openHAB is an open-source home automation project, aimed to be vendor and technology agnostic. It integrates with all kinds of devices and platforms. It also allows you to create rules and scripts to trigger when certain conditions are met. It offers a simple, built-in UI and native apps for Android and iOS. In this post we’ll look at what it takes to get up and running with openHAB and start communicating with an Insteon device.

The first step is to download the openHAB runtime core and addons. The runtime core has all the guts to get the system up and running. The system is Java based so you’ll need Java installed. This also means it should work on any platform that supports Java. The addon package allows you to selectively choose what openHAB loads so you only have the components that you really need in your system.

Runtime and Addon Downloads

Runtime and Addon Downloads

Another handy little tool to download is the openHAB Designer. It has some syntax highlighting and validation for the openHAB file types and reads the openHAB directory structure to present it in an IDE-like fashion.


After you’ve downloaded the packages, unzip the runtime core package to a good location. Once this is extracted, you’ll want to bring in the addons that you require for your configuration. The addons come out of the addon package and individual ones can be plopped into the addons directory of the runtime core folder structure. I only needed Insteon but grabbed a couple other ones. To integrate with various systems, you’ll want the “binding” addon for that system. The binding has the knowledge of how to communicate with that system. I also grabbed a couple persistence addons. These allow you to configure data persistence of the devices in your home for reporting. They aren’t required for the system to function.

Addons Directory

Addons Directory

Once the addons are installed, you’ll want to create a new configuration file for openHAB. In the configurations directory, you’ll need to create a copy of openhab_default.cfg and rename it openhab.cfg.


You can then change all the settings you need for various bindings, persistence or the system in general. Each of the bindings have examples in the cfg file so you can just uncomment the line and move ahead. Here’s the configuration for my Insteon PLM. It’s connected to a USB (COM4) port on my machine.


Next, you’ll want to setup devices and groups. This is accomplished by creating a .items file in the items folder. It can have any name as long as the extension is .items. Groups are just logical groupings and can be nested. Items are actual devices located throughout the house. They can be part of multiple groups. For example, my basement lights are part of the basement group and the lights group. A full description of the items file syntax can be found on the openHAB wiki. Here’s an example of my .items file open in the openHAB Designer.


Once items are configured, you’ll want to setup a sitemap. A sitemap defines how the UI of your openHAB setup will look. There are a bunch of controls like text, switches, selections and images. For a full list, check out the openHAB wiki. It seems pretty simple but I’m sure with a complex configuration it can get pretty gnarly. Here’s a simple sitemap that has a single page with a switch to turn off and on my basement lights.


After all this is configured, you can start up the openHAB server by running setup.bat in the root folder. Once running, you’ll be able to access the UI through a web browser at http://localhost:8080/


They also offer a Android and iOS app. I installed it on my phone and had to configure the external\internal URL. If you didn’t setup credentials (which is by default), you can leave those blank. Once connected it looks very similar to the web app but native to the phone.


So far, it looks like a really neat solution. It turns on and off my basement light just fine; even from my phone. It’s a bit of a learning curve getting started but seems really powerful. I have a few more Insteon devices lying around that I’ll get hooked up so I’ll see how that progresses. Apparently, it can integrate with Nest as well so I will have to get that up and running too.