Monthly Archives: May 2012

Review of FreeSWITCH Cookbook by Anthony Minessale, Michael S Collins, Darren Schreiber, Raymond Chandler (Packt Publishing)

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog. In order to comply with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I am disclosing that he received a free product sample of the item under review prior to writing the review, and that any links to Amazon.com in this article are affiliate links, and if you make a purchase through one of those links I will receive a small commission on the sale.

The FreeSWITCH Cookbook is the second book from Packt Publishing on the subject of FreeSWITCH, which in my opinion may someday soon be the “telephony software engine” that replaces Asterisk in popularity. I’ve previously reviewed the earlier book, FreeSWITCH 1.0.6, and this book builds on that one. If you know nothing at all about FreeSWITCH, you’ll probably want to start with the earlier book, because it gives you all the basics.  The publisher was kind enough to send me a complementary copy of the new book for review purposes.

This book, as the name implies, is a “cookbook” in that it gives “recipes” for how to do certain tasks. Just as an actual cookbook presupposes certain knowledge (that you know how to operate an oven; the difference between certain measuring units, etc.) this book tends to start with the assumption that you already have a grasp of how to set up FreeSWITCH, but you may need examples of the configuration necessary to perform certain tasks. And, that’s what this book gives you. The idea, I think, is that if even one of the “recipes” saves you a couple of hours of head-scratching and trying to figure out how to do something, then that justifies the cost of the book.

Normally in this type of review I would list the chapters, but in the case of this book you’ll probably want to know what’s in each chapter. So, here is the complete Table of Contents from the Packt Publishing web site:

  • Preface
  • Chapter 1: Routing Calls
    • Introduction
    • Internal calls
    • Incoming DID calls
    • Outgoing calls
    • Ringing multiple endpoints simultaneously
    • Ringing multiple endpoints sequentially (simple failover)
    • Advanced multiple endpoint calling with enterprise originate
    • Time of day routing
    • Manipulating To: headers on registered endpoints to reflect DID numbers
  • Chapter 2: Connecting Telephones and Service Providers
    • Introduction
    • Configuring a SIP phone to register with FreeSWITCH
    • Connecting audio devices with PortAudio
    • Using FreeSWITCH as a softphone
    • Configuring a SIP gateway
    • Configuring Google Voice
    • Codec configuration
  • Chapter 3: Processing Call Detail Records (available as a sample chapter in PDF format)
    • Introduction
    • Using CSV CDRs
    • Using XML CDRs
    • Inserting CDRs into a backend database
    • Using a web server to handle XML CDRs
    • Using the event socket to handle CDRs
  • Chapter 4: External Control
    • Introduction
    • Getting familiar with the fs_cli interface
    • Setting up the event socket library
    • Establishing an inbound event socket connection
    • Establishing an outbound event socket connection
    • Using fs_ivrd to manage outbound connections
    • Filtering events
    • Launching a call with an inbound event socket connection
    • Using the ESL connection object for call control
    • Using the built-in web interface
  • Chapter 5: PBX Functionality
    • Introduction
    • Creating users
    • Accessing voicemail
    • Company directory
    • Using phrase macros to build sound prompts
    • Creating XML IVR menus
    • Music on hold
    • Creating conferences
    • Sending faxes
    • Receiving faxes
    • Basic text-to-speech with mod_flite
    • Advanced text-to-speech with mod_tts_commandline
    • Listening to live calls with telecast
    • Recording calls
  • Index

As you can see, the order progresses from the basics (setting up your extensions, and inbound and outbound routing) to the sort of things you might want to do in a more full-featured PBX. Chapter 4 in particular will be of interest to many developers. I’ll quote from the introduction to that chapter:

One of the most powerful features of FreeSWITCH is the ability to connect to it and control it from an external resource. This is made possible by the powerful FreeSWITCH event system and its connection to the outside world: the event socket. The event socket interface is a simple TCP-based connection that programmers can use to connect to the inner-workings of a FreeSWITCH server. Furthermore, the FreeSWITCH developers have also created the Event Socket Library (ESL), which is an abstraction layer to make programming with the event socket a lot simpler. The following languages are supported by ESL:

  • C/C++
  • Lua
  • Perl
  • PHP
  • Python
  • Ruby
  • TCL

Keep in mind that the ESL is only an abstraction library—you can connect to the event socket with any socket-capable application, including telnet!

