Zigbee2MQTT vs. ZHA: In-Depth Comparison of Zigbee Hub Alternatives

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In this comparison, we delve into two prominent open-source Zigbee gateways, specifically from a Home Assistant user's perspective: Zigbee2MQTT and ZHA (Zigbee Home Automation). ZHA operates using an open-source Python library that's closely integrated with Home Assistant, while Zigbee2MQTT is developed in JavaScript/TypeScript. While they share the common goal of enhancing Zigbee device integration, their methods, setup processes, and interaction with Home Assistant vary significantly.


Understanding Zigbee, Zigbee2MQTT, and ZHA

Zigbee is a prevalent communication protocol used in home automation and IoT devices, designed to offer small-scale, wireless connectivity with low power consumption for prolonged battery life. It supports mesh networking, where each node can transmit and relay data to others, boosting the network's range and reliability. However, manufacturer-provided Zigbee hubs often have limitations, such as proprietary software and limited cross-brand compatibility. This has led to the rise of open-source alternatives like Zigbee2MQTT and ZHA (Zigbee Home Automation).

Zigbee2MQTT is a bridge software that allows the use of a cheap Zigbee dongle with custom firmware as a hub. It converts Zigbee messages into MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport), a popular messaging protocol for IoT devices, facilitating greater flexibility and integration with systems like Home Assistant, openHAB, or Domoticz. Users favour Zigbee2MQTT for its extensive device support, compatibility with various dongles, and system openness, avoiding vendor lock-in.

ZHA (Zigbee Home Automation), directly integrated into platforms like Home Assistant, is a module allowing Zigbee device management without proprietary hubs. It supports various coordinator hardware and aims for a straightforward and integrated user experience. Users choose ZHA for its direct integration, ease of use, and compatibility with different Zigbee radio modules.

Zigbee2MQTT vs. ZHA: Zigbee Device Support

The viability of services like Zigbee2MQTT and ZHA hinges on the number of fully supported Zigbee devices. If the device you wish to integrate with Home Assistant isn't supported by either, your choice is effectively made. Before finalizing your decision and purchasing the appropriate hub or USB dongle, reviewing each project's GitHub issues is advisable. Often, newer devices are in the process of being supported but aren't yet stable.

A smart light bulb that can be controlled by Zigbee2MQTT and ZHA using the Zigbee protocol.

Zigbee2MQTT currently supports more devices than ZHA, as evident here. While ZHA covers fewer obscure devices, it supports all popular lights, motion sensors, and buttons from brands like Philips, IKEA, and Xiaomi. However, some devices are uniquely supported by ZHA. Nevertheless, Zigbee2MQTT is the overall winner in device support.

Winner: Zigbee2MQTT

Zigbee2MQTT vs. ZHA: Ease of Use and Home Assistant Integration

ZHA is notably easier to use, especially for those who have previously interacted with Zigbee2MQTT. ZHA is configured via the Home Assistant dashboard without having to wrestle with any YAML. Conversely, setting up Zigbee2MQTT involves either an additional Docker container or an add-on, depending on your Home Assistant configuration.

Integrating Zigbee2MQTT with Home Assistant is less straightforward than ZHA, requiring MQTT to already be set up. Despite being technically adept, I encountered some challenges in getting things operational.

Winner: ZHA

Comparing USB and Network Adapters for Zigbee2MQTT and ZHA

For your setup, a Zigbee-compatible adapter is essential. ZHA supports a variety of adapters, including those based on the EFR32MG21 radios using the EZSP protocol. For those seeking an integrated solution, Home Assistant Yellow, a first-party hardware product designed to run Home Assistant, offers a built-in option. Alternatively, for similar reliability on custom hardware, you can purchase the Home Assistant SkyConnect separately. Other popular and readily available options include the ConBee II (also known as ConBee 2) USB adapter and the RaspBee II (also known as RaspBee 2) Raspberry Pi Shield from Dresden Elektronik. For a readily accessible and personally recommended option, consider the SONOFF Zigbee 3.0 USB Dongle Plus Model “ZBDongle-E” (EFR32MG21 variant) by ITead.

Although Zigbee2MQTT lists both the ZBDongle-E and SkyConnect as experimental, its list of compatible adapters surpasses what ZHA currently offers. Another highly recommended and easily obtainable option from ITead is the SONOFF Zigbee 3.0 USB Dongle Plus ZBDongle-P. One area where ZHA lags is in support for network-based adapters. If you're considering such a device, it's advisable to opt for Ethernet options like the fully open-sourced CC2652P2 Based Zigbee to PoE Coordinator 2023.

