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Homemade plant irrigation monitor - [Part 2] - Firebase RTDB setup and sending sensor data

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    Branimir Kirilov


In my last blog post, I successfully read data from the capacitive sensor – a small victory! However, I only displayed it on the Arduino IDE's serial monitor, which is quite a distance from my ultimate goal. In this chapter, I'll walk through setting up my Firebase account, configuring the Real-time Database, handling authentication, and writing the code to seamlessly publish the sensor data.

What is firebase?

Firebase is a mobile and web application development platform that provides a suite of cloud-based services to help developers build and scale applications. It was initially developed by Firebase, Inc., which was later acquired by Google in 2014. Firebase offers a variety of tools and services that facilitate various aspects of app development, including authentication, real-time database, cloud storage, hosting, and more.

Key features of Firebase include: Authentication, Real-time Database, Authentication, Cloud Functions, Storage and more. As all cloud providers, Firebase is paid, but it also offers a pay as you go plan, which for this use case should cover all the computing without spending anything.

Firebase Project Setup

The initial step is to create a Firebase account. Once that's completed, I proceed to create a project. This can be accomplished by navigating to the projects page and clicking the "Add project" button:

add project in firebase

I'm then asked if I want to use Google analytics. For the sake of this demo project, I would choose to not use them, but you can do it in your case. They offer a good amount of features out of the box.

choose analytics

After creating the project, I'm redirected to its console. Here, I can add services, change pricing plans, and more.

The default pricing plan is "Spark," which comes with a free tier. If the usage exceeds the free tier, the service is temporarily disabled until the next billing cycle. On the other hand, the "Blaze" plan operates on a pay-as-you-go model and charges based on usage after the free tier limit is reached.


Below are the Spark/Blaze plans comparisons for Authentication and RTDB. For the purposes of this project, the Spark plan is more than enough.



Creating a user

For most apps, user identification is crucial. In my case, authentication serves two main purposes:

  1. The device (ESP) needs authentication to write data to the DB. It should only be allowed to write data for the user it is authenticated with.
  2. The future application will use the same user to read this data. Each user should only access their own data, not the data of others.

Implementing authentication can be challenging, but thankfully, Firebase's auth service simplifies this process for developers. Ideally, this should be set up dynamically. After a user signs up or logs in on the mobile app, they should be able to add a device, perhaps by scanning a QR code or joining a WiFi network started by it. However, this is currently beyond my scope, as it involves more development than I can undertake at the moment. Instead, I'll proceed to create a user through the Firebase console and store the credentials on the ESP board. This way, it can authenticate with Firebase and write to the Real-time Database.

To create a user, I first need to choose an authentication provider—I'll opt for username/password. Then, I'll click on "add user," input an email and a password, and remember them.



Creating a database

Now that a user is created - I need to create a database. For this I should navigate to the Realtime Databse tab and then click on Create Database.


For region, I shall choose one that is close to me. In my case this is Belgium.


You could start the DB in test mode, but I prefer to start it in locked mode. By default this will not allow any reads and writes to it unless I specifically setup the rules to allow it.


Database rules

The schema that I would like to have for my data is the folowing:

  "UsersData": {
    "{uid}": {
      "readings":  {
            "moisture": 5,
            "sensor": 645,

This means that a user should only be able to access the part of the data under his user id. To set up the DB access permissions correctly, I need to go to the Rules tab and update the default ones with the following:


With this the Firebase setup is ready. Now I need to implement the logic on the ESP board that will send the sensor data.

Installing the ESP Client Library

Fortunately, the community has already crafted a library that simplifies interaction with the Real-time Database (RTDB) — it's known as Firebase ESP Client.

If you're using the Arduino IDE, installation is straightforward:

  1. Navigate to Sketch > Include Library > Manage Libraries.
  2. Search for "Firebase ESP Client" and install the Firebase Arduino Client Library for ESP8266 and ESP32 by Mobitz.

For users employing VS Code and platformIO, you can refer to the library's installation steps here. Moreover, numerous examples for various Firebase services can be found in the examples folder.

Creating a Secrets File

To securely manage sensitive information while uploading my sketch to GitHub, I'll create a secrets file named secrets.h. I'll ensure its confidentiality by adding secret* to the .gitignore file. Within this file, I can define the necessary secrets, ensuring they remain exclusively on my local machine.

