Textual Rules

“Rules” are used for automating processes: Each rule can be triggered, which invokes a script that performs any kinds of tasks, e.g. turn on lights by modifying your items, do mathematical calculations, start timers etcetera.

openHAB has a highly integrated, lightweight but yet powerful rule engine included. On this page you will learn how to leverage its functionality to do real home automation.

Defining Rules

File Location

Rules are placed in the folder ${openhab.home}/conf/rules. The demo setup already comes with a demo file called demo.rules, which has a couple of examples that can be a good starting point.

A rule file can contain multiple rules. All rules of a file share a common execution context, i.e. they can access and exchange variables with each other. It therefore makes sense to have different rule files for different use-cases or categories.

IDE Support

The Eclipse SmartHome Designer offers support for rules building. It includes syntax checks and coloring, validation with error markers, content assist (Ctrl+Space) incl. templates etc. This makes the creation of rules very easy!

Bugs: Please note that there are a couple of open bugs related to the SmartHome Designer. These result in error markers in the Designer, while the rules are executed nicely by the runtime.

The Syntax

Note: The rule syntax is based on Xbase and as a result it is sharing many details with Xtend, which is built on top of Xbase as well. As a result, we will often point to the Xtend documentation for details.

A rule file is a text file with the following structure:

  • Imports
  • Variable Declarations
  • Rules

The Imports section contains import statement just like in Java. As in Java, they make the imported types available without having to use the fully qualified name for them. For further details, please see the Xtend documentation for imports.


import java.net.URI

A few default imports are already done, so classes from these packages do not need to be explicitly imported:


The Variable Declarations section can be used to declare variables that should be accessible to all rules in this file. You can declare variables with or without initial values and modifiable or read-only. For further details, please see the Xtend documentation for variable declarations.


// a variable with an initial value. Note that the variable type is automatically inferred
var counter = 0

// a read-only value, again the type is automatically inferred
val msg = "This is a message"

// an uninitialized variable where we have to provide the type (as it cannot be inferred from an initial value)
var Number x

The Rules section contains a list of rules. Each rule has the following syntax:

rule "rule name"

A rule can have any number of trigger conditions, but must at least have one. The SCRIPT_BLOCK contains the code that should be executed, when a trigger condition is met, see the script section for details on its syntax.

Rule Triggers

Before a rule starts working, it has to be triggered.

There are different categories of rule triggers:

  • Item(-Event)-based triggers: They react on events on the openHAB event bus, i.e. commands and status updates for items
  • Time-based triggers: They react at special times, e.g. at midnight, every hour, etc.
  • System-based triggers: They react on certain system statuses.
  • Thing-based triggers: They react on thing status, i.e. change from ONLINE to OFFLINE.

Here are the details for each category:

Event-based Triggers

You can listen to commands for a specific item, on status updates or on status changes (an update might leave the status unchanged). You can decide whether you want to catch only a specific command/status or any. Here is the syntax for all these cases (parts in square brackets are optional):

Item <item> received command [<command>]
Item <item> received update [<state>]
Item <item> changed [from <state>] [to <state>]

A simplistic explanation of the differences between command and update can be found in the article about openHAB core actions.

Time-based Triggers

You can either use some pre-defined expressions for timers or use a cron expression instead:

Time is midnight
Time is noon
Time cron "<cron expression>"

A cron expression takes the form of six or optionally seven fields:

  1. Seconds
  2. Minutes
  3. Hours
  4. Day-of-Month
  5. Month
  6. Day-of-Week
  7. Year (optional field)

for more information see the Quartz documentation.

You may also use CronMaker or the generator at FreeFormatter.com to generate cron expressions.

System-based Triggers

Two system-based triggers are provided as described in the table below:

Trigger Description
System started System started is triggered upon openHAB startup, after the rule file containing the System started trigger is modified, or after item(s) related to that rule file are modified in a .items file.
System shuts down Rules using the ‘System shuts down’ trigger execute when openHAB shuts down.

