MQTT is a lightweight, publish-subscribe network protocol that transports messages between devices. The protocol usually runs over TCP/IP, however, any network protocol that provides ordered, lossless, bi-directional connections can support MQTT. It is designed for connections with remote locations where a resource constraints exist or the network bandwidth is limited. The protocol is an open OASIS standard and an ISO recommendation (ISO/IEC 20922).
7 March 2019
|Committee||OASIS Message Queuing Telemetry Transport Technical Committee|
|Editors||Andrew Banks (IBM), Ed Briggs (Microsoft), Ken Borgendale (IBM), Rahul Gupta (IBM)|
Andy Stanford-Clark (IBM) and Arlen Nipper (then working for Eurotech, Inc.) authored the first version of the protocol in 1999. It was used to monitor oil pipelines within the SCADA industrial control system. The goal was to have a protocol that is bandwidth-efficient, lightweight and uses little battery power, because the devices were connected via satellite link which, at that time, was extremely expensive.
Historically, the "MQ" in "MQTT" came from the IBM MQ (then 'MQSeries') MQ product line, where it stands for "Message Queue". However, the protocol provides publish-and-subscribe messaging (no queues, in spite of the name). In the specification opened by IBM as version 3.1 the protocol was referred to as "MQ Telemetry Transport". Subsequent versions released by OASIS strictly refers to the protocol as just "MQTT", although the technical committee itself is named "OASIS Message Queuing Telemetry Transport Technical Committee". Since 2013, "MQTT" does not stand for anything.
In 2013, IBM submitted MQTT v3.1 to the OASIS specification body with a charter that ensured only minor changes to the specification could be accepted. After taking over maintenance of the standard from IBM, OASIS released version 3.1.1 on October 29, 2014. A more substantial upgrade to MQTT version 5, adding several new features, was released on March 7, 2019.
The MQTT protocol defines two types of network entities: a message broker and a number of clients. An MQTT broker is a server that receives all messages from the clients and then routes the messages to the appropriate destination clients. An MQTT client is any device (from a micro controller up to a fully-fledged server) that runs an MQTT library and connects to an MQTT broker over a network.
Information is organized in a hierarchy of topics. When a publisher has a new item of data to distribute, it sends a control message with the data to the connected broker. The broker then distributes the information to any clients that have subscribed to that topic. The publisher does not need to have any data on the number or locations of subscribers, and subscribers, in turn, do not have to be configured with any data about the publishers.
If a broker receives a message on a topic for which there are no current subscribers, the broker discards the message unless the publisher of the message designated the message as a retained message. A retained message is a normal MQTT message with the retained flag set to true. The broker stores the last retained message and the corresponding QoS for the selected topic. Each client that subscribes to a topic pattern that matches the topic of the retained message receives the retained message immediately after they subscribe. The broker stores only one retained message per topic. This allows new subscribers to a topic to receive the most current value rather than waiting for the next update from a publisher.
When a publishing client first connects to the broker, it can set up a default message to be sent to subscribers if the broker detects that the publishing client has unexpectedly disconnected from the broker.
Clients only interact with a broker, but a system may contain several broker servers that exchange data based on their current subscribers' topics.
A minimal MQTT control message can be as little as two bytes of data. A control message can carry nearly 256 megabytes of data if needed. There are fourteen defined message types used to connect and disconnect a client from a broker, to publish data, to acknowledge receipt of data, and to supervise the connection between client and server.
MQTT relies on the TCP protocol for data transmission. A variant, MQTT-SN, is used over other transports such as UDP or Bluetooth.
MQTT sends connection credentials in plain text format and does not include any measures for security or authentication. This can be provided by using TLS to encrypt and protect the transferred information against interception, modification or forgery.
The default unencrypted MQTT port is 1883. The encrypted port is 8883.
The MQTT broker is software running on a computer (running on-premises or in the cloud), and could be self-built or hosted by a third party. It is available in both open source and proprietary implementations.
The broker acts as a post office, MQTT doesn't use the address of the intended recipient but uses the subject line called “Topic”, and anyone who wants a copy of that message will subscribe to that topic. Multiple clients can receive the message from a single broker (one to many capability). Similarly, multiple publishers can publish topics to a single subscriber (many to one).
Each client can both produce and receive data by both publishing and subscribing, i.e. the devices can publish sensor data and still be able to receive the configuration information or control commands (MQTT is a bi-directional communication protocol). This helps in both sharing data, managing and controlling devices.
With MQTT broker architecture, the devices and application becomes decoupled and more secure. MQTT uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption with user name, password protected connections, and optional certifications that requires clients to provide a certificate file that matches with the server’s. The clients are unaware of each other's IP address.
In case of a single source of failure, broker software and clients have an automatic handover to Redundant/automatic backup broker. The backup broker can also be set up to share the load of clients across multiple servers onsite, cloud, or the combination of both.
The broker can support both standard MQTT and MQTT for compliant specifications such as Sparkplug, can be done with same server, same time and with same levels of security.
The broker can store the data in the form of retained messages (need to subscribe with database client) so that new subscribers to the topic can get the last value straight away.
The broker also keeps track of all the session’s information as the devices goes on and off called “persistent sessions”.
The main advantages of MQTT broker are:
- Eliminates vulnerable and insecure client connections
- Can easily scale from a single device to thousands
- Manages and tracks all client connection states, including security credentials and certificates
- Reduced network strain without compromising the security (cellular or satellite network)
Waits for a connection to be established with the server and creates a link between the nodes.
Waits for the MQTT client to finish any work it must do, and for the TCP/IP session to disconnect.
Returns immediately to the application thread after passing the request to the MQTT client.
- Reason codes: Acknowledgements now support return codes, which provide a reason for a failure.
- Shared subscriptions: Allow the load to be balanced across clients and thus reduce the risk of load problems
- Message expiry: Messages can include an expiry date and are deleted if they are not delivered within this time period.
- Topic alias: The name of a topic can be replaced with a single number
Quality of service (QoS)Edit
- At most once - the message is sent only once and the client and broker take no additional steps to acknowledge delivery (fire and forget).
- At least once - the message is re-tried by the sender multiple times until acknowledgement is received (acknowledged delivery).
- Exactly once - the sender and receiver engage in a two-level handshake to ensure only one copy of the message is received (assured delivery).
This field does not affect handling of the underlying TCP data transmissions; it is only used between MQTT senders and receivers.
Several projects implement MQTT, for example:
- OpenHAB the Open-source software home automation platform embed an MQTT binding.
- The Open Geospatial Consortium SensorThings API standard specification has an MQTT extension in the standard as an additional message protocol binding. It was demonstrated in a US Department of Homeland Security IoT Pilot.
- Node-RED supports MQTT with TLS nodes as of version 0.14.
- Home Assistant the Open-source software home automation platform is MQTT enabled and offers four options for MQTT brokers.
- ejabberd supports MQTT as of version 19.02.
- Eclipse Foundation manages a Sparkplug protocol specification compatible with MQTT. It builds on top of MQTT adding requirements needed in real-time industrial applications.
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MQTT with TLS support
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The MQTT component needs you to run an MQTT broker for Home Assistant to connect to. There are four options, each with various degrees of ease of setup and privacy.
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- Official website
- Official website of Technical Committee
- MQTT Specifications
- MQTT-SN Specifications
- Version 1.2, 2013-11-14: PDF edition