Getting Started with the ESP8266

Alasdair Allan
21 min readJul 18, 2018

One of the drivers behind the explosive growth of network connected devices we’ve seen over the last year or two is the availability of cheap, capable, micro-controllers with built-in networking.

As a result, we’ve seen a large number of boards intended for the Internet of Things. Most of these take the “kitchen sink” approach throwing more, and different, radios onto the board. The ESP8266 is not one of those boards.

The ESP8266

The ESP8266 a micro-controller chip from Chinese manufacturer Espressif. Built around a Tensilica Xtensa LX3 processor, it includes on-board Wi-Fi. Originally intended as a UART to WiFi adaptor, allowing other micro-controllers to connect to a Wi-Fi network and make simple TCP/IP connections using Hayes-style commands, the ESP8266 quickly became popular as a stand alone micro-controller because of its low price point.

Despite the initial lack of documentation, a large community formed
around the ESP8266, and the community created and supported firmware for the chip.

Although the ESP8266 chip is made by Espressif, modules bearing the chip
come from a variety of different manufacturers, and on a somewhat bewildering variety of breakout board form factors.

Original board (left), and 1MB flash version (right).

However, perhaps the most commonly available was the ESP-01 which has a tiny form factor and can be picked up for less than $2. Unfortunately, while the pin out of the ESP-01 is physically compatible with a breadboard, it is not electrically compatible.

The unusual pinout of the ESP-01 breakout board.

This means that, at least to start off with, we’re going to have to use jumpers when we use the ESP-01. While there are a lot easier ways to buy, and use, the ESP8266 these days, there are a lot of ESP-01 boards out there, and they’re amazingly cheap. So despite the hassle, they’re a great way to get started with the ESP8266 and the Internet of Things.

Connecting the board to your laptop

The first thing we need to do is connect the board to your laptop so you
can load new firmware, and…

Alasdair Allan

Scientist, Author, Hacker, Maker, and Journalist.