Winner: Zigbee2MQTT

Zigbee2MQTT vs. ZHA: Stability and Reliability

The separation from Home Assistant is both a drawback and a benefit for Zigbee2MQTT. With ZHA, each time you reboot Home Assistant — a common occurrence when testing things — your Zigbee network also goes down. However, Zigbee2MQTT's independence means it remains unaffected by such reboots, provided you're not running it as a Home Assistant add-on.

For this specific reason, Zigbee2MQTT earns the edge in this category. If you rarely restart Home Assistant, this may be a non-issue for you. But for those seeking minimal downtime for their Zigbee network, running Zigbee2MQTT in a separate container is the optimal choice.

Winner: Zigbee2MQTT

Do Zigbee2MQTT and ZHA Support Zigbee Groups

In a recent article, I delved into the substantial benefits of integrating Zigbee Groups into your network, a topic you can explore further here. Zigbee Groups are a pivotal feature within the Zigbee protocol, allowing for simultaneous control of multiple devices as a cohesive unit. By grouping individual devices, you can issue a single command that affects all group members simultaneously, bypassing the need to address each device separately. This approach not only streamlines the control process, making it more efficient and user-friendly, but also significantly reduces network traffic and enhances response times. For example, you can turn off all the lights in a room with one command, rather than sending separate commands to each light. Implementing groups can substantially boost the performance and reliability of a Zigbee network, leading to a smoother and more effective smart home or building automation experience. Integrating Zigbee Groups early in your network setup is a wise strategy. Fortunately, both Zigbee2MQTT and ZHA offer comprehensive support for this feature.

Winner: Tie

A light fixture in a living room symbolising the use-case of Zigbee Groups. With the help of Zigbee Groups, ZHA and Zigbee2MQTT can address a fixture as a whole.
A light fixture in a living room symbolising the use-case of Zigbee Groups. With the help of Zigbee Groups, ZHA and Zigbee2MQTT can address a fixture as a whole.
A light fixture in a living room symbolising the use-case of Zigbee Groups. With the help of Zigbee Groups, ZHA and Zigbee2MQTT can address a fixture as a whole.

Do Zigbee2MQTT and ZHA Support OTA Firmware Updates for Zigbee Devices?

It's surprising to find that even basic devices like bulbs and buttons are subject to firmware updates. I've personally never observed a noticeable difference in a bulb's performance pre and post an OTA firmware update, leading me to question their importance. Yet, the release notes for Philips Hue bulbs mention enhancements in functionalities such as deep dimming and increased device security with newer versions.

Both Zigbee2MQTT and ZHA enable over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates. However, ZHA's support is more limited, encompassing only IKEA, LEDVANCE/OSRAM, SALUS/Computime, and INOVELLI devices, as stated in their documentation. On the other hand, Zigbee2MQTT boasts broader compatibility, supporting devices from IKEA, Philips Hue, Osram/LEDVANCE, Sengled, and more, as outlined here. With its wider device support, Zigbee2MQTT emerges as the frontrunner in this aspect.

Winner: Zigbee2MQTT

Summary: Which Zigbee Hub Alternative Is Best?

Determining whether to opt for Zigbee2MQTT or ZHA is not straightforward. Honestly, the best choice varies based on individual needs and setups. Personally, I use and recommend Zigbee2MQTT, but if you prefer a simpler setup process, ZHA might be more appealing. The aim of this comparison isn't to declare an absolute winner. Both ZHA and Zigbee2MQTT have their merits and drawbacks. I hope that this analysis assists you in making an informed decision that suits your specific requirements.

A portrait photo oif Liam Alexander Colman, the author, creator, and owner of Home Assistant Guide wearing a suit.

About Liam Alexander Colman

is an experienced Home Assistant user who has been utilizing the platform for a variety of projects over an extended period. His journey began with a Raspberry Pi, which quickly grew to three Raspberry Pis and eventually a full-fledged server. Liam's current operating system of choice is Unraid, with Home Assistant comfortably running in a Docker container.
With a deep understanding of the intricacies of Home Assistant, Liam has an impressive setup, consisting of various Zigbee devices, and seamless integrations with existing products such as his Android TV box. For those interested in learning more about Liam's experience with Home Assistant, he shares his insights on how he first started using the platform and his subsequent journey.

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