MQTT Principles

The MQTT protocol is based on client-server communication. It defines three roles: publisher, broker, and subscriber. The publisher and the subscriber serve as the Client, which can both publish and subscribe messages. The broker acts as the Server. Figure 9.1 shows the architecture of the protocol.

Figure 9.1. Architecture of MQTT protocol
  1. Client: a device running MQTT applications, such as smartphones and controlled devices. It can work as a publisher or subscriber. A Client always connects to the Server over the network. It can:

    • Publish application messages that other Clients might be interested in.
    • Subscribe to request application messages that it is interested in receiving.
    • Unsubscribe to remove a request for application messages.
    • Disconnect from the Server.
  2. Server: a broker that acts as an intermediary between Clients publishing application messages and Clients requesting to subscribe to them, such as cloud platforms and cloud servers. It can:

    • Accept network connections from Clients.
    • Accept application messages published by Clients.
    • Process subscribe and unsubscribe requests from Clients.
    • Forward application messages that match Client subscriptions.
  3. Subscription: comprising a Topic Filter and a maximum QoS. It is associated with a single Session, while a Session may contain multiple Subscriptions. Each Subscription within a session has a different Topic Filter.

  4. Topic: the label attached to an application message. It is matched against the Subscriptions known to the Server. The Server sends a copy of the application message to each Client that has a matching Subscription.

  5. Topic Filter: an expression contained in a Subscription, indicating an interest in one or more topics. A Topic Filter can include wildcard characters to represent single or multiple characters.

  6. Session: a stateful interaction between a Client and a Server from the start to the end of a connection. Some Sessions last only as long as the Network Connection.

  7. Publish/Subscribe: the core of the MQTT protocol. It allows communication between subscribers and publishers without knowledge of each other's IP address or port number. Direct connection is not even necessary, and subscribers and publishers can operate without knowing each other's existence. Message exchanges between them are done by the broker, which filters all the published messages and then distributes them to the matching subscribers.

Both subscribers and publishers are concerned about the topic of the message. For example, a smartphone wants to check the status of a smart light A. In this case, the smartphone can act as a subscriber to subscribe to the message with the topic A/light_state from the broker. Smart light A can act as a publisher. When its state changes, it publishes a status message with the same topic to the broker. Then, the broker filters subscribers who have subscribed to the topic and publishes the status message to them. In this way, the smartphone can query the status of smart light A.