PHP
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By Christopher Thomas

Hello, Laravel? Communicating with PHP through SMS!

By Christopher Thomas
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Hello, Laravel? Sending SMS and phone calls to Laravel apps!

This article was peer reviewed by Wern Ancheta. Thanks to all of SitePoint’s peer reviewers for making SitePoint content the best it can be!


In this article, we will modify our Laravel-powered phone-capable weather forecast app so that it is accessible via SMS (text message) in addition to the voice telephone system. It is recommended you read the previous post if you haven’t done so yet – it’s a 10 minute read for an excellent outcome.

Note: If you’re confused by the development environment we’re using, it’s Homestead Improved and you can learn more about it here, or go in detail by buying our book about PHP environments.

Vector icon of phone with weather icon overlaid

Adding Routes

To allow for SMS communication, we need some more routes. Open up the routes/web.php file and append the following code to it:

Route::group(['prefix' => 'sms', 'middleware' => 'twilio'], function () {
    Route::post('weather', 'SmsController@showWeather')->name('weather');
});

The prefix for the route is sms, so that routes will have a path like /sms/weather, as the one in the example. This is the only route we need for SMS, as Twilio will call the same route over and over again. Twilio will access it via HTTP POST. We could also do this without the prefix, but it’s more flexible this way if we decide to add more functionality to the SMS side later.

Service Layer

Next, we’ll modify the service we wrote previously. Open up the app/Services/WeatherService.php file and remove the current getWeather method, then replace it with the one below:

    public function getWeather($zip, $dayName, $forSms = false)
    {

        $point = $this->getPoint($zip);
        $tz = $this->getTimeZone($point);
        $forecast = $this->retrieveNwsData($zip);
        $ts = $this->getTimestamp($dayName, $zip);

        $tzObj = new \DateTimeZone($tz->timezoneId);

        $tsObj = new \DateTime(null, $tzObj);
        $tsObj->setTimestamp($ts);

        foreach ($forecast->properties->periods as $k => $period) {
            $startTs = strtotime($period->startTime);
            $endTs = strtotime($period->endTime);

            if ($ts > $startTs and $ts < $endTs) {
                $day = $period;
                break;
            }
        }

        $weather = $day->name;
        $weather .= ' the ' . $tsObj->format('jS') . ': ';

        $response = new Twiml();

        if ($forSms) {
            $remainingChars = 140 - strlen($weather);

            if (strlen($day->detailedForecast) > $remainingChars) {
                $weather .= $day->shortForecast;
                $weather .= '. High of ' . $day->temperature . '. ';
                $weather .= $day->windDirection;
                $weather .= ' winds of ' . $day->windSpeed;
            } else {
                $weather .= $day->detailedForecast;
            }

            $response->message($weather);
        } else {
            $weather .= $day->detailedForecast;

            $gather = $response->gather(
                [
                    'numDigits' => 1,
                    'action' => route('day-weather', [], false)
                ]
            );

            $menuText = ' ';
            $menuText .= "Press 1 for Sunday, 2 for Monday, 3 for Tuesday, ";
            $menuText .= "4 for Wednesday, 5 for Thursday, 6 for Friday, ";
            $menuText .= "7 for Saturday. Press 8 for the credits. ";
            $menuText .= "Press 9 to enter in a new zipcode. ";
            $menuText .= "Press 0 to hang up.";

            $gather->say($weather . $menuText);
        }

        return $response;
    }

This function is very similar to the old one. The only difference is that it takes into consideration that the weather request might be coming form a telephone device via SMS, so it makes sure that the weather forecast isn’t too long and tries to limit it to less than 140 characters. The response for SMS is still TwiML, just formatted for SMS.

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Controller

Create a file called SmsController.php in the app/Http/Controllers folder and put the following code into it:

<?php

namespace App\Http\Controllers;

use App\Services\WeatherService;
use Illuminate\Http\Request;
use Twilio\Twiml;

class SmsController extends Controller
{
    protected $weather;

    public function __construct(WeatherService $weatherService)
    {
        $this->weather = $weatherService;
    }

    public function showWeather(Request $request)
    {
        $parts = $this->parseBody($request);

        switch ($parts['command']) {
            case 'zipcode':
                $zip = $parts['data'];

                $request->session()->put('zipcode', $zip);

                $response = $this->weather->getWeather($zip, 'Today', true);

                break;
            case 'day':
                $zip = $request->session()->get('zipcode');