You may wish to use the ‘System started’ trigger to initialize values at startup if they are not already set.


rule "Speedtest init"
    System started
    createTimer(now.plusSeconds(30)) [|
        if (Speedtest_Summary.state == NULL || Speedtest_Summary.state == "") Speedtest_Summary.postUpdate("unknown")

Thing-based Triggers

Your rules can take actions based upon status updates or status changes generated by Things. You can decide whether you want to catch only a specific or any status the Thing can get updated too. Here is the syntax for all these cases (parts in square brackets are optional):

Thing <thingUID> received update [<status>]
Thing <thingUID> changed [from <status>] [to <status>]

The status used in the trigger and the script is a string (no quotes). You can find all the possible values for status from Thing Status. And refer to Thing Status Action to find how to get thing status in the script.

The thingUID is the identifier assigned to the Thing, manually in your configuration or automatically during auto discovery. You can find it from PaperUI or from Karaf remote console. For example, one z-wave device can be “zwave:device:c5155aa4:node14”.

Note: You need to use quotes around thingUID if it contains special characters such as ‘:’.

Channel-based Triggers

Some add-ons provide trigger channels. Compared with other types of channels, a trigger channel provides information about discrete events, but does not provide continuous state information.

Your rules can take actions based upon trigger events generated by these trigger channels. You can decide whether you want to catch only a specific or any trigger the channel provides. Here is the syntax for these cases (parts in square brackets are optional):

Note: You need to use quotes around triggerChannel if it contains special characters such as :.

Channel "<triggerChannel>" triggered [<triggerEvent>]

triggerChannel is the identifier for a specific channel.

When a binding provides such channels, you can find the needed information in the corresponding binding documentation. There is no generic list of possible values for triggerEvent, The triggerEvent(s) available depend upon the specific implementation details of the binding.


rule "Start wake up light on sunrise"
    Channel "astro:sun:home:rise#event" triggered START


The expression language used within scripts is the same that is used in the Xtend language - see the documentation of expressions on the Xtend homepage.

The syntax is very similar to Java, but has many nice features that allows writing concise code. It is especially powerful in handling collections. What makes it a good match for openHAB from a technical perspective is the fact that there is no need to compile the scripts as they can be interpreted at runtime.

To be able to do something useful with the scripts, openHAB provides access to

  • all defined items, so that you can easily access them by their name
  • all enumerated states/commands, e.g. ON, OFF, DOWN, INCREASE etc.
  • all standard actions to make something happen

Combining these features, you can easily write code like:

if (Temperature.state < 20) {

Manipulating Item States

Rules are often used to manipulate the state of an Item, for example switching lights on and off under certain conditions. Two commands can change the value or state of an Item within rules:

  • MyItem.postUpdate(<new_state>) - Change the status of an Item without causing any implicit actions. Can be used to reflect changes that may be caused by other means.
  • MyItem.sendCommand(<new_state>) - Change the status of an Item and trigger potential further actions, e.g. send a command to the linked device/binding.

In relation to event-based rule triggers the manipulator commands sendCommand and postUpdate act differently. The following table summarizes the impact of the two manipulator commands on the rule execution due to the used trigger:

Command \ Rule Trigger received update received command changed
postUpdate ⚡ rule fires (depends)
sendCommand ⚡ rule fires (depends)
Change through Binding ⚡ rule fires ⚡ rule fires (depends)

Beware: Besides the specific manipulator command methods MyItem.sendCommand(<new_state>) and MyItem.postUpdate(<new_state>), generic manipulators in the form of sendCommand(MyItem, <new_state>) and postUpdate(MyItem, <new_state>) are available. The specific versions is normally recommended.

MyItem.sendCommand(“new state”) versus sendCommand(MyItem, “new state”)

Using the methods MyItem.sendCommand(<new_state>) and MyItem.postUpdate(<new_state>) is often preferable. These are methods of Objects that can accept a variety of types.

Contrary, the Actions sendCommand(MyItem, "<new_state>") and postUpdate(MyItem, "<new_state>") can only accept strings as arguments.