The tips in this chapter will focus most of their attention on using the event socket for some common use cases. The last tip, though, will introduce a particularly interesting way to connect to FreeSWITCH externally without using the event socket, namely, using the built-in web server that is enabled when you install mod_xml_rpc. Regardless of how you wish to control FreeSWITCH, it is highly recommended that you read the first recipe in this chapter, Getting familiar with the fs_cli interface, as this will serve you well in all aspects of working with FreeSWITCH.

This, of course, is somewhat analogous to controlling Asterisk via Asterisk Gateway Interface programming, but it appears that you get more functionality in FreeSWITCH, and more languages are supported.

I have said on many occasions that I am not a programmer, so in one sense I’m not exactly the target audience for this book.  However, I know just enough about coding to be able to appreciate when a book lays out examples in a clear, easy-to-understand manner, with enough comments for you to “get” what the author is trying to explain to you.  Personally, if I could just get over my hurdle of not fully grasping XML (which is actually strange, because I have no problem understanding basic HTML, which is very similar), I think that this book would be a lot more useful to me in understanding how to do things in FreeSWITCH.  I sort of “get” Asterisk dialplans a little bit, but for some odd reason XML is not nearly as understandable to me.  I guess everyone’s mind works a little differently.  If you work with FreeSWITCH and you don’t share my mental block with regard to XML, you are really going to like this book.  In terms of layout and readability, I think it’s one of the best titles I’ve seen from Packt.

One thing in particular I like about this book is that they don’t just give you the XML dialplan (although the XML is included), but the authors then explain to you how it works.  In addition, in many cases they also give you additional related information, such as tweaks you can make to the XML to perform slightly different functions or otherwise modify the behavior, and links to additional resources you made need.  So, you are not just viewing XML samples and then left on your own to puzzle out how they work!

In fact, I really only have one criticism of the book — it’s too short!  It’s only 134 pages from opening material to the index at the end.  But I’ll balance that by saying this — I’ve seen too many books that have a high page count, but a high percentage of the book is “filler”, much like the low-grade ground beef you buy at some supermarkets.  With this book, other than a few obligatory opening pages that tell you a bit about the authors and others involved with the book, it’s solid content.  No history of something or other, no long personal ramblings by the authors, etc. — just the “recipes” for doing the various things you might want to do in FreeSWITCH, and then the explanations as to how they work and other useful and relevant content.  You have to ask yourself the question, “Will this book save me time?” (almost certainly, if you are doing any of the things covered in the chapters of this book) and “How much is my time worth?”, and “Can I learn something from this book that would be useful to me?” (if you developing a project using FreeSWITCH, I can’t imagine how you wouldn’t).

My personal hope is that those who write, or who may be considering writing the next generation of GUI configuration programs for FreeSWITCH will get this book.  It basically shows you how to do everything you need to do to create a working PBX, and for those that are programmers, Chapter 4 is where the real magic is revealed.  That said, I would highly recommend this book for anyone attempting to develop a project using FreeSWITCH!

You can read a sample chapter here (PDF format).

FreeSWITCH Cookbook by Anthony Minessale, Michael S Collins, Darren Schreiber, Raymond Chandler (Amazon affiliate link)

Addendum: Just a bit more from the publisher’s site:

What you will learn from this book

  • Configure users and phones as well as connections to VoIP providers and even Google Voice
  • Control FreeSWITCH remotely with the powerful event socket interface
  • Route inbound and outbound calls
  • Handle call detail records, which includes inserting CDRs into a database
  • Enable text-to-speech conversion in your voice applications
  • Monitor calls via the FreeSWITCH Web interface