Building a WhatsApp to-do list bot with Programmable Conversations

MessageBird recently launched Programmable Conversations. It lets companies blend communications platforms like WhatsApp, Messenger and SMS into their systems — using a single API.

I wanted to give it a whirl, so I built a WhatsApp bot to-do list, because who doesn’t need an automated to-do list to help organize their day? It may sound complicated, but it was actually easy, and I’d like to tell you all about it.

Now, I work at MessageBird, so I could just dive in and start building. If you try this, you’ll need to request early access. But once you’re set up with a WhatsApp channel, you can log on to the Dashboard on the MessageBird website and get started.

Let's start building

The first thing I did was read the docs. I learned that, in order to get messages from the bot, I would have to use a webhook. This meant that my bot would need to be accessible from the internet. Since I was just starting to code it, I decided to use ngrok. It creates a tunnel from the public internet to your dear localhost port 5007. Engage!

ngrok http 5007 -region eu -subdomain todobot

Next, I needed to do a call to the Conversations API to create the webhook. It’s a

POST
to
https://conversations.messagebird.com/v1/webhooks
and it looks something like this:

func main() {
// define the webhook json payload
wh := struct {
Events []string `json:"events"`
ChannelID string `json:"channelId"`
URL string `json:"url"`
} {
// we would like to be notified on the URL
URL: "https://todobot.eu.ngrok.io/create-hook",
// whenever a message gets created
Events: []string{"message.created"},
// on the WhatsApp channel with ID
ChannelID: "23a780701b8849f7b974d8620a89a279",
}
// encode the payload to json
var b bytes.Buffer
err := json.NewEncoder(&b).Encode(&wh)
if err != nil {
panic(err)
}
// create the http request and set authorization header
req, err := http.NewRequest("POST", "https://conversations.messagebird.com/v1/webhooks", &b)
req.Header.Set("Authorization", "AccessKey todo-your-access-key")
req.Header.Set("Content-Type", "application/json")
// fire the http request
client := &http.Client{}
resp, err := client.Do(req)
if err != nil {
panic(err)
}
defer resp.Body.Close()
// is everything ok?
body, _ := ioutil.ReadAll(resp.Body)
if resp.StatusCode >= http.StatusBadRequest {
panic(fmt.Errorf("Bad response code from api when trying to create webhook: %s. Body: %s", resp.Status, string(body)))
} else {
log.Println("All good. response body: ", string(body))
}
}

Sweet. Now the Conversations API is going to do a

POST
request to
https://todobot.eu.ngrok.io/create-hook
whenever a new message gets created on the WhatsApp channel you set up earlier.

This is what a webhook payload looks like:

{
"conversation":{
"id":"55c66895c22a40e39a8e6bd321ec192e",
"contactId":"db4dd5087fb343738e968a323f640576",
"status":"active",
"createdDatetime":"2018-08-17T10:14:14Z",
"updatedDatetime":"2018-08-17T14:30:31.915292912Z",
"lastReceivedDatetime":"2018-08-17T14:30:31.898389294Z"
},
"message":{
"id":"ddb150149e2c4036a48f581544e22cfe",
"conversationId":"55c66895c22a40e39a8e6bd321ec192e",
"channelId":"23a780701b8849f7b974d8620a89a279",
"status":"received",
"type":"text",
"direction":"received",
"content":{
"text":"add buy milk"
},
"createdDatetime":"2018-08-17T14:30:31.898389294Z",
"updatedDatetime":"2018-08-17T14:30:31.915292912Z"
},
"type":"message.created"
}

We want to answer those messages. Let’s start by echoing them, what do you say?

// define the structs where we'll parse the webhook payload in
type whPayload struct {
Conversation conversation `json:"conversation"`
Message message `json:"message"`
Type string `json:"type"`
}
type message struct {
ID string `json:"id"`
Direction string `json:"direction"`
Type string `json:"type"`
Content content `json:"content"`
}
type content struct {
Text string `json:"text"`
}
type conversation struct {
ID string `json:"id"`
}
func main() {
http.HandleFunc("/create-hook", createHookHandler)
log.Fatal(http.ListenAndServe(*httpListenAddress, nil))
}
// createHookHandler is an http handler that will handle webhook requests
func createHookHandler(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
// parse the incoming json payload
whp := &whPayload{}
err := json.NewDecoder(r.Body).Decode(whp)
if err != nil {
log.Println("Err: got weird body on the webhook")
w.WriteHeader(http.StatusInternalServerError)
fmt.Fprintf(w, "Internal Server Error")
return
}
if whp.Message.Direction != "received" {
// you will get *all* messages on the webhook. Even the ones this bot sends to the channel. We don't want to answer those.
fmt.Fprintf(w, "ok")
return
}
// echo: respond what we get
err = respond(whp.Conversation.ID, whp.Message.Content.Text)
if err != nil {
log.Println("Err: ", err)
w.WriteHeader(http.StatusInternalServerError)
fmt.Fprintf(w, "Internal Server Error")
return
}
w.WriteHeader(http.StatusOK)
fmt.Fprintf(w, "ok")
}

