RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and it is the most popular feed standard on the web today. You may have seen links on some of your favorite websites (including this one) that advertise their RSS feeds for you to subscribe to. If you’ve never used a web feed before, you may be surprised how simple they really are.
RSS is a family of standardized formats for web content that allow you to check your favorite websites for new material all at once, without having to go to each site individually. Everything is brought directly to your feed reader when it’s made available by the publishers.
How does it work?
RSS is essentially just an extension of eXtensible Markup Language (XML), a set of standards that allow for easy organization of content for consumption by machines. It details the relationships between the information so that it can be translated by the computer in a way that makes sense to human readers. A simple RSS document might look like the following:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?> <rss version="2.0"> <channel> <title>Title of the feed</title> <link>http://danielsellergren.com/rss</link> <description>Description of the feed's content</description> <pubDate>Mar, 21 2010 00:16:45 EST</pubDate> <category>Web development</category> <language>en-us</language> <copyright> © 2011 Daniel Sellergren</copyright> <item> <title>Title of the first article</title> <description>Description of first article</description> <link>http://danielsellergren.com/first-article</link> <pubDate>Mar, 21 2010 00:16:45 EST</pubDate> </item> <item> <title>Title of the second article</title> <description>Description of second article</description> <link>http://danielsellergren.com/second-article</link> <pubDate>Mar, 11 2010 00:08:17 EST</pubDate> </item> </channel> </rss>
One of the major advantages to RSS/XML markup is that it mimics the hierarchical way in which humans often organize information. Outer
<rss> tags tell what type of document is to follow, and the
<channel> tags enclose the content itself. Inside there are also tags for
<link> which are required attributes for describing the overall content of the feed itself. There are also many optional fields that you can include to enhance your feed by giving information about publication date and category. For a full list of
<channel> tags you can click here.
<channel> tags there can be numerous
<item> tags that denote individual articles within the feed. Each one has a
<link> just like the feed except tailored to relate to a specific article. These also accept many optional fields that can allow the reader to have more detailed information.
Using a reader
There are many options available for reading RSS feeds, including some that you may already have access to. For example, most of the major web browsers such as Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer have built in RSS readers that you can use without even opening another application. Chrome is notoriously missing its own built in reader, most likely due to the popularity of the Google Reader, their web-based RSS client.
Adding a feed to your reader is generally as simple as clicking the link provided on a website. If you use your browser’s built in reader, it will add it automatically to your list. Some sites will also provide a set of links that will automatically add their feed to one of your web-based readers such as Google’s. If all else fails, you can simply copy and paste a link to the site’s RSS feed into your preferred reader and you’re good to go!
RSS for your site
Adding an RSS feed for your site is generally simple if you use a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla! Many have built in RSS capabilities, but any major CMS that doesn’t will certainly have an appropriate plugin that updates feed when you update your site. For WordPress automatically maintains an RSS feed for you in several different versions which you can link to by using the following commands:
<?php /* RDF/RSS 1.0 feed */ bloginfo('rdf_url'); /* RSS 0.92 feed */ bloginfo('rss_url'); /* RSS 2.0 feed */ bloginfo('rss2_url'); /* Atom feed */ bloginfo('atom_url'); ?>
If you are not using a CMS, you’re going to have to either write code into your application that generates the feed for you, or update it manually each time you make an update to your site. This can be very time consuming, which is why many sites prefer to use an established CMS if they are regularly producing a large amount of content.
For more information please visit the following resources.
- Wikipedia Article on RSS
- What is RSS?
- W3Schools RSS Tutorial
- Make RSS Feeds
- RSS 2.0 at Harvard Law
- W3 RSS Feed Standard
- WordPress RSS URLs