Understanding MQTT for IoT: The Backbone of IoT Communication using ESP-IDF and ESP32

MQTT for IoT using ESP-IDF and ESP32 | Innovate Yourself


In the rapidly evolving landscape of the Internet of Things (IoT), efficient communication between devices is paramount. MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport) stands out as a robust protocol for lightweight and reliable data exchange in IoT ecosystems. In this blog post, we will delve into the fundamentals of MQTT and demonstrate its implementation using the ESP-IDF framework on the ESP32 platform.

What is MQTT for IoT?

MQTT for IoT is a publish-subscribe messaging protocol designed for constrained devices and low-bandwidth, high-latency, or unreliable networks. Its simplicity and efficiency make it a popular choice for IoT applications where minimizing overhead and conserving resources are critical.

Key Concepts of MQTT for IoT:

1. Publish-Subscribe Model:

  • In MQTT, devices communicate through a publish-subscribe model.
  • A device can publish messages to a specific topic, and other devices subscribe to receive messages on that topic.

2. Topics:

  • Topics are strings used to categorize messages. Devices can publish messages to a topic or subscribe to receive messages from a specific topic.

3. Brokers:

  • MQTT for IoT communication relies on a broker, which acts as a middleman. Devices connect to the broker to publish or subscribe to topics.
  • The broker ensures the delivery of messages between publishers and subscribers.
MQTT for IoT using ESP-IDF and ESP32 | Innovate Yourself

Quality of Service (QoS) Levels in MQTT for IoT:

1. QoS 0 – At most once (Fire and Forget):

  • In QoS 0, also known as “Fire and Forget,” the message is sent by the publisher to the broker without any acknowledgment.
  • The broker delivers the message to the subscribers without confirmation, and it is up to the subscriber to handle the message reception.
  • This level is suitable for scenarios where occasional message loss is acceptable, and the emphasis is on low latency and minimal overhead.

2. QoS 1 – At least once (Acknowledged Delivery):

  • QoS 1 ensures that a message is delivered at least once to the intended subscribers. The publisher sends the message to the broker, and the broker acknowledges receipt.
  • If the acknowledgment is not received by the publisher, the message is resent.
  • This level provides a balance between reliability and efficiency, making it suitable for scenarios where occasional message duplication is acceptable, but delivery confirmation is crucial.

3. QoS 2 – Exactly once (Assured Delivery):

  • QoS 2 is the highest level of reliability, ensuring that a message is delivered exactly once to the subscribers.
  • It involves a four-step handshake process: publish, acknowledgment, publish received, and acknowledgment.
  • This level guarantees no message loss or duplication but comes with increased latency and overhead.
  • QoS 2 is appropriate for scenarios where guaranteed and non-duplicated message delivery is critical, such as financial transactions or critical command execution.

Setting QoS Levels in MQTT for IoT:

When implementing MQTT for IoT in your ESP-IDF and ESP32 project, you can set the desired QoS level for each message. Here’s an example of how to set the QoS level in MQTT publish and subscribe operations:

// Publishing a message with QoS 1
mqtt_publish_with_qos("topic", "Hello, MQTT!", MQTT_QOS_1);

// Subscribing to a topic with QoS 2
mqtt_subscribe_with_qos("topic_to_subscribe", MQTT_QOS_2);

Implementing MQTT with ESP-IDF and ESP32:

To demonstrate MQTT implementation, we will use the ESP-IDF framework and ESP32 microcontroller. The code examples can be found on GitHub.

Step 1: Set Up Your Development Environment

Ensure you have the ESP-IDF installed and configured on your system. You can refer to the official ESP-IDF documentation for guidance.

Step 2: Include MQTT Library in Your Project

Add the MQTT library to your ESP-IDF project by including the necessary dependencies. You can find the required libraries in the GitHub repository.

Step 3: Initialize MQTT Configuration

Initialize the MQTT configuration, including the broker’s address, port, and other settings.

#include "mqtt_client.h"

esp_mqtt_client_config_t mqtt_cfg = {
        .broker.address.uri = CONFIG_BROKER_URL,

Step 4: Connect to MQTT Broker

Establish a connection to the MQTT broker using the configured settings.


Step 5: Publish and Subscribe

Publish messages to a specific topic and subscribe to receive messages on that topic.

mqtt_publish("topic", "Hello, MQTT!");

Conclusion of MQTT for IoT:

MQTT serves as the backbone of IoT communication, providing a scalable and efficient solution for device-to-device interaction. Leveraging the ESP-IDF framework and ESP32 microcontroller, developers can easily integrate MQTT for IoT into their projects, enabling seamless communication in IoT applications.

By following the steps outlined in this blog post and referring to the provided code examples on GitHub, you can unlock the power of MQTT in your ESP32-based IoT projects. Stay connected, stay efficient!

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