Nest Thermostat Review, Update #10: Wifi Settings Missing

One more brief update about our Nest thermostats. After a few weeks of limited use of our HVAC system due to a very unusually warm late winter and early spring, I’d set the whole house to AWAY mode last evening. However, a bit later, I heard the furnace running. Odd. I walked to the thermostat that I’d set to away and confirmed it was still “AWAY.”

imageI grabbed the iPad and used the Nest app. The thermostat that I had set AWAY to was reporting the same error that I’d seen back in January: the giant question mark. Tapping the image resulted in the message:

Thermostat Disconnected – The thermostat First Floor last connected to the nest.com more than 3 days ago.

Three days?

image

So, I went to the thermostat and checked it’s settings. Great, no wifi and no account information. It had apparently forgotten it’s wifi connection information completely and also my account information.

Seriously, I’d want to fire myself if I wrote code that was this bad. Why would it EVER dump that information? It’s literally its key to being a smart thermostat.

Thankfully, as we still have 2 other thermostats in the house, it was simple to add the account back to the thermostat after entering the wifi password again, as the thermostat recognized that there were other Nests nearby.

Without the wifi connection, you still have a thermostat (thankfully!). However, you loose all remote scheduling capabilities via their web site or apps.

I still can’t recommend these thermostats. While the “BETA” label has been finally removed from their remote access web application, the device itself still has numerous unresolved issues.

.NET API for Nest Thermostat

I just finished a preliminary read-only (think version 0.1) wrapper around the Nest Thermostat API that is used by their mobile phone and web applications. As Nest doesn’t have a formal API yet, the code could break at any time and may not be suitable for any use. However, it is working today. Smile

The project is hosted on GitHub. It uses JSON.NET for parsing the return values from the Nest servers.

There are three projects, with the lib containing the assembly that is used by the two test applications. One is a console app and the other a simple WPF application:

SNAGHTML88bff0b3

(My thermostats are named Zero, One, and Two).

If there’s interest, I plan on adding some methods to the library which allow modification of data (such as the current temperature), and ideally, support for live updates from the devices if I can make sense of the data that is returned.

FYI: I’ve now written a Node version of the API, detailed here.

Nest Thermostat API/Protocol

While Nest Labs hasn’t released a formal (documented & supported) API, I thought I’d do a bit of digging to see how they’re using the network and what might be achievable.

A few things are going on, the majority as you’d probably expect.

The web interface is using a long polling technique apparently to watch for updates to the schedule, temperature, etc.

image

I haven’t determined what the frequency is though, or the wait time. It’s very inconsistent, even when I wouldn’t expect much new “live” data to be available on the network, it frequently updates and polls again.

There are a few constants set in the HOME page script:

C.ABSENT_USER_THRESHOLD     = +('300') || 0;  // seconds
C.DEAD_DEVICE_THRESHOLD     = +('300') || 0;  // seconds
C.pollingInterval           = +('2500') || 0;       // ms
C.WEATHER_POLLING_INTERVAL  = +('120000') || 0; // ms

 

If the C.pollingInterval value were for the subscribe endpoint mentioned above, I’d see a LOT more calls than I do – so I’m still not clear how the polling interval is decided.

The API calls, for the most part are using JSONP syntax over an HTTPS connection.

The most frequent request is to “subscribe.” It sends as part of the GET request a large block of encoded JSON (using encodeURIComponent and then JSON.stringify).

I’m not familiar with the key/value system that they’re using (it may just be something they’ve constructed in-house – although given the number of open source JavaScript libraries they’re using, I thought someone might recognize it):

key”, “{actualkey}.{value}”

I don’t understand why they’ve redundantly specified “key” in a list of keys when it’s evident that the actual key is contained within the value as a delimited string. It’s more data to send and more data to parse this way. So, again, maybe it’s based on some DB or model system I’m not familiar with. (Anyone recognize it?)