Connecting the ESP to WiFi

For now the ESP needs to do 4 things:

  1. Connect to WiFi
  2. Authenticate to Firebsae
  3. Collect sensor data
  4. Send data to RTDB
#include <Arduino.h>
#include <SPI.h>
#include <Wire.h>
#include <Firebase_ESP_Client.h>
#include <NTPClient.h>
#include <ESP8266WiFi.h>
#include <WiFiUdp.h>
#include <addons/TokenHelper.h>
#include <addons/RTDBHelper.h>
#include "secrets.h"

#define PIN_RESET 255
#define DC_JUMPER 0

const int SensorPin = A0;
const int AirValue = 674;
const int WaterValue = 490;
int timestamp;
int hours, minutes, seconds;

String uid;
String databasePath;
String parentPath;
String moisturePath = "/moisture";
String sensorReadingPath = "/sensor";
String timePath = "/timestamp";

NTPClient timeClient(ntpUDP, "pool.ntp.org");

FirebaseJson json;
FirebaseData fbdo;
FirebaseAuth auth;
FirebaseConfig config;

void setupWifi() {
  Serial.printl("Connecting to WiFi!");
  while (WiFi.status() != WL_CONNECTED) {
  Serial.printl("WiFi connected!");

void configureFirebase() {
  Serial.println("Initializing Firebase");

  // Define these in secrets.h
  config.api_key = API_KEY; // Project settings -> General -> Web API key
  auth.user.email = USER_EMAIL;
  auth.user.password = USER_PASSWORD;
  config.database_url = DATABASE_URL; // You can find this in RTDB
  config.cert.data = rootCACert; // /* Google Root CA can be downloaded from https://pki.goog/repository/ -> Root CA certs -> GTS Root R1 - R4 */

  config.token_status_callback = tokenStatusCallback;
  Firebase.begin(&config, &auth);

void sendDataToRTDB() {
  // Collect metrics from sensor
  int sensorReading = getSensorReading();
  int moisture = getMoisturePercent(sensorReading);
  // Get uid from auth
  uid = auth.token.uid.c_str();
  // Database path
  databasePath = "/UsersData/" + uid + "/readings";
  timestamp = getEpochTime();
  parentPath = databasePath + "/" + String(timestamp);

  // Setting JSON data
  json.set(moisturePath.c_str(), String(moisture));
  json.set(sensorReadingPath.c_str(), String(sensorReading));
  json.set(timePath, String(timestamp));

  // Appending the json to DB path for the particular id and printing the result
  Serial.println("RTDB status: %s \n", Firebase.RTDB.setJSON(&fbdo, parentPath.c_str(), &json) ? "ok" : fbdo.errorReason().c_str());

void setup() {
  while (!Serial) { }




void loop() {
  if (Firebase.ready()) { // According to the docs, this needs to be called repeatedly to handle autentication

unsigned long getEpochTime() {
  unsigned long now = timeClient.getEpochTime(); 
  return now;

int getSensorReading() {
  int sensorReading = analogRead(SensorPin);
  Serial.printf("Sensor: %d \n", sensorReading);
  return sensorReading;

int getMoisturePercent(int sensorReading) {
  int soilMoisturePercent = map(sensorReading, WaterValue, AirValue, 100, 0);
  if (soilMoisturePercent > 100) {
    soilMoisturePercent = 100;
  } else if (soilMoisturePercent < 0) {
    soilMoisturePercent = 0;
  Serial.printf("Moist.: %d%% \n", soilMoisturePercent);
  return soilMoisturePercent;


With this implementation, the device is set to send data every 10 seconds. To verify, I uploaded the sketch to the ESP board, plugged the soil sensor into a houseplant, and voila! After a few seconds, I began to see new records in the Real-time Database (RTDB):


Deep Sleep

Constantly keeping the device awake and sending data every 10 seconds will quickly drain its battery, especially when soil moisture changes infrequently. I believe a sensible approach is to take samples every 3 hours. During the remaining time, the ESP can leverage its internal deep sleep functionality to conserve battery power. Based on my measurements, the device consumes around 85 microamps while in deep sleep and peaks at 180 milliamps for approximately 8 seconds when connecting to WiFi and sending data. With a 3000mAh battery, this setup should last for more than a month in theory. Let's explore how to implement deep sleep.

  1. From a hardware perspective, connect the reset pin (RST) to the D0 (GPIO16) pin so that the device can wake up after sleeping.

For a comprehensive guide on sleep modes for Wemos D1 mini, check out this informative article.

  1. Initiate deep slee after sending data
#define DEEP_SLEEP_INTERVAL 10800e6 // 3 * 60 * 60 sec = 3h

void loop() {
  if (Firebase.ready()) { // According to the docs, this needs to be called repeatedly to handle autentication

I recommend testing the deep sleep functionality with a shorter interval initially. This precaution ensures that any issues with the device waking up can be identified sooner, rather than waiting for a 3-hour cycle to discover potential problems (like I did :)).

If you manage to see records every 3 hours 🎉 congratulations 🎉, you have a working soil moisture device.

You can find the entire source code for the firmware in the repo on Github.

In the next chapter I'll look at how I can add an OLED display to it and fit it into a manageable form factor. Stay tuned!