The reasons lie within Java, the object-oriented programming language on which openHAB is built. Java and the Rules DSL have two basic types, primitives and Objects. A lower case letter data type after a var or a val statement, for example var int, indicates a primitive type. An upper case letter data type after a val and var statement, for example var Number indicates an Object. Objects are more complex than primitives.

Objects have special methods that can perform many necessary type conversions automatically. Using Myitem.sendCommand(new_state) or Myitem.postUpdate(new_state) will, in most cases, convert new_state into a type that Object myItem can apply.

The Action sendCommand(MyItem, new_state) does not provide the same flexibilty. For example, if new_state is typed as a primitive (e.g., var int new_state = 3) and myItem is of the Object type Dimmer:

  • the following command will fail: sendCommand(MyItem, new_state).
  • However, the following command will work: MyItem.sendCommand(new_state).

Using MyItem.postUpdate(new_state) or MyItem.sendCommand(new_state) will create the most stable code. It provides by far the best option for avoiding most problems. This syntax ensures that any conversion (typing) of the new_state is done in a way that is most suitable for myItem.

Exception: Actions are useful when the name of the Item is only available as a String. For example, if the name of the Item to receive an update or command was calculated in the Rule by building up a String:

val index = 5
sendCommand("My_Lamp_" + index, ON)

Using the States of Items in Rules

Often it is desired to calculate other values from Item states or to compare Item states against other values

In openHAB, every item carries a state. The state of an Item is an Object itself and can be accessed with MyItem.state. A complete and up-to-date list of item types are currently allowed in OpenHAB and the command types each item can accept is given in the openHab documentation for items. To use the state of an Item in rules it is often necessary to know what type of state the Item is carrying and how to convert it into types that can be used in such operations. Conversely, to use the result of a calculation to modify the state of an item may require its transformation into a suitable type.

This section differentiates between command type and state type. For ease of reading, it is possible to simply add “type” to the end of a command type thereby obtaining the state type. For example, a Color Item can receive an OnOffType, IncreaseDecreaseType, PercentType, or HSBType. Therefore the following are all valid commands one can send to a Color Item:

  • MyColorItem.sendCommand(ON)
  • MyColorItem.sendCommand(INCREASE)
  • MyColorItem.sendCommand(new PercentType(50))
  • MyColorItem.sendCommand(new HSBType(new DecimalType(123), new PercentType(45), new PercentType(67)))

An alternative way to command or update the state of an item is through the use of specially formatted strings. The section in the item documentation on formatting details the requirements for the formatting.

Even though many Items accept commands and updates of various different types, each stores its state internally using only one type. The Color Item from the example above will accept various command types, but will only return an HSBType.

Groups can be declared with any Item type and the internal state of the Group will match that type. For example, Group:Switch will return an OnOffType for its state.

Each State Type provides a number of convenience methods that will greatly aid in conversion and calculations. There are two ways to discover these methods:

  • Use the Eclipse SmartHome Designer and the <ctrl><space> key combo to list all the available methods
  • Look at the JavaDocs for the given type. For example, the JavaDoc for HSBType shows getRed, getBlue, and getGreen methods. Thse methods can be called in Rules-DSL without the “get” part in name as in (MyColorItem.state as HSBType).red). They retrieve the state of MyColorItem and then casts it as HSBType to be able to use the methods associated with the HSBType.

Working with Item States: Conversions

Reminder: For a complete and up-to-date list of what item types are currently allowed in openHAB and the command types each item can accept refer to the section on items in the openHAB documentation.

Below a non-exhaustive list of some more common conversions. The interested reader is encouraged to also visit the forum where many more examples can be found.

Conversion of Item.state to String

All Item states can be converted into a string by invoking MyItem.state.toString.

