Topics and Messages

In this exercise, we will explore the concept of ROS messages and topics.


The first type of ROS communication that we will explore is a one-way communication called messages which are sent over channels called topics. Typically one node publishes messages on a topic and another node subscribes to messages on that same topic. In this module we will create a subscriber node which subscribes to an existing publisher (topic/message).

Further Information and Resources

Understanding Topics

Creating Messages and Services

Scan-N-Plan Application: Problem Statement

We now have a base ROS node and we want to build on this node. Now we want to create a subscriber within our node.

Your goal is to create your first ROS subscriber:

  1. First you will want to find out the message structure.

  2. You also want to determine the topic name.

  3. Last you can write the c++ code which serves as the subscriber.

Scan-N-Plan Application: Guidance

Add the fake_ar_publisher Package as a Dependency

  1. Edit your package’s CMakeLists.txt file (~/ros2_ws/src/myworkcell_core/CMakeLists.txt). Make the following changes in the file:

    1. In the dependencies section, tell cmake to find the fake_ar_publisher package:

      find_package(fake_ar_publisher REQUIRED)
    2. Add the package to the list of dependencies of the vision_node target:

      ament_target_dependencies(vision_node rclcpp fake_ar_publisher)
  2. Add a dependency in your package’s package.xml:


Inspect the Message Type

  1. In a terminal, enter ros2 interface package fake_ar_publisher. You will see all new ROS message types defined in that package. Only a single new type is defined: fake_ar_publisher/msg/ARMarker.

  2. Type ros2 interface show fake_ar_publisher/msg/ARMarker. The terminal will return the types and names of the fields in the message.

Run a Publisher Node

  1. In a terminal, type ros2 run fake_ar_publisher fake_ar_publisher_node. You should see the program start up and begin publishing messages.

  2. In another terminal, enter ros2 topic list. You should see /ar_pose_marker among the topics listed. Entering ros2 topic type /ar_pose_marker will return the type of the message.

  3. Enter ros2 topic echo /ar_pose_marker. The terminal will show the fields for each message as they come in, separated by a --- line. Press Ctrl+C to exit.

  • It may look like the messages are static, but they are actually just continually publishing the same values.

  1. Experiment with other ros2 topic commands to learn more about this topic:

    ros2 topic info /ar_pose_marker
    ros2 topic info -v /ar_pose_marker
    ros2 topic hz /ar_pose_marker
    ros2 topic bw /ar_pose_marker
  2. In a new terminal, enter ros2 run rqt_plot rqt_plot.

    1. Once the window opens, type /ar_pose_marker/pose/pose/position/x in the “Topic:” field and click the “+” button. You should see the X value be plotted. If you can’t see the X value, try changing the axes on your graph.

    2. Type /ar_pose_marker/pose/pose/position/y in the topic field, and click on the add button. You will now see both the x and y values being graphed.

    • The plot doesn’t look very interesting, since the simulated values are constant. Use the plot tools to zoom out until you see both X & Y values plotted. Can you use the plot data to estimate the XYZ position published by fake_ar_publisher?

    1. Close the window.

  3. Leave the publisher node running for the next task.

Create a Subscriber Node

We will now expand on the simple hello-world node created in vision_node.cpp to subscribe to the /ar_pose_marker topic.

  1. Edit the vision_node.cpp file.

  2. Include the message type as a header

    #include <fake_ar_publisher/msg/ar_marker.hpp>
  3. Add code above the main function that creates a new Node Class that subscribes to a topic of a type published by the fake_ar_publisher. The recommended ROS2 architecture is to create a class object for each Node. This allows you to easily restructure your code later to assign either one or multiple nodes to a single process.

    class Localizer : public rclcpp::Node
      Localizer() : Node("vision_node"), last_msg_{nullptr}
        ar_sub_ = this->create_subscription<fake_ar_publisher::msg::ARMarker>(
            std::bind(&Localizer::visionCallback, this, std::placeholders::_1));
      void visionCallback(fake_ar_publisher::msg::ARMarker::SharedPtr msg)
        last_msg_ = msg;
        RCLCPP_INFO(get_logger(), "Received pose: x=%f, y=%f, z=%f",
      rclcpp::Subscription<fake_ar_publisher::msg::ARMarker>::SharedPtr ar_sub_;
      fake_ar_publisher::msg::ARMarker::SharedPtr last_msg_;

    The important lines to understand here are:

    1. class Localizer : public rclcpp::Node: This indicates any created Localizer object will be an independent ROS node.

    2. ar_sub_ = this->create_subscription<...>(...): A subscriber object is created and stored in a member variable of the class.

    3. <fake_ar_publisher::msg::ARMarker> : The expected message type of the subscribed topic.

    4. "ar_pose_marker",: The topic name the subscription is associated with.

    5. rclcpp::QoS(1),: ROS2 has many options for controlling the quality of service for communication between nodes, specified using the QoS type. Most options have defaults which are typically fine for normal use but a value is required to indicate the number of received messages to buffer, which is set as 1 here.

    6. std::bind(&Localizer::visionCallback, this, std::placeholders::_1): This tells the subscriber object what function to call when new topic messages are received. Note that the subscriber object is not passed a function pointer to the callback method directly, but instead uses std::bind. This is done because as a member function of a class, visionCallback must be bound to an instance of a Localizer object (i.e., the this pointer). Don’t worry if the call to std::bind seems cryptic; the large majority of your subscriptions will be of this form and you can simply copy-paste the syntax.

    7. void visionCallback(fake_ar_publisher::msg::ARMarker::SharedPtr msg): This is the callback function that will run anytime a new message is received on the topic. The callback for a subscription must have a signature of this form, with a single argument that contains the received message. This particular callback function saves a copy of the last-received message and prints its value to the console. This will help us for early debugging, but will later be replaced.

  4. Add the code that will connect the callback to the topic (within main())

    int main(int argc, char** argv)
      // The Localizer class provides this node's ROS interfaces
      auto node = std::make_shared<Localizer>();
      RCLCPP_INFO(node->get_logger(), "Vision node starting");
    • You can replace or leave the “Hello World” print… your choice!

    • These new lines replace the original rclcpp::Node which was created directly. Remember the Localizer object itself is a ROS node.

    • Make sure to retain the rclcpp::spin(node) call. A node has to be spinning in order for any callbacks to actually execute. It will typically be the last line in your main routine. Code after rclcpp::spin() won’t run until the node is shutting down.

  5. Run colcon build, then ros2 run myworkcell_core vision_node.

  6. You should see the positions display from the publisher.

  7. Press Ctrl+C on the publisher node. The subscriber will stop displaying information.

  8. Start the publisher node again. The subscriber will continue to print messages as the new program runs.

    • This is a key capability of ROS, to be able to restart individual nodes without affecting the overall system.