                $response = $this->weather->getWeather($zip, $parts['data'], true);

                break;
            case 'credits':
                $response = new Twiml();

                $response->message($this->weather->getCredits());

                break;
            default:
                $response = new Twiml();

                $text = 'Type in a zipcode to get the current weather. ';
                $text .= 'After that, you can type the day of the week to get that weather.';

                $response->message($text);

                break;
        }

        return $response;
    }

    private function parseBody($request)
    {
        $ret = ['command' => ''];
        $body = trim($request->input('Body'));

        if (is_numeric($body) and strlen($body) == 5) {
            $ret['command'] = 'zipcode';
            $ret['data'] = $body;
        }

        if (in_array(ucfirst(strtolower($body)), $this->weather->daysOfWeek) !== false) {
            $ret['command'] = 'day';
            $ret['data'] = ucfirst(strtolower($body));
        }

        if (strtolower($body) == 'credits') {
            $ret['command'] = 'credits';
        }

        return $ret;
    }
}

When an SMS message comes in from a user, Twilio will always hit the same route. This app does not have any redirects. That is why we only defined one route meaning all the requests will be going through the showWeather method. There are different things a user can text the app, so we will parse the request body to figure out what they want using the parseBody method.

The parseBody method first creates a default return value. Then, it strips whitespace. This is so that if a user inputs “90210 ” (note the space), the program will still work as intended. Once the whitespace has been stripped, the body of the text is evaluated against three if statements. The first if statement checks to see if the user entered a zipcode. The second if statement checks to see if the user entered in a day of the week. It normalizes the input by making sure that only the first letter is capitalized, and compares it to the contents of the $daysOfWeek array property in the WeatherService class to determine if a day of the week was mentioned. The last if statement checks if a user requested the credits. If none of the three if statements evaluate to true then the program cannot figure out what the user wants and will return the default value. This default value will make the weather method send the user a help message that explains how to use the app.

The parseBody method returns an array with two keys in it. The command key is what the user’s intention was determined to be. The data key is the data that goes with the command. Inside the showWeather method, after the parsebody is called, a switch statement is used to look at the value of the command array key.

If the parser determines a user texted a zipcode, then we store the zipcode in a session and return today’s forecast for that zipcode. A sample TwiML response looks like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<Response>
  <Message>This Afternoon the 31st: Sunny, with a high near 72. South southwest wind around 8 mph.
  </Message>
</Response>

If it is determined a day of the week was entered, then that day’s forecast is returned. A sample TwiML response looks like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<Response>
  <Message>Monday the 3rd: Sunny, with a high near 70.
  </Message>
</Response>

If the parser determines the credits were asked for, then the app returns a TwiML response with the credits:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<Response>
  <Message>Weather data provided by the National Weather Service. Zipcode data provided by GeoNames.
  </Message>
</Response>

If the parser cannot determine the user’s intent, then a help message is returned with this TwiML:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<Response>
  <Message>Type in a zipcode to get the current weather. After that, you can type the day of the week to get that weather.
  </Message>
</Response>

Twilio

Login to your Twilio account and navigate to the settings for your phone number. You can see your number by going to this page. In the SMS section, put in the URL in the following format: http://NGROK_HOST/sms/weather, where NGROK_HOST is the hostname in the URL you noted from the Ngrok program.

Image of webhook page on Twilio

Using the App

Open up the text messaging app on your phone and send a zipcode like 92010 to your Twilio phone number. In a couple of seconds, you should get a response with today’s forecast.

Image of iPhone SMS app with weather of entered zipcode

Next, you can send a day of the week to the number and it will respond with that day’s forecast.

Image of iPhone SMS app with weather of entered day

You can also send the word credits and it will return the credits.

Image of iPhone SMS app with the credits for the app

If you enter in a command the weather app does not understand, it returns some help text.

Image of iPhone SMS app with weather help

Conclusion

Over the course of two articles, we have seen how to build an application that is able to interact with users via the voice telephone system using voice menus and to interact with them using SMS. This was implemented using Laravel for the application backend and Twilio for the telephone / SMS integration. With writing a little bit more code, we have seen that it is possible to extend the voice app to have the same functionality exposed to users via SMS.

You can find the example code for this article series on Github.

There are lots of possibilities for apps that you can implement with Twilio and PHP, this is just a little glimpse into what can be done. Check out the documentation here for some inspiration.

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