SMS to e-mail gateway: The SMS doorbell

Over at NYC Resistor, it was getting cold, and we needed a doorbell so visitors wouldn’t be stranded outside when the building was locked. A standard wireless model didn’t work reliably (the space is on the fifth floor, just out of range), so various members generally resorted to writing their phone numbers on a sign on the front door when they were expecting guests.

Since almost everyone has a mobile phone already, and SMS-based solution seemed appropriate. In order to implement this we need two things:

  1. An SMS shortcode
  2. A system to notify when the shortcode is triggered

It’s irritating and expensive to acquire your own shortcode, but there are several services that will allow you to use one in exchange for a small fee or advertisements in your messages. TextMarks is my favorite (I used TextMarks for my WhereAmI project). While TextMarks markets their service as a system for mobile mailing lists, they allow you to reserve a keyword and define a behavior (that can include pulling data from a URL!) to occur when that keyword is triggered.

Configuring TextMarks

textmarks_configurationSign up for TextMarks and choose a keyword. Configure the keyword to respond with the “First 120 characters on web page”, and point it at the future home of your script (you can always come back and modify this later).

Note the as the value of the msg parameter — this instructs TextMarks to send along any additional message contents as the value of that parameter. That means if someone were to text 41411 “doorbell hi this is hilary”, TextMarks would call the script with the param msg=hi this is hilary. This can be quite useful.

The Script

This script is written in Python, but you can use any scripting language you like. This particular script just sends an e-mail to an account when the ‘doorbell’ is rung, but you could have it do pretty much anything up to and including ringing a real bell (which may be coming soon!).

#!/usr/bin/env python
# encoding: utf-8
Created by Hilary Mason, feel free to use this code in your own projects.

import sys, os
import smtplib
import cgi
import cgitb; cgitb.enable()

class Doorbell(object):
	def __init__(self, msg):
		message = """
Subject: KNOCK KNOCK, someone is at the door!

		""" % msg
		server = smtplib.SMTP('')
		server.login(self.GMAIL_USERNAME, self.GMAIL_PASSWORD)
		server.sendmail('', [''], message)

		print "You knocked! You can also call us at 347-586-9270. <3, NYC Resistor"

if __name__ == '__main__':
	print "Content-Type: text/plainnn"

	form = cgi.FieldStorage()
	if 'msg' in form:
		w = Doorbell(form['msg'].value)
		w = Doorbell('There is an anonymous monkey at the door.')

And that's it! Provided you have your keyword configured to point at your script, and the script living at an accessible address, you'll get an e-mail whenever your SMS doorbell is rung and the person who sent the message will get back a cute response confirming their action.


This setup can be easily extended such that a message containing 'doorbell hilary' could e-mail only me, or be forwarded to my phone.

I'm curious to see if having a remotely accessible 'doorbell' will encourage pranksters -- we might need to add a password.

5 Comments on “SMS to e-mail gateway: The SMS doorbell”

  1. Awesome stuff…now, instead of ringing an actual doorbell…how about the next version is hooked to a web cam? When you ring the door bell, it triggers the camera to take a picture and then sends the picture as an attachment in the email to people on the floor…and then just put a monitor up in the space that will show the pictures to anyone in the room when someone ‘rings’ the doorbell…then you can actually ‘see’ who’s at the door ;-)

  2. Ben Combee says:

    You do realize that I implemented this same thing a couple of weeks ago using the Chumby as the doorbell agent… same setup — send “NYCRDOOR R” to 41411 next time you’re in the space.

  3. Ben Combee says:

    Oh, it’s all documented at

  4. Hilary Mason says:

    @Kevin That would be awesome, though I might worry about someone stealing the webcam!

    @Ben – I actually assumed you based it on mine, I posted it to the mailing list back in November. :)

  5. This script is exciting in terms of its practicality and demonstrates great power for interfacing with machines… its simpler than even my NeXT scripts for lego robots lol … the thing I always struggle with in machine engagement code is how to capture the mechanical event. still too much of a novice with capturing haptic sensitive events… like the pressing of the doorbell itself… when the electronic connection is met with the button to compress the wires to send the signal to fire off the script, what sends the communication from the wires to bridge it to code? in order for your SMS to push? that piece is still missing for me in your demo… is that firmware in the doorbellpanel or something ? curious thx