— React Native, Bluetooth, Open Source — 7 min read
So it's actually probably been longer than a year, but if we just go back to when I started/released
v1.60.x-rcY it's close enough. When I was first re-implementing react-native-bluetooth-serial I thought it would be for my own copmanies app; I was not planning nor ready to start maintaining something that would be used all over the world.
v1.60.x-rcYis still in release candidate mode, since I've been continuing to work with users on adding the final touches to get it where it needs to be in order to drop the
I was tasked with designing and developing my companies microchip scanning app - which in and of itself is it's own article series - which used an MFI compliant microchip scanner. I'd never done any IOS development before and I'd only played with Android a little. While looking over the options there were only a couple:
React Native posed the biggest up and down sides. For one, there would be one code base, I wouldn't have to maintain two applications (which really isn't actually the truth once you get started, but it's a great way to suck you in) but I would have to at least write the native module for the Bluetooth communication. Since the latter was happening anyhow, the former made the choice pretty straight forward.
I ended up keeping the project public, since the original react-native-bluetooth-serial was public and seemed to not be maintained anymore but had questions and requests for the functionality that I was going to be adding. I wasn't sure how or if this project would be found by anyone else, but hey, why not give it a chance.
The actual first version was
v0.9.x which started with React Native v0.59.4, but since shortly after that React Native v0.60.0 was released with breaking changes I released
v0.10.0 to match. The main changes here were the auto registration of the module; which turns out didn't really matter much at the time. When I released the library the top priorites for me were:
This was the sole reason for me (re)writing the library becuase there was absolutely nothing out there already. After getting to know how Apple and the MFi program worked, it made sense - why the hell would anyone design hardware with BLE available that required them to signup and maintain their MFi status. I guess it's an Apple thing (don't get me started on my Apple opinions) and it's required in some ways, but man it makes life annoying.
I've written a couple articles about this processs:
One of the other things I wanted was the consistency across the native calls - I get this is a choice some won't agree with - I chose to make all of the calls
Moving to promises across the board, also allowed being able to consistently throw
Error on IOS when a feature wasn't available. I absolutely hate the idea of having two files
feature.ios.js when it's just as easy to catch and check an
Error for not implemented. This gave users the opportunity to:
Platformfunctionality within a single file
I didn't want to force users into any of these. Plus if they chose the latter and one of the features was implemented on IOS, there would be no changes needed (which was my goal, unrealized, but a goal never the less).
This is where the fun? began, there was a steady influx of issues and feature requests that started coming in, it was an exciting and (equally) aggravating time. Some solid feature and pull requests came in:
As mentioned above, this was one of the features that took the library to the next level, provided by Anton Pettrov. It allowed the connection between two Android devices and effectively resolved like 50% of the feature requests from the original project.
One of the other major issues (or requests) was that it wasn't easy to send different data, the original (and this) library was only required to send String based data in either ASCII or UTF-8. There were growing requests (and resolutions which required changes to the library) in order to send binary/byte data. For the purpose of (a) helping these people out and (b) attempting to get more experience myself, I set out on upgrading the library. The top requirements were:
This required the removal (or reworking) of the
BluetoothClassicService into a manageable
DeviceConnection that could be maintained.
This one was a little more annoying, in that there needed to be a way to extend the functionality without bloating the current library. This requires heavy use of the
autoloading functionality on both Android and IOS as well as designing custom
DeviceConnection logic within the host application. There are still issues with this, and I'm not overly happy with it - but it works and can be updated down the road.
The logic was broken into three configurable peices:
Acceptorswhich are used to listen for incomming connections - and pass off the resulting
Connectorswhich do the connecting - and again pass off the
DeviceConnectionwhich receives the
BluetoothSocketand manage the communication
One of the cool things about maintaining this, is that I've been able to help and see the library in action. The following are some instances of this:
This was actually pretty cool! These three kids emailed me out of the blue asking for help using the library for one of their school projects. This was the start to an email I received from Ben asking for assistance.
Hi Mr. Davidson,
I'm Ben *****, and I'm a high school student in New Jersey. My team and I are taking an engineering design course this semester, and for our major project we are building a device to help visually-impaired people cross the street. We're doing this with a device rigged with sensors that will send a vibratory alert to a user's phone with a certain app. The device is an Arduino Uno with an HC-05 Bluetooth classic module.
After a couple weeks of communication we were able to:
They eventually got their application working on a Nintendo Switch which is crazy. I hope they got an A!
Pending confirmation on attaching their images/screenshots
I haven't reached out to Zlatanius yet, but I came across his use of the project, and it looks awesome! https://github.com/Zlatanius/LED-Rock-Climbing-Wall-RN-project.
When I get time I'd like to take a deeper dive into how he's using the library.
If you've got a project using this library and would like to chat (or let me write about it) please reach out. Getting to work with the positives every once in a while (the people that is) definitely makes the negatives a little less annoying.
... although being in the industry for a while I should have expected.
I'm the first to admit that I'm no where near the top level of developers in the world. But I do my best to read and learn and figure things out on my own, I think that's the most important thing. It continues to amaze me how many people just expect things to work without:
TLDR; just me whining about things, feel free to skip
I have to admit, I've been guilty of this as well, but when someone opens an issue stating that something doesn't work or isn't working as it should when the documentation clearly says WHY it's not working that way is painful.
I'd have to say the top subject for this is the MFi protocols from Apple, people seem to just completely ignore this documentation. I appreciate that it's a lot to read, I do, but it's a requirement of the job!
Bluetooth is a fickle beast. That combined with React Native makes this library very susceptible to bugs when not used exactly how it was intended. The expecation that I have the ability to debug the library with every single Android device and version is mind boggling! What's even more crazy is that after an issue is opened and there's a response asking for more details - there is no response.
I do my best to provide as much information as possible; with regards to bugs, reasoning, etc. and it's painful to see issues getting opened with a line of text saying "SOME ISSUE just doesn't work". What I would like to do (and this is super petty of me I know) is to be able to reverse open source some of these things.
Take the anonimity right out of the process!!
I've opened myself up by sharing my name and face and work with the world. I get that there are negatives that come along with the positives. What I'd love to do is be able to go back to someones work and post about something they've done.
Hey John Doe's employer! This is how your employee is using (and requesting use) of an open source library. I hope he does a better job filling out internal tickets or providing information to clients.
Yes, I know I'm jaded at times.
I work 9-5 and have a 4 year old son and a wife doing her MBA. As much as I would love to have all the time in the world it's just not possible. I do my best to answer questions but I am starting to rely on the kindness of strangers a little more with regards to this library. I've had some requests from people that just don't get that this is a side project - and expect the world from it (and me).
At a super high level, the next round of development will include:
Servicesto allow for background communication. Sadly this isn't doable on IOS, but at this point IOS seems to be falling behind anyhow.
CoreBluetoothon IOS with regards to classic. I don't think this provides
RFCOMMsupport, but I think it does provide