Deploy button, put into action. New nodes can be created and plugged into the system too and there’s a repository of user created extra nodes available.

But, you say, where’s the Internet of Things in this? Well, Node-RED is able to work with Arduinos (connected via USB to host computers over serial or Firmata protocols) or run directly on Raspberry Pi (with GPIO and wiring-Pi modules) and the BeagleBone Black (with BoneScript access). And, obviously, you can write your own plugin nodes to connect up whatever hardware or devices you need to access.

Node-RED is a very capable tool and worth adding to your toolkit. For example, while writing this I was also prototyping an IRC bot which did basic sentiment analysis and commented in the channel. Why not give it a go over the coming holidays? You can download Node-RED from the website or you can find it on GitHub. Documentation including a quick tutorial on creating flows, along with instructions on writing function nodes, creating new nodes, embedding Node-RED into existing applications and running it with Arduino, Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone Black.

The latest version, which we mentioned at the start, has new visuals for showing the deployment state of nodes and handles the idea of “unknown nodes” visually when importing a flow from someone who’s used nodes you haven’t got yet. There’s also new user and direct message tracking in the Twitter node, session aware TCP and WebSocket nodes, enhancements to the MQTT node for authentication and client ID, an “otherwise” option in the Switch node, selectable data delimiters for the serial node and a HTTP Request node that follows 301s. The contributed nodes now include a Snapchat node and a Phillips Hue mode.

The Node-RED developers are now looking at making new nodes installable with npm, Node.js’s package manager, and tackling the separation of the administration UI from the runtime so it’s more easily deployed into future production scenarios.

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