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Facebook Messenger tech to glue 50bn-strong Internet of Stuff

Machine blabber protocol backed by Cisco, IBM et al

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A communications protocol for the Internet of Things - the posh name for a future global network of 50 billion interconnected gadgets - has been chosen by a top standards body.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), best known for its OpenDocument format, will adopt and promote the MQTT system to get fridges, kettles, thermostats and all manner of other electronics talking to each other.

MQTT - Message Queuing Telemetry Transport - has been around for a decade, and is used to deliver Facebook Messenger chitchat to mobiles. Being endorsed by OASIS members including Cisco, IBM, Red Hat and the Eclipse Foundation should cement the standard into the lingua franca for the Internet of Things (IoT).

OASIS was set up to prevent SGML - the basis for HTML and XML - becoming fragmented beyond utility, and is responsible for numerous industry-specific XML schemas as well as endorsing more to encourage interoperable adoption.

MQTT has its own technical committee within OASIS which will be responsible for defining best practices in applying the standard as well as discussing possible enhancements to better serve the IoT industry.

The standard is very lightweight, both in utility and complexity (the standard itself only runs to 42 pages in this PDF) so it is well suited to the light switches and door sensors expected to make up our connected world. The model is publish-subscribe, so messages are posted to a broker which serves them to interested parties by topic, reducing the need for end-to-end connectivity.

Messages contain a topic and payload, and are assigned a priority level from zero to two. Level zero is "fire and forget", level one messages will be acknowledged while level two are delivered only once, and that's about as complicated as it gets.

There are a few open-source message brokers available for anyone who wants to play with the standard, including the elegantly simple Mosquitto, and IBM has a free book (PDF) showing how it can be done and why one might do it.

If we're really going to have 50 billion things doing machine-to-machine communication, then a super-lightweight messaging protocol is certainly worth having. If the specification can be kept so delightfully short then there is no reason why MQTT shouldn't be part of the glue of the Internet of Things. ®

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