I’ve substituted the actual values (as they are serial numbers of my devices) with text representations of what the value represented below:

{"keys":
    [{"key":"user.#USERID#",
        "version":209478897,"timestamp":1324159145000},
    {"key":"user_alert_dialog.#USERID#",
        "version":-1320296685,"timestamp":1325967612000},
    {"key":"structure.#STRUCTURE-GUID#",
        "version":656192675,"timestamp":1325967612000},
    {"key":"device.#DEVICE 1 SERIAL NUMBER#",
        "version":1485027516,"timestamp":1326034984000},
    {"key":"shared.#DEVICE 1 SERIAL NUMBER#",
        "version":588844038,"timestamp":1326034818000},
    {"key":"schedule.#DEVICE 1 SERIAL NUMBER#",
        "version":1187107985,"timestamp":1326005677000},
    {"key":"track.#DEVICE 1 SERIAL NUMBER#",
        "timestamp":1326035650601,"version":1041047847},
    {"key":"device.#DEVICE 2 SERIAL NUMBER#",
        "version":149169270,"timestamp":1326034820000},
    {"key":"shared.#DEVICE 2 SERIAL NUMBER#",
        "version":659841570,"timestamp":1326034820000},
    {"key":"schedule.#DEVICE 2 SERIAL NUMBER#",
        "version":-2016290692,"timestamp":1326005625000},
    {"key":"track.#DEVICE 2 SERIAL NUMBER#",
        "timestamp":1326035650862,"version":528978433},
    {"key":"device.#DEVICE 3 SERIAL NUMBER#",
        "version":1637112547,"timestamp":1326035399000},
    {"key":"shared.#DEVICE 3 SERIAL NUMBER#",
        "version":760504326,"timestamp":1326035397000},
    {"key":"schedule.#DEVICE 3 SERIAL NUMBER#",
        "version":-314552357,"timestamp":1326003402000},
    {"key":"track.#DEVICE 3 SERIAL NUMBER#",
        "version":-645931164,"timestamp":1326035531802}]}"

We’ve got three thermostats, so there are always three sets of subscription requests for each call to subscribe.

Using my iPad, I adjusted the set point for our second story (#DEVICE 2#) down one degree Fahrenheit (to 67°).

Within approximately a second, the most recent pending subscribe request returned with a far more interesting payload:

jQuery17108417355176061392_1326035646750(
    { "status": 200,
        "headers": {
            "X-nl-skv-key": "shared.#DEVICE 2 SERIAL NUMBER#",
            "X-nl-skv-version": 869022424,
            "X-nl-skv-timestamp": 1326038279000,
            "X-nl-service-timestamp": 1326038279825
        },
        "payload": {
            "current_temperature": 19.98,
            "hvac_fan_state": false,
            "name": "TWO", "hvac_heat_x2_state": false,
            "hvac_ac_state": false,
            "can_cool": true,
            "auto_away": 0,
            "compressor_lockout_enabled": false,
            "target_temperature_low": 16.66667,
            "target_temperature_high": 26.66667,
            "compressor_lockout_timeout": 0,
            "hvac_heater_state": false,
            "hvac_aux_heater_state": false,
            "target_temperature": 19.44444,
            "can_heat": true,
            "target_temperature_type": "heat",
            "target_change_pending": true
        }
    });

Everything above is needed to update the current state of the UI. As you can see, the current temperature (returned as Celsius apparently) is 19.98 (67.964°F). The current temperature as displayed on the thermostat and the web UI was 68.

Seeing these return values makes me think that they may be using Ruby and Rails (as the naming convention tends to follow Rails naming using underscores between words). I know for example, I wouldn’t name variables/columns that way when building a C#/JavaScript MVC project.

Rather than just a delta payload of what’s changed, they’ve currently opted for a full update of all information related to the thermostat state.