Now, for the interesting part. Do a

POST
request to
https://conversations.messagebird.com/v1/conversations/<conversationID>/messages
to answer the request.

func respond(conversationID, responseBody string) error {
u := fmt.Sprintf("https://conversations.messagebird.com/v1/conversations/%s/messages", conversationID)
msg := message{
Content: content{
Text: responseBody,
},
Type: "text",
}
var b bytes.Buffer
err := json.NewEncoder(&b).Encode(&msg)
if err != nil {
return fmt.Errorf("Error encoding buffer: %v", err)
}
req, err := http.NewRequest("POST", u.String(), &b)
req.Header.Set("Authorization", "AccessKey todo-your-access-key")
req.Header.Set("Content-Type", "application/json")
client := &http.Client{}
resp, err := client.Do(req)
if err != nil {
return err
}
defer resp.Body.Close()
body, _ := ioutil.ReadAll(resp.Body)
if resp.StatusCode != http.StatusCreated {
return fmt.Errorf("Bad response code from api when trying to create message: %s. Body: %s", resp.Status, string(body))
}
log.Println("All good. Response body: ", string(body))
return nil
}

There. This is all you need to create a bot that acts like 5-year-old human.

Now, let’s make a push towards building the whole to-do list. First, modify the

createHookHandler
function a bit so it calls the new handleMessage function instead of
respond
.

func createHookHandler(w http.ResponseWriter, r *http.Request) {
...
err = handleMessage(whp)
...
}

handle
will simplistically parse the messages, do some work, and pick the response. Let’s look at the “add” command:

func handleMessage(whp *whPayload) error {
// every conversation has a todo list
list := manager.fetch(whp.Conversation.ID)
// parse the command from the message body: it's the first word
text := whp.Message.Content.Text
text = regexp.MustCompile(" +").ReplaceAllString(text, " ")
parts := strings.Split(text, " ")
command := strings.ToLower(parts[0])
// default message
responseBody := "I don't understand. Type 'help' to get help."
switch command {
...
case "add":
if len(parts) < 2 {
return respond(whp.Conversation.ID, "err... the 'add' command needs a second param: the todo item you want to save. Something like 'add buy milk'.")
}
// get the item from the message body
item := strings.Join(parts[1:], " ")
list.add(item)
responseBody = "added."
...
return respond(whp.Conversation.ID, responseBody)
}

Here, we set up:

list := manager.fetch(whp.Conversation.ID)
. Basically, “manager” is a concurrency safe map that maps conversation IDs to to-do lists.

A to-do list is a concurrency safe string slice. All in memory!

Another important thing! You can archive conversations. In some applications, like CRMs, it’s important to keep track of certain interactions — to track the effectiveness of customer support employees, for example. The Conversations API lets you archive a conversation to “close” the topic. If the user/customer sends another message, the Conversations API will open a new topic automatically.

Also. Doing

PATCH
request to https://conversations.messagebird.com/v1/conversations/{id} with the right status on the body allows you to archive the conversation with that id. We do this with the “bye” command:

case "bye":
archiveConversation(whp.Conversation.ID)
manager.close(whp.Conversation.ID)
responseBody = "bye!"

archiveConversation
will do the PATCH request and manager.close(whp.Conversation.ID) will remove the to-do list conversation.

Try out another platform

But hey, Programmable Conversations is an omni-channel solution. What if you wanted to reuse the code of the bot for a different platform, like WeChat? How would you go about it?

Just create a new webhook to target that channel! A webhook that sends requests to the same

https://todobot.eu.ngrok.io/create-hook
url we used for WhatsApp!

This will work because the handler code always uses the conversationID from the webhook payload to answer the messages instead of a hardcoded channelID. MessageBird’s Conversations API will automatically determine the channel for the conversation to send your message over.

Want to build your own bot?

Take a look at the full code on Github: https://github.com/marcelcorso/wabot, request early access to WhatsApp via this link and start building.

Happy botting!

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