Home Control Assistant Newsletter for January 17

Have you looked over the version 17 release notes? Lots of changes that you can incorporate into your designs right away. Easy upgrade.

Looking for answers to the most common questions about HCA? Check out our
Frequently Asked Questions page.
HCA, the Cloud, and You
One of the aspects of modern “smart” devices is that they sit there on your desk or in the wall and they get smarter each day without you doing anything. That is because the developers of those products are working away making improvements. In general, that is a good thing although it can get carried away as I wrote a few weeks ago.

The brains of your automation – HCA – is also getting better each day and today I can tell you what we have been doing. The last two weeks have been all about improving the speed at which messages make their way between external services - Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, SmartThings, Ring, etc – and the HCA server software running on a computer in your home. To better understand what we did, first some background on that message passing.

There are two ways a connection between your HCA Server and the HCA Cloud is made. The first method has the HCA Cloud open a connection to the HCA Server each time a message is passed. For this to work, the cloud must know the external IP address of your home and your router must know to pass messages from the cloud to the computer running the HCA Server software. Without going in to too many details, you must establish what is known as “port forwarding” in your router to make this happen. In general, this method works well. The potential problem with it is that anyone who knows the port # and your external IP address can send a message that gets to the HCA Server. Now, don’t get too worried about this because the HCA server side blocks any messages except from the HCA cloud. The other problem is that you must make configuration changes in your router to set up the port forward, and that can be a PITA.

The second method that many of the newer smart devices use – like voice assistants and many modern thermostats – reverses that method. This method has the device – not the cloud – open the connection to the cloud and maintain it 24/7. This is the opposite direction of the port forwarding method. Some people like this because it is “more secure” and easier because no port forwarding means no messing about in your router configuration. In HCA we call it “Cloud Connect” and is enabled by an option on the HCA Options Client Server tab.

HCA supports both methods. This new improvement was to the “cloud connect” method.

What has improved you ask? Before this change, even though the HCA Server had a connection it established to the cloud, it didn’t use that connection when a partner service wanted to pass a message to the HCA Server. It created a second connection and used that. Establishing that new connection took time. The new method we have implemented establishes a connection for partner services right away and maintains it 24/7. This means that each time a partner service has a message it doesn’t waste time establishing a connection. You will see that persistent connection in the connected clients list.

In general, this results in faster message passing times. This means, for example, when you tell Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa to do something, that “something” happens faster.
If you are using Cloud Connect, to get this improvement you need do nothing. HCA just got faster without you doing anything. Also, please know that part of the cloud subscription you pay each year funds these sorts of improvements.

There are three points you should know about all this. 

First, you should enable the “stale client connection” option. It should have been enabled by default a while back but it was not. 

Second, you may, in some rare cases, see more than one of these new persistent connections shown in the connected client list. It will not hurt anything. When the next point version of HCA is released – hopefully soon – then this extra connection will be cleaned up as needed. 

Finally, if you use the HCA mobile applications, know they always connect using the method that requires port forwarding. So even if you have enabled Cloud Connect, if you use the mobile applications from outside your local network you need to leave the port forward in place.

I guess this is more of the “continuous improvement” philosophy I wrote about a few weeks back.

User-to-User forum

An HCA User who wanted to set up a forum for user-to-user communication. I'm passing this on, but please know that this is not a HCA company project and I will not be spending much time there so I don't know how this will work out. Here is a link to what he set up.

Want to take the next step in automation? Want to get started with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant and control HCA by voice commands? Even if you are a long-time user of HCA, the Getting Started guides have all the info you need on client-server, mobile applications, DDNS, and voice assistants.

All of the
Getting Started Guides are available on the support website.
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