To get you started with the ESP8266 you can consult the excellent website Arduinesp that have compiled excellent tutorial on how to start programming an EPS8266.
The ESP8266 come into different form that are name ESP1, ESP2, … to the latest ESP12e. In this project I’ll use the ESP8266 ESP12e simply because it’s the most complete of all (have the more number of GPIO) and more or less the same price as the older version.
If you don’t have one ESP8266 yet you can buy it in your local hobby shop, ebay, amazon or order it directly from china. I personally bought them on AliExpress, 10 pieces for 21,15€ (23,90$) and I also bought 10 IO extension board for 1,60€ (1,80$). The extension are not required if you order the PCB presented in the Hardware part of this website but they are convenient to start playing with the ESP. Each board was individually packed and was delivered in Germany in about 3 weeks… yes, if you’re in a hurry, order from a local dealer! I ordered one board from Germany to start with this project without having to wait so long.
To power the board and make some test on a breadboard I use a small breadboard power converter that convert 5-12V to 3,3V that cost only 0,75€ (0,86$). It’s pretty convenient as it deliver 3,3V and 5V and integrated a power switch. Don’t use the 3,3V power source from the FTDI adapter, it simply cannot provide enough power for the ESP8266 to run smoothly.