Rule Engine

Rule engine allows you to process messages from devices with a configurable set of rules. With Rule Engine you can:

Please Note we recommend to get familiar with basic ThingsBoard features - ( Attributes, Telemetry and RPC ) before you proceed.

Rule engine operates with two main components: Rules and Plugins. The job of Rule Engine is to sequentially apply configured rules to incoming messages. Although rules are applied sequentially, rule execution is asynchronous and is based on Actor System. This allows processing of messages from the device in the same order in which they are received without sacrificing performance.

The results of processing may or may not be delivered back to device application. This depends on rule configuration. For example, you may push incoming telemetry data to internal Cassandra DB, and simultaneously send it to Kafka. You are able to configure to ignore Kafka errors or report an error back to the device. In this case, the device may either retry the operation, re-send the data to a different server or simply ignore the error.


Rule vs Plugin

We will review following example to explain the difference between Rule and Plugin. Let’s assume you want to send an email to an engineer when the engine temperature is too high. In this case, Rule is responsible for analyzing telemetry data and building email (body, to, cc, etc). However, the plugin is responsible for actual communication with the email server and sending emails. So, multiple rules may use the same email plugin that is configured once.


Rules and Plugins may be operating on System and Tenant levels.

System level rules and plugins are managed by System Administrator. They process messages from all devices.

Tenant level rules and plugins are managed by corresponding Tenant Administrator. They process messages from devices that belong to particular tenant. Tenant level rules are able to target system level plugins. For example, you can configure plugin that sends notifications on the system level. You will need to specify your email account in the plugin configuration. However, all tenant level rules may use this plugin to send email notifications.


ThingsBoard Rules and Plugins components have same lifecycle events:


ThingsBoard Rule consists of three main components: Filters, Processor and Action. Depending on implementation, each component may require certain configuration before it can be used. In order to configure Rule, you need to specify at least one filter and one action. Rule Processors are optional.

Let’s review role of each component.


Rule Filter is responsible for filtering incoming messages. You can treat it as a boolean function that has device attributes and message as parameters:

   boolean filter(DeviceAttributes attributes, FromDeviceMessage message) 

ThingsBoard provides the following Rule filters out of the box:

Single Rule may contain multiple filters. Usually, one can filter based on message type and device attributes first and then apply additional filtering based on content of the message.


Rule Processor is responsible for processing incoming message and adding metadata to it. You can treat it as a function that has device attributes and message as parameters and returns certain metadata:

   MessageMetadata process(DeviceAttributes attributes, FromDeviceMessage message) 

ThingsBoard provides the following Rule processors out of the box:


Plugin Action is responsible for converting incoming message and metadata to new custom message that is forwarded to certain plugin. Action may be oneway or twoway. In case of oneway action, rule is not expecting any reply from plugin. In case of twoway action, rule is expecting a reply from plugin within a certain timeout. If there is no reply within a configured timeout, Rule will report an error to the device.

For example, storing data into the internal storage is twoway action, however, pushing data into external system may be oneway (optional).

Although particular Action is a part of the corresponding Rule, you can also treat it as part of the corresponding Plugin. So, you can treat an action as the following interface between Rule and Plugin:

   RuleToPluginMessage<T> convert(DeviceAttributes attributes, FromDeviceMessage message, MessageMetadata metadata)
   ToDeviceMsg convert(PluginToRuleMsg<T> message)
   boolean isOneWay()

ThingsBoard provides the following Actions out of the box:


ThingsBoard Plugins allow you to configure and customize system behavior. Although plugins are able to process messages from Rules, they also provide APIs to integrate with your server-side applications. With Plugin you can:


As we already discussed, Rules may communicate with Plugins using Actions. Let’s review other Plugin APIs.


Plugins are able to process REST API calls from authorized users - customers and system or tenant administrators. This may be useful for server-side integrations. For example, System RPC Plugin allows executing RPC calls to devices using REST API.

Websocket API

Plugins are able to handle websocket messages from authorized users - customers and system or tenant administrators. This may be useful for integrations with server-side applications that want to receive real-time updates. For example, System Telemetry Plugin allows subscribing to device attributes and timeseries data changes using websockets.

Clustering API

When plugin is provisioned, ThingsBoard creates an instance of the plugin actor on each ThingsBoard server in the cluster. In order to implement complex use-cases, plugin instances may require a way to communicate with each other.

For example, let’s assume that we have a three node cluster (nodes A, B and C). A device may be connected via MQTT session to node A. Customer users may open a Web UI to observe telemetry data in real time and load balancer will forward their browsers to different nodes (B and C in our case). Telemetry plugin needs to keep track of websocket subscriptions for particular device in order to push update to customer’s browser.


ThingsBoard Clustering and Actor models are covered in ThingsBoard Architecture.

ThingsBoard Architecture


ThingsBoard provides the following Plugins out of the box:

Troubleshooting and statistics

ThingsBoard keeps track of usage statistics, errors and lifecycle events for each rule and plugin.


ThingsBoard collects and periodically persists usage statistics to internal database. You can review this statistics via Web UI or get it using REST API. Statistics contain an amount of successfully processed messages and amount of errors during processing.


Whenever exception or error occurs, ThingsBoard persists it to the internal database. You can review this errors via Web UI or get it using REST API. In case of misconfiguration or critical issue with plugin, errors may happen quite frequently. Persisting all errors may significantly reduce performance, so you can configure how often errors are persisted.

Lifecycle events

Whenever plugin or rule lifecycle event happens, ThingsBoard persists it to the internal database. You can observe status of the lifecycle, stack trace in case of errors, event time and server address. In case of misconfiguration, you can easily detect the root cause by browsing the error stack trace.