Several seconds later, a much larger payload was returned to a subscribe request:

"status": 200,
"headers": {
    "X-nl-skv-key": "device.#DEVICE 2 SERIAL NUMBER#",
    "X-nl-skv-version": -2086438581,
    "X-nl-skv-timestamp": 1326038378000,
    "X-nl-service-timestamp": 1326038379023
},
"payload": {
    "ob_orientation": "O",
    "upper_safety_temp": 1000.0,
    "forced_air": true,
    "creation_time": 1324142042019,
    "switch_preconditioning_control": false,
    "click_sound": "on",
    "leaf": false, "user_brightness": "auto",
    "learning_state": "steady",
    "heat_pump_comp_threshold": -1000.0,
    "local_ip": "10.0.0.205",
    "backplate_serial_number": "#SHOULD BE DEVICE 2 SERIAL NUMBER, BUT ISN'T?#",
    "capability_level": 1.03,
    "postal_code": "#POSTALCODE#",
    "upper_safety_temp_enabled": false,
    "heat_pump_aux_threshold": 10.0,
    "lower_safety_temp_enabled": true,
    "serial_number": "#DEVICE 2 SERIAL NUMBER#",
    "temperature_lock": false,
    "learning_time": 1002,
    "current_version": "1.0.4",
    "model_version": "Diamond-1.10",
    "backplate_bsl_info": "BSL",
    "auto_away_enable": true,
    "heat_pump_comp_threshold_enabled": false,
    "fan_mode": "auto",
    "range_enable": false,
    "temperature_scale": "F",
    "backplate_mono_info": "TFE (BP_DVT) 3.5.2 (ehs@ubuntu) 2011-11-05 12:00:00",
    "backplate_bsl_version": "1.1",
    "equipment_type": "gas",
    "range_mode": false,
    "lower_safety_temp": 7.0,
    "has_fan": true,
    "hvac_wires": "Heat,Cool,Fan,Common Wire,Rc",
    "learning_mode": true,
    "away_temperature_high": 32.0,
    "switch_system_off": false,
    "time_to_target": 1326039444,
    "away_temperature_low": 14.444444444444445,
    "current_humidity": 45,
    "mac_address": "#MACADDR#",
    "backplate_mono_version": "3.5.2",
    "has_aux_heat": false,
    "type": "TBD",
    "hvac_pins": "W1,Y1,C,Rc,G",
    "has_heat_pump": false,
    "heat_pump_aux_threshold_enabled": true,
    "battery_level": 3.945,
    "target_time_confidence": 1.0
}

 

A few things to note:

  • Upper_safety_temperature is just a bit beyond my comfort zone at 1832°F. I don’t know why it’s sending a value like that to the client, and why it’s stupidly high.
  • The backplate serial number doesn’t match with the thermostat according to the payload response. I don’t know why this might be as I confirmed that the numbers matched through visual inspection of the device just now.
  • The majority of these details are exposed in one way or another in the details area of the web UI.
  • Time to target (payload.time_to_target) is unusual in that it’s a JavaScript Date value, divided by 1000. So, in the example above, the time to target is: new Date(1326039444 * 1000).toString() = >"Sun Jan 08 2012 10:17:24 GMT-0600 (Central Standard Time)"

    Next, a payload is returned with the new status:

    "status": 200,
    "headers": {
        "X-nl-skv-key": "shared.#DEVICE 2 SERIAL NUMBER#",
        "X-nl-skv-version": 1689916148,
        "X-nl-skv-timestamp": 1326038378000,
        "X-nl-service-timestamp": 1326038379151
    },
    "payload": {
        "hvac_fan_state": false,
        "name": "TWO",
        "hvac_heat_x2_state": false,
        "hvac_ac_state": false,
        "can_cool": true,
        "auto_away": 0,
        "compressor_lockout_enabled": false,
        "target_temperature_low": 16.66667,
        "current_temperature": 19.53,
        "target_temperature_high": 26.66667,
        "compressor_lockout_timeout": 0,
        "target_change_pending": false,
        "hvac_aux_heater_state": false,
        "target_temperature": 20.55556,
        "can_heat": true,
        "target_temperature_type": "heat",
        "hvac_heater_state": true
    }

     

    Here, the hvac_heater_state is set to true. The furnace is on.

    A little while later, that value is set to false.

