Travis DePuy edited this page Jul 20, 2017 · 21 revisions

How to work with automation 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 (for more details on what a rule can do, see scripts documentation).

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}/configurations/rules. The runtime already comes with a demo file called demo.rules, which has a couple of examples, which 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 openHAB Designer offers full IDE support for rules, which includes syntax checks and coloring, validation with error markers, content assist (Ctrl+Space) incl. templates etc. This makes the creation of rules very easy!

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:


[Variable Declarations]


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 org.openhab.core.library.types.*

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"
        <TRIGGER CONDITION1> or 
        <TRIGGER_CONDITION2> or 

A rule can have any number of trigger conditions, but must at least have one. The EXECUTION_BLOCK contains the code that should be executed, when a trigger condition is met. The content of the EXECUTION_BLOCK is in fact a script, so please refer to the scripts documentation for details.

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.

Here are the details for each category:

Item- / 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 (useful if you are new to openHAB) can be found on the Actions page

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:

You may also use CronMaker to generate cron expressions.

System-based Triggers

Currently, you schedule rules to be executed either at system startup or shutdown. Note that newly added or modified startup rules are executed once, even if openHAB is already up and running. They are simply executed once as soon as the system is aware of them. Here's the syntax for system triggers:

    System started
    System shuts down

Implicit Variables inside the Execution Block

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

  • Every rule that has at least one command event trigger, will have the variable receivedCommand available, which can be used inside the execution block.
  • Every rule that has at least one status change event trigger, will have the variable previousState available, which can be used inside the execution block.
  • The variable now, which is a DateTime object that represents the current time

Using the same Variable name across separate rule files

It is worth being aware that there "could" be issues (despite what the documentation says) when using the same variable name in separate rule files.

Taken from 1121 Developer Kai says:

The theory is: Variables are global to all rules within one rule file and they are NOT visible to rules in other files. So it should be fine to use the same name for variables in different files. In practice, openHAB has afaik a bug regarding this and there actually ARE side effects if you use the same variable name across different files. Note that this has been fixed in ESH (, so in openHAB 2.0, this problem should not exist anymore.

Concurrency Guard

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

	import java.util.concurrent.locks.ReentrantLock

	var java.util.concurrent.locks.ReentrantLock lock  = new java.util.concurrent.locks.ReentrantLock()

	rule ConcurrentCode
		Item Dummy received update
		try {
			// do stuff (e.g. create and start a timer ...)
		} finally{


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.openhab.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 enable in your logbook.xml file to allow that message to appear in your logs would be:

    <logger name="" level="DEBUG"/>


Taking all the information together, an example rule file could look like this:

    // import the decimal type as we refer to it in a rule
    import org.openhab.core.library.types.DecimalType
    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

You can find further examples in the openHAB-samples section.

feature overview


Setup intro

Linux and OS X





User Interfaces



(link to openHAB forum)



Application Integration



A good source of inspiration and tips from users gathered over the years. Be aware that things may have changed since they were written and some examples might not work correctly.

Please update the wiki if you do come across any out of date information.

Binding configurations

Use case examples

Item definition examples

Sitemap definition examples

Collections of Rules on a single page

Single Rules


Syntax highlighting for external editors

Release Notes

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