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A Deeper Dive Into the Webex Bot Framework for Node.js

February 27, 2020
Philip Bellanti
Philip BellantiTechnical Marketing Engineer at Cisco
A Deeper Dive Into the Webex Bot Framework for Node.js

Hopefully all of you Webex bot developers had a chance to check out my recent post that introduced the open source Webex Bot Framework for Node.js. Assuming you've already done that, let's take a closer look at some of the essential functions of the framework and how they can be used to speed up the bot building process.

Framework Highlights

One of the best reasons to use this bot framework is to take advantage of some great built-in time saving mechanisms, allowing you to write less code. The framework gets this done by abstracting away some of the more complex Webex developer interfaces and streamlining a lot of the tedious parts of chat bot app development. Here are just some of the things it does automatically for you:

  • Registers all the necessary webhooks (when you provide a webhook URL) or websockets (when no URL is provided)
  • Finds all the spaces the bot is in without having to script multiple API calls
  • Knows when a person enters or leaves a space with the bot, or when someone sends a message to the bot

The framework also makes other aspects of bot development easier, such as:

  • Quickly reference details of a message and the person who sent it
  • Responding with Buttons & Cards without having to build the Messages API call that includes attachments
  • Ability to call the full range of Webex APIs from the Webex Node.js SDK

Common Framework Operations

Generally, the lion's share of bot's logic is based around responding to external events from either Webex or other systems and passing info back and forth between these systems. The framework makes it easy for developers to respond to Webex events like a new message or membership changes in spaces where the bot has been added. As a developer you need only to create a handler for the Webex events you are interested in. When the app runs, the framework calls the handlers that you created to run the essential logic of the bot.

Probably the most common handler you'll write for new messages, is framework.hears() which allows your bot to "listen" for your predefined commands. The command can be specified as a string or regular expression. As such, when the app hears a match of specific command from the user, the framework.hears function will be called. Then the framework passes some important parameters to that function:

  • The bot object which represents the instance of your bot in the specific space where the message was sent
  • The trigger object which includes details about the message itself and the person that sent it

The bot object also has functions you can call to have your bot take certain actions, for example, the bot.say() function can be used to send a message in the space. Full details of the bot object and its functions can be found in the framework's documentation.

In the example below, when the bot hears the word "hello", it will respond to the user with a personalized greeting using the trigger object data:

framework.hears('hello', function (bot, trigger) {
  console.log("I heard a hello.");
  bot.say('Hello, ' + trigger.person.displayName);
});

Another important handler is framework.on('spawn'), which gets called whenever your bot is added to a space. When your bot server first starts, the spawn handler is called for the recent spaces that your bot is already in. Afterwards, it will get called anytime someone adds your bot to a new space or if there is new activity in an older space that your bot is already in. If the addedBy parameter is set, it means your bot has just been added to a new space. To help you differentiate those cases, refer to the the example handler below:

framework.on('spawn', function (bot, id, addedBy) {
  if (addedBy) {
    // addedBy is the ID of the user who just added our bot to a new space,
    // Say hello, and tell users what you do!
    bot.say('Hi there, you can say hello to me.  Don\'t forget you need to mention me in a group space!');
  } else {
    // don't say anything here or your bot's spaces will get
    // spammed every time your server is restarted
    console.log('Framework created an object for an existing bot in a space called: ' + bot.room.title);
  }
});

Again, you can find a full list of framework events, such as the spawn event, in the framework documentation.

There can also be scenarios where your bot may need to have more complex interactions with the user that would be inefficient over regular text. In cases like these, a better way for your bot to respond to a framework.hears() command is by sending a card instead of just a text message. This can be done by calling bot.sendCard() in place of bot.say() function. This is demonstrated in the buttons and cards example app provided as part of the framework.

What About All the Other Webex APIs?

Although the framework and the bot objects are there to make it easy to do the most common tasks, they don't prevent you from calling the full-range of Webex APIs. The framework and bot objects include an instance of the Webex JavaScript SDK which provides the functions needed for calling any of the Webex API endpoints.

For example you might want your bot to say hello to everyone in a space. You can use the Webex JavaScript SDK to list all the members of the space to implement something like this:

framework.hears("say hi to everyone", function (bot, trigger) {
  // Use the webex SDK to get the list of users in this space
  bot.webex.memberships.list({roomId: bot.room.id})
    .then((memberships) => {
      for (const member of memberships.items) {
        let displayName = (member.personDisplayName) ? member.personDisplayName : member.personEmail;
        bot.say('Hello ' + displayName);
      }
    });
});

The complete documentation for the Webex JavaScript SDK can be found here: https://webex.github.io/webex-js-sdk/api

Community Feedback

Now that you've learned a lot about the framework, we'd love to hear about the bots you're building now or are planning to down the road. Click here to join the Public# Webex-Bot-Node-Framework Support space in Webex Teams and tell us about your cool bot ideas. We're also in there to help with any questions or technical support for anything pertaining to the framework. You'll also want to stay tuned to this page - my next post will cover some general best practices for designing and building Webex bots. Until then, have some fun with it!

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