Color Item

A Color Item stores an HSBType. The HSB stands for Hue, Saturation, and Brightness. Often one has the desired color as an RGB values (Red, Green, Blue). The following code can be used to send an RGB value to a Color Item.

import java.awt.Color

// Create item
val newColor = new Color(red, blue, green) // where red, blue, and green are ints between 0 and 255

//Saving to an Item
MyColorItem.sendCommand(new HSBType(newColor))

When individual color values from a HSBType as a PercentType are retrieved, it will be necessary to multiply that PercentType by 255 to obtain a standard 8-bit per color channel RGB. Correspondingly, the for 16 or 32 bit representation, the percent type needs to be multiplied the percent type by 16^2 or 32^2, respectively.

//Example for conversion to 8-bit representation
// In rule body
val red = (MyColorItem.state as HSBType).red * 255
val green = (MyColorItem.state as HSBType).green * 255
val blue = (MyColorItem.state as HSBType).blue * 255
Contact Item

A Contact Item carries a OpenClosedType. OpenClosedType is an Enumeration. One can convert from Open and Closed to 1 and 0 with code similar to:

val contactNum = if (MyContactItem.state == OPEN) 1 else 0
DateTime Item

A DateTime Item carries a DateTimeType. DateTimeType presents the biggest challenge when converting and performing calculations. The problems stem from the fact that by default the Rules use a Joda DateTime class to represent time, most notably now. However, DateTimeType is not a Joda DateTime and in fact the two are incompatible, requiring some conversion in order to use the two together.

The lowest common denominator when working with time is to get at the epoch value. Epoch is the number of milliseconds that has passed since 1 January 1970 GMT and stored in a long. With epoch, one can compare two dates together, convert a Joda DateTime to a DateTimeType and visa versa.

// Get epoch from DateTimeType
val Number epoch = (MyDateTimeItem.state as DateTimeType).calendar.timeInMillis

// Get epoch from Joda DateTime
val Number nowEpoch = now.millis

// Convert DateTimeType to Joda DateTime
val joda = new DateTime((MyDateTimeItem.state as DateTimeType).calendar.timeInMillis)

// Convert Joda DateTime to DateTimeType
val calendar = java.util.Calendar::getInstance
calendar.timeInMillis = now.millis
val dtt = new DateTimeType(calendar)

In certain cases it is needed to convert an epoch timestamp to a human readable and/or store it in a DateTimeType and a DateTime Item. Here an option to do so utilizing SimpleDateFormat:

import java.text.SimpleDateFormat
import java.util.Date

// Convert epoch to a human readable
val SimpleDateFormat sdf = new SimpleDateFormat("yyyy-MM-dd'T'HH:mm:ss.SSSZ")
val String timestampString = sdf.format(new Date(timestampEpoch))

// Convert human readable time stamp to DateTimeType
val DateTimeType timestamp = DateTimeType.valueOf(timestampString)

//convert state from Item of DateTimeType into a string
val String datetime_string  = DateTime_Item.state.format("%1$td.%1$tm.%1$ty %1$tH:%1$tM"))

Both Joda DateTime as well as DateTimeType provide a number of useful methods for comparing date times together and/or extracting parts of the date. For some examples:

// See if DateTimeType is before Joda DateTime
if(now.isBefore((MyDateTimeItem.state as DateTimeType).calendar.timeInMillis)) ...

// See if DateTimeType is after Joda DateTime
if(now.isAfter((MyDateTimeItem.state as DateTimeType).calendar.timeInMillis))...

// Get the hour in the day from a DateTimeType
val hours = (MyDateTimeItem.state as DateTimeType).calendar.get(Calendar::HOUR_OF_DAY)
// See the Calendar javadocs for the full set of parameters available
Dimmer Item

A Dimmer Item carries a PercentType. PercentType can be cast to and treated like a java.lang.Number, where Number represents any type of numerical value. The Rules language supports doing mathematical and logical operations with Numbers The Number Object supports methods for getting primitive versions of that Number if needed.

