WiThrottle Server, Web Server, DCC-EX Native Protocol Explained
There are several competing standards and ways to connect external software such as Throttles (Controllers) to the EX‑CommandStation directly or indirectly through JMRI. These standards are called “protocols” and the definition and instructions for how to implement them is called an API (Application Programming Interface). There is the wiThrottle Protocol API using a wiThrottle Server, the JMRI API using a Web Server, and the DCC-EX API using DCC-EX Native Commands. You need to know that the language your throttle uses will work with how you want to connect to your Command Station.
The first way to connect to EX‑CommandStation is to use our DCC-EX Native Protocol. This is the set of commands that tell the Command Station how to control your trains. EX‑CommandStation understands simple command surrounded by brackets like this: “<1 MAIN>”. That command turns your main track power on.
Since this is just sending characters back and forth across a serial connection, anything that can connect to an Arduino through a USB cable or one of the other serial ports using WiFi of Bluetooth can send DCC-EX Native Commands to the Command Station. This method is fast, direct, and can take advantage of special features that exist only in EX‑CommandStation. You can even connect using the Arduino Serial Monitor or connect to our WiFi with a terminal program like PuTTY and type DCC-EX Native Commands manually. Our EX‑WebThrottle, JMRI and throttles (controllers) like Engine Driver, DCCpp CAB and DigiTrainsPro send commands in DCC-EX Native format.
Refer to this list for the Throttles (Controllers) that are known to support the DCC-EX Native Protocol.
The wiThrottle Protocol is the proprietary protocol developed by Brett Hoffman at https://www.WiThrottle.com. Like the DCC-EX Native Protocol, is consists of messages composed of strings of text characters sent across a serial connection that tell the Command Station how to control your layout. The command “PPA1”, for example turns the power on in WiThrottle. It can be confusing, but WiThrottle can refer to the protocol (as in wiThrottle Server or WiThrottle compatible), but it also refers to the iOS throttle App called “WiThrottle” (it stands for WiFi Throttle).
EX‑CommandStation allows you to use the “wiThrottle Server” built into JMRI and other software and have them connect to your Command Station via a USB or serial connection, but EX‑CommandStation also implements a wiThrottle Protocol server in our Command Station software itself. A “server” is just a fancy way of saying that there is software running inside JMRI and EX‑CommandStation that can understand WiThrottle commands and “serve” or “service” clients that want to connect and send WiThrottle commands. The ability of EX‑CommandStation to natively “speak” WiThrottle means you can directly connect a wiThrottle Protocol compatible Throttle (aka CAB) via WiFi or Bluetooth to the Command Station and run trains. But you can still connect to JMRI WiThrottle instead and connect JMRI to EX‑CommandStation with a USB cable. So EX‑CommandStation is bi-lingual, we speak DCC-EX AND wiThrottle Protocol! Apps like Engine Driver and wiThrottle for iOS send commands in the WiThrottle format.
Refer to this list for the Throttles (Controllers) that are known to support the WiThrottle Protocol.
JMRI has two kinds of servers you can connect to built into the JMRI software. We already mentioned the wiThrottle Server, but JMRI also has a WEB Server. Devices can connect to JMRI and send commands like it would to a WEB page. This is yet another protocol and is supported by throttles like DigiTrainsPro. When connecting using a throttle that uses the WEB Server, you connect your throttle to that via WiFi, and then connect to EX‑CommandStation with a USB or Serial connection.
Refer to this list for the Throttles (Controllers) that are known to support the JMRI Web Server Protocol.
Phones and laptop like to think they are “smart” and want to connect you to the strongest signal and to a network that has internet capability. If you use the EX‑CommandStation as an Access Point (AP), which doesn’t connect to the internet, and you connect to EX‑CommandStation with your throttle, your device may disconnect you from the Command Station without you knowing and without your permission. You should turn off the option to “automatically connect” to your home network. You may even have to “forget” your home network when you are using your wireless device to connect to EX‑CommandStation. If you would rather, you can change settings in your config.h file to connect to your home network as a client instead running as an AP, and then have your throttle devices find the Command Station by its IP Address on your home network. You can find out more about that in Wifi Setup