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How to use Homebridge to make the most out of HomeKit
As thoroughly integrated as HomeKit can be for iPhone and iPad owners building a smart home, there is a recurring problem: compatibility with the wider world of accessories available to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant users. Here’s how to use Homebridge to maximize Apple’s platform.
Homebridge is free, open-source software that spoofs HomeKit into supporting non-HomeKit accessories from brands like Ring and Nest. You need to install server software on an always-on device like a PC, Mac, or Raspberry Pi and plugins for the kinds of accessories you're trying to add.
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What is Homebridge, and how does it improve HomeKit?
Essentially, Homebridge is free, open-source software that emulates the HomeKit API. You install the server software on an always-on (and always-connected) device like a PC, Mac, or Raspberry Pi, and then plugins for the kinds of accessories you’re trying to install. Within the Apple Home app, Homebridge is treated as if it were just another bridge or hub.
The result is that accessories previously limited to Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or even Samsung SmartThings can be controlled through Apple Home and Siri. That includes Ring cameras, Nest thermostats, and Kasa smart plugs, complete with contextually appropriate controls. You can search the Homebridge.io website to see if someone has created a plugin for your particular accessories.
How to install Homebridge
Homebridge’s primary platforms are Windows 10, macOS, Raspberry Pi OS, Linux, and Docker. While exact instructions will vary, the always-on/always-connected component is critical. If you install Homebridge on a PC, for example, but shut the machine off every night, you’ll lose access to linked accessories during that window.
For this reason, a Raspberry Pi is often considered the best Homebridge platform, since it’s a cheap and compact computer that’s far less power-hungry than a PC or Mac. Homebridge.io provides instructions on flashing the Homebridge Raspberry Pi image to an SD card or installing the software on your Pi.
The Homebridge Wiki provides similarly detailed instructions for other platforms. We won’t elaborate on them all here, but with Windows 10, the overall process looks like this.
- Install the LTS version of Node.js. There are 32- and 64-bit versions, but you’ll probably want 64-bit on a PC.
- Install Homebridge and the Homebridge UI using the following administrator Node.js command prompt: npm install -g –unsafe-perm homebridge homebridge-config-ui-x
- Set up Homebridge as a service with the command prompt hb-service install
How to use Homebridge
Thankfully, the Homebridge community has created a local web interface you can access at http://localhost:8581 once the server is installed. The default username and password are both “admin,” but you can and should change these.
Tabs in the web interface let you check on server status and configuration details, but one of the first places you’ll want to visit is the Plugins tab. This enables you to install, update, and remove plugins for your accessories, without which Homebridge is redundant.
The Status tab is important not just for showing whether Homebridge is running well but also for generating HomeKit codes to pair with the Apple Home app. The UI spits out both QR and numerical codes, the latter as a fallback.
Here’s how to add Homebridge to the Apple Home app.
- Bring up the Status tab in the Homebridge UI. HomeKit codes should be displayed in the upper left.
- Open the Apple Home app on your iPhone or iPad and tap the plus icon in the upper-right.
- Tap Add Accessory.
- Point your iPhone or iPad’s camera at the QR code, and the option to pair a generic bridge (see above) should come up automatically.
- If it doesn’t, tap on the text More options… from the Add Accessory screen, followed by My Accessory Isn’t Shown Here. You’ll get an option to enter the numerical setup code.
Be forewarned that the installation process can get more complicated depending on which plugins you choose to install. Some may require the git utility, for instance, or installing windows-build-tools to compile native code. As a rule, you should receive (or be able to find) instructions if a plugin requires specific steps on your part.
The last thing to know as a beginner is that there are three core hb-service commands in Node.js: start, stop, and restart. Forcing a start or restart may sometimes solve problems if Homebridge isn’t working correctly.
That should be it for the hard part, though. Once Homebridge is running smoothly, you can treat linked accessories like anything else in HomeKit. That includes direct control via Siri or Apple Home and scheduled automations linked to accessories and conditions.
Read more: How to reset Apple HomeKit