//Loading from an Item
val dimVal = MyDimmerItem.state as Number
//as integer
val int dimAsInt = dimVal.intValue
// as float
val float dimAsFloat = dimVal.floatValue

If the conversion from or into hexadecimal values is necessary, the following examples may be useful:

// to convert a hex_code (a number expressed in hexadecimals) to a Number type 
val dimVal =  Integer.parseInt(hex_code, 16) as Number
//for very large_hex_codes use
val dimVal = Long.valueOf(large_hex_code, 16).longValue() as Number

// and here an additional example to convert an integer_value to hex_code string
var String hex = Long.toHexString(integer_value);

Additional conversions that might be useful are listed below under NumberItem

Location Item

A Location Items carries a PointType. A PointType consist of two or three DecimalType numbers representing latitude and longitude in degrees, and an optional altitude in meters. Here are a few examples:

// Creation
val location = new PointType(new DecimalType(50.12345), new DecimalType(10.12345))
// Creation from String; ATTENTION: do not add space after comma
val PointType home = new PointType("12.121212,123.123123")

// Loading from an Item
val PointType location = Device_Coordinates.state as PointType
Number Item

A Number Items carries a DecimalType. A DecimalType is also a java.lang.Number so all the conversions listed above under Dimmer Item apply to Number Item as well.

Here some other commonly needed conversions:

//convert integer_number to string containing hex_code
var String hex_code = Long.toHexString(integer_number);

//convert hex_code to Number type
var MyNumber = Integer.parseInt(hex_code, 16) as Number
//use the following for large_hex_code
var MyNumber = Long.parseLong(hex, 16) as Number

// coverting hex_code into DecimalType
var DecimalType parsedResult = DecimalType.valueOf(Long.parseLong(hex_code, 16).toString);

Other useful conversions can be found under Dimmer Item.

One warning comes with DecimalType. The full explanation is beyond the scope of this introduction. To avoid an error mentioning an “Ambiguous Method Call” always cast the state of a DecimalType to a Number, not DecimalType.

Player Item

The Player item allows to control players (e.g. audio players) with commands such as Play, Pause, Next, Previous, Rewind and Fastforward. The Player Item carries three types with predefined commands

State Type Commands
PlayPauseType PLAY, PAUSE
RewindFastforwardType REWIND, FASTFORWARD
NextPreviousType NEXT, PREVIOUS

These types can be convert from Open and Closed to 1 and 0 with code similar to the Contact Item (OpenClosedType)

//Loading from an Item
val int Playing = if (MyPlayerItem.state == PLAY) 1 else 0

See Location item

Rollershutter Item

See Dimmer In addition to the command types of the item type Dimmer, the Rollershutter item accepts the StopMoveType with the commands STOP and MOVE

String Item

To convert the state of an Item that carries a StringType, the method toString can be invoked.

//Loading from an Item
val stateAsString = MyStringItem.state.toString

In case an item returns a string containing a value as a hexadecimal number, it can be converted to an integer by using

//Loading hexvalue from string
val itemvalue = new java.math.BigDecimal(Integer::parseInt(myHexValue, 16))
Switch Item

A Switch Item carries a OnOffType. OnOffType is an Enumeration. One can convert from ON and OFF to 1 and 0 with code similar to:

val SwitchNum = if (MySwitchItem.state == ON) 1 else 0

Deeper Dive

While interacting with Item states, care must be taken to understand the difference between Objects and primitives. As all object-oriented computer languages, Java and the Rules DSL have implemented the concept of inheritance. However, inheritance only applies to Objects and does not apply to primitives; examples for primitives are integer and boolean. Inheritance allows to take an existing Object type, called a Class, and adding to it to make it into something different. This “something different” becomes a Child of the original Class, the parent. The Child still can do everything the parent could do. The top level base Class for all Objects in Java and the Rules DSL is called simply Object.

In addition to other useful things, the class Object implements a method called toString. And since Object is the parent of all Objects, ALL Classes also implement a toString method. However primitives do not inherit from Object. They don’t inherit from anything and they don’t have any methods at all which includes the lack of a toString Method.

