Arduino talking MQTT to Node-Red

There are some great Arduino modules with integrated ESP-8266 wireless chips, some of the more popular modules are:

  • Adafruit HUZZAH
  • NodeMCU
  • WeMos

These modules allow you to do some interesting IoT (Internet of Things) projects. To connect the Arduino modules to PCs, Raspberry Pi’s or Linux nodes that are a number of communication choices. MQTT (Message Queue Telemetry Transport) is becoming one of the standards for this and it is pre-installed with Node-Red.

Plant Moisture Monitoring MQTT Example


For our example we wanted to do a simple plant moisture example that used a solar charger and an Arduino Wemos module. We then setup an MQTT server on our Node-Red Raspberry Pi with a web dashboard.

Our goal was to get the MQTT technologies working, with some moisture inputs (and not a final plant monitoring system).

Moisture Sensors

Moisture sensors are very low cost and they start at about $2. The basic moisture sensor has 3 inputs; VCC, GND, and AO. Some sensors also include a digital output with a potentiometer to adjust the digital 0-1 moisture limit.

Our Arduino plant moisture setup is good for testing but not a good long term solution. When voltage is applied long term to moisture sensors ionization in the soil will cause a combination of false reading and deterioration of the sensor plates. We plan to do a future project where we will use relays to turn the sensors on/off and we will include solenoid values in a watering system.

MQTT on Arduino

There are a number of excellent MQTT libraries for Arduino, for this example we used the PubSubClient library. This library can be installed from the Arduino IDE by selecting the menu items:

Sketch -> Add Library -> Manage Libraries

To get MQTT setup you’ll need to:

  • define the SSID and password for your WAN
  • define the IP address for the MQTT server (the Node Red/Raspberry Pi node)
  • define some topic for the data

The nice thing about MQTT is that you can define topics for each of your data points. For this example we define the topic humidity to show the moisture sensor value, and msgtext to show the message (‘Needs Water’ or ‘).

Below is our sample Arduino code for passing the moisture data to our MQTT server.

 Basic ESP8266 MQTT publish client example for a moisture sensor
#include <ESP8266WiFi.h>
#include <PubSubClient.h>

// Update these with values suitable for your network.
const char* ssid = "YOUR_SSID_NAME";
const char* password = "YOUR_PASSWORD";
const char* mqtt_server = "YOUR_NODE_RED_IP";

WiFiClient espClient;
PubSubClient client(espClient);

void setup_wifi() {
  // Connecting to a WiFi network
  WiFi.begin(ssid, password);
  while (WiFi.status() != WL_CONNECTED) {
  Serial.println("WiFi connected");
  Serial.println("IP address: ");

void reconnect() {
  // Loop until we're reconnected
  Serial.println("In reconnect...");
  while (!client.connected()) {
    Serial.print("Attempting MQTT connection...");
    // Attempt to connect
    if (client.connect("Arduino_Moisture")) {
    } else {
      Serial.print("failed, rc=");
      Serial.println(" try again in 5 seconds");

void setup() {
  client.setServer(mqtt_server, 1883);

void loop() {
  char msg[10];
  char msgtext[25];
  String themsg;
  if (!client.connected()) {
  int soil_moisture=analogRead(A0);  // read from analog pin A0
  Serial.print("analog value: ");
  if((soil_moisture>300)&&(soil_moisture<700)) {
    Serial.println("Humid soil");
    sprintf(msgtext,"Humid soil",soil_moisture);
  else if ((soil_moisture>700)&&(soil_moisture<950)){
    Serial.println("Moist Soil");
    sprintf(msgtext,"Moist Soil",soil_moisture);
  else if (soil_moisture <300) ){
    Serial.println("Needs water");    
    sprintf(msgtext,"Needs water",soil_moisture);
      sprintf(msgtext,"Sensor Problem",soil_moisture);

  client.publish("humidity", msg);
  client.publish("soil", msgtext);


Node-Red is an excellent visual programming environment that is part of the Raspberry Pi base install. Node-Red is a simple tool to create your own Internet of Things applications. The base Node-Red installation includes MQTT interfacing components but it does not include an MQTT server.