    Occasionally, the payload includes the complete schedule for the thermostat. I’m not going to reproduce the entire payload here as it’s too large, and quite boring. Here’s a snippet of what it returns:

    "schedule": {
        "#DEVICE 2 SERIAL NUMBER#": {
            "$version": 1187107985,
            "$timestamp": 1326005677000,
            "name": "One Current Schedule",
            "days": {
                "0": {
                    "0": {
                        "type": "HEAT",
                        "temp": 14.445,
                        "time": 0,
                        "entry_type": "continuation"
                    },
                    "1": {
                        "type": "HEAT",
                        "temp": 14.445,
                        "time": 27900,
                        "entry_type": "setpoint"
                    },
                    "2": {
                        "type": "HEAT",
                        "temp": 20.556,
                        "time": 63000,
                        "entry_type": "setpoint"
                    },
                    "3": {
                        "type": "HEAT",
                        "temp": 14.445,
                        "time": 70200,
                        "entry_type": "setpoint"
                    }
                },
                "1": {
                    "0": {
                        "type": "HEAT",
                        "temp": 14.445,
                        "time": 0,
                        "entry_type": "continuation"
                    },
                    "1": {
                        "type": "HEAT",
                        "temp": 18.889,
                        "time": 20700,
                        "entry_type": "setpoint"
                    },

     

    It’s a basic table structure. The first set point of the day is at 0, and is a “continuation.” These don’t show up in the UI.

    Here’s what the day 1 looks like on the Nest thermostat UI:

    image

    When changing a temperature setpoint, I’m a bit disappointed to see that the entire schedule is sent with every request apparently. I just wouldn’t have expected that given that the more setpoints that there are, the bigger the payload must be. The UI is often sluggish when rapidly making adjustments in the schedule, and this could be one of the factors.

    In the example below (which I’ve snipped most of the payload sent again as a JSONP request), I’ve set the first set point to 57F.

        "payload": {
            "days": {
                "0": {
                    "0": {
                        "type": "HEAT",
                        "temp": 14.685,
                        "time": 0,
                        "entry_type": "continuation"
                    },
                    "1": {
                        "type": "HEAT",
                        "temp": 15.000444444444444,
                        "time": 24300,
                        "entry_type": "setpoint"
                    },

    For the JSONP requests sent as “MAKE CHANGE” (easily could have been PUT), they each contained the following attributes as shown below. All JSONP requests are apparently routed on the web server using “headers” rather than a RESTful URL based system:

        },
        "headers": {
            "X-nl-client-timestamp": 1326041210566,
            "X-nl-session-id": "#SESSION ID#",
            "X-nl-protocol-version": 1,
            "Authorization": "Basic #BASIC AUTH#"
        },
        "path": "/v1/put/schedule.#DEVICE 2 SERIAL NUMBER#",
        "redir": "https://home.nest.com/post_jsonp",
        "jsonp": "4_"
    }

    It’s RESTful in spirit as there is a route (“path”), but it’s managed by some internal routing engine. (Now, I think that they’re not using Ruby and Rails).

    For something simple, like changing the current temperature of a thermostat, the request is thankfully simple:

    {
        "payload": {
            "shared": {
                "#DEVICE 2 SERIAL NUMBER#": {
                    "target_temperature": 18.333333333333336
                }
            }
        },
        "headers": {
            "X-nl-client-timestamp": 1326041744556,
            "X-nl-session-id": "#SESSION ID#",
            "X-nl-protocol-version": 1,
            "Authorization": "Basic #BASIC AUTH#"
        },
        "path": "/v1/put",
        "redir": "https://home.nest.com/post_jsonp",
        "jsonp": "14_"
    }

    While, I haven’t taken the time to try to write a custom UI for this undocumented API yet, it looks like it should be relatively easy to do, especially as it relates to the schedule and current temperature settings. I know there’s been some Siri proxy stuff that’s been written – but I don’t have any interest in trying to get that to work.

    As with most APIs like this, the trick is often getting authorization correct. For Nest, it appears that making a POST request to https://home.nest.com/accounts/login/ with username and password as form data, that the server responds with 2 cookies:

    1. sessionid == used in X-nl-session-id in headers
    2. cztoken == used as the Authorization in headers (prepended with the text “Basic “

    FYI: I also have a Node version of the API that is more up to date than this.