Objects are typically equipped with many more type conversion methods, while primitives do not support any type conversion. This distinction is very relevant when trying to use the result of a calculation and apply it to an Item state. The sendCommand is a generic action and needs to be able to work with all Item types. Actions only support two String arguments as all Objects will support the conversion toString. sendCommand (MyItem, new_state) will automatically use the MyItem.toString method to convert MyItem into a String. It will also attempt to do so with the second argument if new_state is not already a String. However, if the second argument is a primitive, and not an Object, it does not carry a method toString. Thus, Rules DSL will not be able to cast new_state as a String. As a consequence, the use of sendCommand(MyItem, primitive), using a primitive as the second argument, will almost always fail.

The different syntax for the generic and the objective-specific differs and is given in the table below:

Generic (Action) Specific (Method)
postUpdate(MyItem, new_state) MyItem.postUpdate(new_state)
sendCommand(MyItem, new_state) MyItem.sendCommand(new_state)

The benefit of using Objects over primitives is apparent through the following type conversions that are automatically invoked by Object as the context requires. Using the method MyTimes.sendCommand() that is owned by MyItem will use the sendCommand method that is suitable to make the necessary type conversions. For example, the NumberItem class would have a sendCommand(int), sendCommand(long), sendCommand(float), sendCommand(double), sendCommand(Number), sendCommand(DecimalType), and sendCommand(String) method. Each of these separate methods is individually written to handle all of these different types of Objects. MyItem will automatically apply the method that corresponds to the argument type.

Implicit Variables inside the Execution Block

Besides the implicitly available variables for items and commands/states, rules can have additional pre-defined variables, depending on their triggers:

  • receivedCommand - will be implicitly available in every rule that has at least one command event trigger.
  • previousState - will be implicitly available in every rule that has at least one status change event trigger.

Early returns

It is possible to return early from a rule, not executing the rest of the statements like this:

if (Temperature.state > 20) {

Caveat: Please note the semicolon after the return statement which terminates the command without an additional argument.

Concurrency Guard

If a rule triggers on UI events it may be necessary to guard against concurrency.

import java.util.concurrent.locks.ReentrantLock

val ReentrantLock lock  = new ReentrantLock()

rule ConcurrentCode
    Item Dummy received update
    try {
        // do stuff
    } finally{


openHAB Transformation services may also be used in rules to transform/translate/convert data. The general syntax is as follows:

transform("<transformation-identifier>", "<transf. expression or transf. file name>", <input-data or variable>)
  • <transformation-identifier> - Shorthand identifier of the transformation service
  • <transf. expression or transf. file name> - Transformation service specific
  • <input-data or variable> - The data to transform, MUST be of data type String


var condition = transform("MAP", "window_esp.map", "CLOSED")
var temperature = transform("JSONPATH", "$.temperature", jsonstring)
var fahrenheit = transform("JS", "convert-C-to-F.js", temperature)

For all available Transformation services please refer to the list of Transformation Add-ons.


You can emit log messages from your rules to aid debugging. There are a number of logging methods available from your rules, the java signatures are:

logDebug(String loggerName, String format, Object... args)
logInfo(String loggerName, String format, Object... args)
logWarn(String loggerName, String format, Object... args)
logError(String loggerName, String format, Object... args)

In each case, the loggerName parameter is combined with the string org.eclipse.smarthome.model.script. to create the log4j logger name. For example, if your rules file contained the following log message:

logDebug("kitchen", "Kitchen light turned on")

then the logger you would have to configure to have your messages appearing in the console would be:

log:set DEBUG org.eclipse.smarthome.model.script.kitchen

Rule Examples

Below some examples for common rules:

var Number counter

// setting the counter to some initial value
// we could have done this in the variable declaration already
rule Startup
    System started
    counter = 0

// increase the counter at midnight
rule "Increase counter"
    Time cron "0 0 0 * * ?"
    counter = counter + 1

// tell the number of days either at noon or if a button is pressed
rule "Announce number of days up"
    Time is noon or
    Item AnnounceButton received command ON
    say("The system is up since " + counter + " days")

// sets the counter to the value of a received command
rule "Set the counter"
    Item SetCounterItem received command
    counter = receivedCommand as DecimalType

Further Examples

Many more examples can be found in the Tutorials & Examples category of the community forum. They are community provided and new ones are added constantly.