If you don’t have a Raspberry Pi you can install Node-Red on Window, Mac OS or Linux systems. I’ve had good results running Node-Red on a very old low end laptop running Xubuntu, (see steps 1-3 in this linked guide).

MQTT Server on Node-Red

There are a number of free internet MQTT servers ( that can be used or an MQTT server can be loaded directly on a local server (i.e. Mosquito).

Mosca is a standalone MQTT server that can be installed directly into Node-Red. The Mosca Node-Red component can be either installed at the command line by:

cd $HOME/.node-red

npm install node-red-contrib-mqtt-broker

Or the component can be install within the Node-Red web interface by selecting the “manage palette” option, and then search for mosca.


After Mosca is installed, all that is required is that a “mosca” node needs to be dragged and dropped into the Node-Red project.


To connect the Arduino module to Node-Red mqtt inputs are added to the project.  The Arduino topics are defined in Node-Red by double-clicking on the mqtt node and then define the topic to match the Arduino topic.


After the MQTT connections are configured Web dashboards can present the final data. The Web dashboards offer a number of different components that could be used for this example I used a gauge and a text node.

To compile and view the Node-Red application, click on the Deploy button on the right side of the menu bar. To access the web dashboard enter: http://your-ip:1880/ui . Below is a example of what you should see.


Final Thoughts

The Mosca MQTT server component allows for a simple standalone architecture to connect wireless Arduino modules into a Node-Red IoT solution.

We can also load Node-Red on Raspberry Pi data collection nodes, and have them publish data to a central Node-Red server.




House Music

Our goal was to have the same music playing throughout the house, and then use a phone to control the music station and volume.


For this project we used a technology called MQTT (Message Queue Telemetric Transport). MQTT is based on the following standard concepts:
– MQTT Broker manages and distributes messages
– MQTT Publisher a source for the data
– MQTT Subscriber an application that wants the data


Pi Setup

On the Raspberry Pi’s we needed to load a Python MQTT library and a music player (mpd – music server, mpc – music client):

sudo pip install paho-mqtt
sudo apt-get install mpd mpc

The key commands to manage playing of Internet radio stations are:
mpc add radio station url– this will add a radio station to a play list
mpc play play list number – play a selected play list
mpc volume number – change the volume from 0-100%
– mpc clear – clear the play lists

Internet radio stations can be found by going to To find a radio station URL right click on any of the radio station links and select “Copy link address”

On each of the Pi’s the Python program subscribes to an MQTT topic called Radio. New Internet Radio Stations are passed as strings, and new volume settings are passed as numbers between 0 and 100. For this application the MQTT payload could be either an integer or a string so a decode function (msg.payload.decode(“utf-8”)) is used to convert from a byte array to a generic string.

When a new radio station is received:
– the current play list is cleared (mpc clear),
– the new radio station is added to the play list (mpc add),
– the volume is reset to it’s original (mpc volume), and
– the radio station is played (mpc play).

If the payload is numeric only the volume is changed. The full Pi Python program is shown below:

# - have MQTT change Internet Radio Stations
import paho.mqtt.client as mqtt
import os

thevolume = 75  # save the volume

# Subscribe to topic: Radio

def on_connect(client, userdata, flags, rc):
  print("Connected with result code "+str(rc))

def on_message(client, userdata, msg):
  global thevolume
  print( msg.payload)
  themsg = msg.payload.decode("utf-8")
  # if the message is a number it's the volume
  if themsg.isnumeric():
    thevolume = themsg
    os.system("mpc volume " + thevolume)
  # if the message is a string it's the station URL
    os.system("mpc clear")
    os.system("mpc add '" + themsg + "'")
    os.system("mpc volume " + thevolume)
    os.system("mpc play")

client = mqtt.Client()

client.on_connect = on_connect
client.on_message = on_message

print ("Waiting for messages .....")

Web Page Setup

On the Web page the Paho JavaScript client is used to connect to an MQTT broker. It is important to note that the JavaScript interface uses Web Sockets to communicate with the MQTT broker, (typically on port 80) rather than the native MQTT port of 1883. If you install your own MQTT broker, you will need check the document for Web Socket setup and support.


The final Web page that we used is listed below.