ESP32 Web Updater Allows File System Management And OTA Updates

Earlier versions of the Arduino IDE made uploading files to an ESP32’s SPIFFS filesystem easy via the ESP32FS plugin. Sadly, that’s no longer possible under the rewritten Arduino 2.0 IDE. Thankfully, [myhomethings] has stepped up to solve the problem with a new tool that also adds some new functionality.

The tool in question is the ESP32 Web Updater and SPIFFS File Manager. It features a web interface courtesy of the ESPAsyncWebServer library. Simply dialing into the ESP32’s IP address will grant one access to the interface. Once connected files can be uploaded to the ESP32, or deleted at will. Text files can be created and populated through the interface as well, and the SPIFFS file system can also be formatted if required. Plus, as a bonus, the interface allows for handy over-the-air firmware updates. One need only export a compiled binary from the Arduino IDE, and then load the resulting *.bin file into the ESP32 via the web interface. It does come with the caveat that if new firmware is uploaded that doesn’t include the ESP32 Web Updater itself, there will be no way to do further firmware updates in this manner.

For those working on projects that may need regular file system management, the tool may be very useful. Alternatively, if you just need to do OTA updates on an ESP32, we recently featured a way of doing them through GitHub.

GitHub ESP32 OTA Updates, Now In MicroPython Flavor

Wouldn’t it be great if you could keep all of your small Internet-connected hacks up to date with a single codebase? A couple of weeks ago, we wrote up a project that automagically pulls down OTA updates to an ESP32 from GitHub, using the ESP32 C SDK. [Pascal] asked in the comments, “but what about MicroPython?” Gauntlet thrown, [TURFPTAx] wrote ugit.pya simple library that mirrors all of the code from a public GitHub Python repo straight to your gizmo running Micropython.

[Damped] wrote in about Senko, another library that does something very similar, but by then [TURFPTAx] was already done. Bam! Part of the speed is that MicroPython includes everything you need to get the job done – parsing streamed JSON was the hard part with the original hack. MicroPython makes those sorts of things easy.

This is one of those ideas that’s just brilliant for a hacker with a small flock of independent devices to herd. And because itself is fairly simple and readable, if you need to customize it to do your own bidding, that’s no problem either. Just be sure that when you’re storing your WiFi authentication info, it’s not publicly displayed. ([TURFPTAx], could I log into your home WiFi?)

What’s [TURFPTAx] going to be using this for? We’re guessing it’s going to be deploying code to his awesome Open Muscle sensing rigs. What will we be using it for? Blinky Christmas decorations for the in-laws, now remotely updatable without them having to even learn what a “repo” is.

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Push ESP32 Over The Air Updates From GitHub

Let’s say you’re working on an ESP32 project to send off to your grandma; something she can just plug in and it will start automatically monitoring her plant’s water levels. But you discover a critical flaw in the firmware and need to update it. Does she send it back? Do you walk her through dropping the update via the Arduino IDE OTA? The easiest way would be to plan and use something like esp_ghota, an OTA framework by [Justin Hammond].

OTA (Over-The-Air) updates are a fantastic feature of the ESP32, and we’ve covered libraries that make it easy. But compared to those earlier projects, esp_ghota takes a different approach. Rather than hosting a web server where someone can drop a binary, it looks at GitHub releases. [Justin] had to include a streaming JSON parser, as GitHub API responses tend to be beefy. The workflow is straightforward, push a new commit to your main branch on GitHub, and the action will trigger, building a few different versions. Your little plant watering reminder at your grandma’s will check every so often to see if a new version has been pushed and can update with rollback on littlefs, fatfs, and spiffs filesystems.

It’s an incredible project that we suspect will be very useful for many folks to update their projects. [Justin] even includes an example GitHub action and a sample ESP32 project.

ESP32 board with battery and nearby antenna

How To Easily Set Up Secure OTA Firmware Updates On ESP32

After an electronic IoT device has been deployed into the world, it may be necessary to reprogram or update it. But if physical access to the device (or devices) is troublesome or no longer possible, that’s a problem.

OTA updates allow a device to download new firmware, install it, and reboot itself into the new version. Convenient? Yes. Secure? It definitely needs to be.

Fortunately, over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates are a thing, allowing embedded devices to be reprogrammed over their wireless data connection instead of with a physical hardware device. Security is of course a concern, and thankfully [Refik] explains how to set up a basic framework so that ESP32 OTA updates can happen securely, allowing one to deploy devices and still push OTA updates in confidence.

[Refik] begins by setting up a web server using Ubuntu Linux, and sets up HTTPS using a free SSL certificate from Let’s Encrypt, but a self-signed SSL certificate is also an option. Once that is done, the necessary fundamentals are in place to support deploying OTA updates in a secure manner. A bit more configuration, and the rest is up to the IoT devices themselves. [Refik] explains how to set things up using the esp32FOTA library, but we’ve also seen other ways to make OTA simple to use.

You can watch a simple secure OTA firmware update happen in the video, embedded below. There are a lot of different pieces working together, so [Refik] also provides a second video for those viewers who prefer a walkthrough to help make everything clear. Watch them both, after the break.

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Even More Firmware In Your Firmware

There are many ways to update an embedded system in the field. Images can fly through the air one a time, travel by sneaker or hitch a ride on other passing data. OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but there are certainly a plethora of ways to get those sweet update bytes into a target system. How are those bytes assembled, and what are the tools that do the assembly? This is the problem I needed to solve.

Recall, my system wasn’t a particularly novel one (see the block diagram below). Just a few computers asking each other for an update over some serial busses. I had chosen to bundle the payload firmware images into the binary for the intermediate microcontroller which was to carry out the update process. The additional constraint was that the blending of the three firmware images (one carrier and two payload) needed to happen long after compile time, on a different system with a separate toolchain. There were ultimately two options that fit the bill.

The system thirsty for an update

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Putting The Firmware In Your Firmware

Performing over-the-air updates of devices in the field can be a tricky business. Reliability and recovery is of course key, but even getting the right bits to the right storage sectors can be a challenge. Recently I’ve been working on a project which called for the design of a new pathway to update some small microcontrollers which were decidedly inconvenient.

There are many pieces to a project like this; a bootloader to perform the actual updating, a robust communication protocol, recovery pathways, a file transfer mechanism, and more. What made these micros particularly inconvenient was that they weren’t network-connected themselves, but required a hop through another intermediate controller, which itself was also not connected to the network. Predictably, the otherwise simple “file transfer” step quickly ballooned out into a complex onion of tasks to complete before the rest of the project could continue. As they say, it’s micros all the way down.

The system de jour

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OTA ESP32 GUI Makes Updates Simple

One of the disadvantages of having cheap WiFi-capable boards like those based on the ESP32 is that you have to update them. If you have even a few in every room of your house, it can be a pain to pull them out and connect them to a cable for programming. Over the air programming is a great answer, and [Kevin] shows how you can control the update via a simple GUI. You can see a video demonstration of how it works below.

[Kevin] uses a ready-made OTA library to do the work, but creates a GUI configuration and downloader tool. There is a manual step to force the board into the OTA mode, which might be a mild inconvenience, but it improves security since you need physical access to the device to do an update.

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