The best way to set up Homebridge
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Then open source bridge solution known as Homebridge is a great way to expand the capabilities of your HomeKit setup. As an unofficial open-source project, though, it does demand some extra knowledge and a willingness to tinker to an extent.
Previously you wouldn’t even consider it without some significant Linux knowledge and a very hobbyist mindset, as it needs a lot of command-line massaging and editing of config files.
To help simplify this experience and open up the benefits of Homebridge to a whole lot more people, the community run HOOBS project was created.
What is HOOBS?
HOOBS stands for Homebridge Out Of Box System. Essentially it’s an enhanced version of Homebridge that adds some very nice use facing features and comes on a pre-built image to avoid you needing to set things up yourself.
The enhancements include a very slick web-based interface to largely negate the need to manage config files directly, a certification program for plugins to help guide you to well established and supported options, and user friendly monitoring for your Homebridge server so you can more easily see what’s going on and resolve issues (or at least know what issues to ask for help with).
HOOBS offers three ways to get your initial setup done and have a server up and running quickly. In order of increasing cost these are:
Download the image and image a Micro SD card yourself.
Buy just a pre-imaged Micro SD card you can plug into and existing Raspberry Pi.
Buy a pre-configured Raspberry Pi based device directly from them.
Setting up HOOBS
What You’ll need
The cheapest option is the most DIY. But it’s not a huge challenge. You’ll need an inexpensive Raspberry Pi device to use as your server and a Micro SD card to put the image on, unless you’ve opted to buy a pre-imaged one.
HOOBS will run on a Raspberry Pi 3b+ or 4, but the 4 will give you better video streaming performance if you want to run cameras through it. Officially you can run it with 1GB of RAM, but I’d go for a at least 2GB model for a little more wiggle room.
I’ve gone with this CanaKit Raspberry Pi 4 Starter Kit, as it has everything you need to get started, including the case. You’ll want that so you can stick the server somewhere out of the way and know it won’t get damaged.
For the Micro SD card, a high performance 8GB or 16GB model is what you want. This Samsung EVO Class 10 is perfect. You’ll need a way to plug this into your computer to install the image, so if you don’t have a Micro SD slot or reader you might just want to go for a higher model kit, like this one that has a 32GB card and a USB reader included.
1 - Prepare the Image
If you’ve opted to buy a pre-imaged card, skip to step 2.
The HOOBS project is offering the image for free, but they do ask for a small donation to support their efforts. On the download page the price field is editable, and you can put 0 if you wish, but if you’re going to be depending on this to run part of your smart home it’s probably worth supporting them with a few bucks.
Thew download will get you a zip file with a standard .img file inside. Just unzip that ready for selecting with the imaging tool you’ll use.
The Micro SD card will need a little prep. If it’s a fresh one, just a quick format with FAT32 is sufficient, but if its one that came with the Raspberry Pi, you’ll be best to delete any existing partitions on it and make a new one to format.
I could write a whole other tutorial on using the various imaging tools, but this one from SparkFun will do nicely as it points you to the downloads for the imaging tools for each platform and steps through the (fairly simple) process.
2 - Boot up the system
Regardless of the option you chose to get here, we just need to plug in the Raspberry Pi, insert the Micro SD card and power it on.
One of the nice features of HOOBS is that it prepares itself to join you network without you needing to connect a keyboard, mouse and monitor. The Pi will boot and set up it’s own temporary WiFi network similar to many other smart devices.
Check the WiFi network list on your computer or iPhone and you should see a HOOBS network. Join that and you’ll be presented with a web page to select your WiFi network and enter the passphrase. Of course you can just use wired Ethernet if you prefer and skip this step.
If you have a monitor plugged in on boot you’ll see the image on the left, once you join the HOOBS wifi you’ll get the page on the right.
If all goes well your HOOBS server will now be on your Network. If the join fails, the HOOBS network will reappear a few minutes later and you can try again.
3 - Connect to your server
You should now be able to access the web interface for your new server. On any web browser on the same network, just type in ‘hoobs.local’. You’ll get the HOOBS startup screen for a few minutes while the system gets itself ready, then you’ll see a box where you need to set up an administrator account and password. Make sure you record these details.
That’s it, you’ll be taken to the dashboard and you’re up and running. The next step is to add your new bridge to HomeKit. A standard HomeKit join QR code is right there on the dashboard, so just add a new accessory in the Home app on your iPhone and scan the code with your camera when prompted.
Naturally you won’t have any plugins installed yet, so it’s not going to do much. But HOOBS makes that easier too.
4 - Adding your first plugin
If you’re gone through all this trouble you probably know what accessory you want to add first. You’ll need to search for that in the Plugin section of the interface. Homebridge has two kinds of plugins, called Accessories and Platforms.
An accessory is a device that cash be directly controlled by HomeKit, where a Platform requires communication via the vendor’s web service.
A platform plugin won’t require anything more to be added once it’s configured in HOOBS, but an Accessory needs you to add individual devices in the Accessories section after installing the plugin. This is done simply from the plugin configuration screen.
Let’s install a platform plugin for Ring cameras. Click on the Plugin icon on the tool bar, then click on Search. Enter the accessory or brand you’re looking for in the search field, in this case ‘ring’.
In this case it’s an easy one, as the Ring plugin is pretty popular and well supported. You can tell that easily by the HOOBS Certified badge at the top of the listing. In the screen shot it’s already installing, you just click on the Install button and let it do it’s thing.
Once installed you’ll have the plugin now listed in the Plugins section. The buttons will change to show Details, Uninstall, and possibly an Update and Configuration option depending on the plugin.
In the case of the Ring plugin, there are quite a lot of options under there, and it’s a bit special in that it has an extra step required to work with Ring’s two-factor authentication, that’s detailed here. Of course, most plugins won’t need that level of setup.
Additional Features of HOOBS
The HOOBS web interface adds a number of nice features to help manage your Homebridge instance. Key among these is a clean and easy to use configuration interface for managing the various settings of the server, including network ports, localization details, and HomeKit settings for the bridge.
An easy to access live view of the system log is right there on the toolbar, which is vital for diagnosing issues and knowing what to ask if you need help. Equally handy is an Advanced view of your Homebridge configuration file, which allows you to check and edit things directly in the interface if required.
Finally, the ability to back up and restore your configuration easily provides a valuable tool when adding new plugins and making changes to an established HOOBS setup. Nothing is more frustrating than having a chunk of your smart home fall over for some unexplained reason due to a bad plugin or a broken configuration file.
While the web interface is nicely presented and functional, you may want a more tailored management tool for use on your iPhone. The project does not yet have their own mobile app, but Homemanager by Joachim Polenthon offers an excellent modern app interface with all the features you need to manage HOOBS.
While not free, Joachim offers a 14 day trial with a reasonable one-time purchase in-app upgrade.
Homebridge can be a very useful addition to any HomeKit setup, and enables a wide range of unsupported products and services to be added to your smart home. Using HOOBS is a great way to get this up and running, and offers a range of user friendly enhancements over a standard Homebridge install.
Keep in mind, though, that we’re still dealing with a community supported project, and things can break from time to time. There is a lot of support out there, and the HOOBS community adds another layer to this on top of the general enthusiast support for Homebridge.
HOOBS makes it easier to see what is wrong, and get the info you need to ask for help, as well as making access to the system easier in the event something does need to be fixed. While it’s still not for the casual user, any HomeKit enthusiast that wants to get more devices working with Siri and automations should certainly look at getting into this.