What's an RSS Feed?
|First posted Jan 12, 2008|
Last update Mar 30, 2009
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. A syndication is a system for distributing information to a large number of people easily such as a newspaper syndication. An RSS Feed is an easy way for you to keep up with new items being posted on web sites that have RSS Feeds available, without having to visit the site first.
Once a day, or whenever you tell it to, your RSS reader will check the websites you have subscribed to for updates. If you check your RSS favorites you will be able to see if there have been any updates since the last time you looked.
You can subscribe to a Feed only if you have a program that can read an RSS file. These are called feed readers or aggregators. To subscribe to a feed, just click on the RSS icon. If you have an RSS reader, then you will see a page where you can either Subscribe to this Feed or copy the feed address into your stand alone reader. If you don't have a compatible RSS reader, then you will see a page full of gobbledegook. In that case, you need to get a reader.
Internet Explorer 7, Outlook 2007 and newer versions of FireFox have built-in Feed readers. Outlook Express version 6 does not have a Feed reader, but there are a number of Feed readers and feed reading plug-ins available on the Internet. Search Google for Outlook Express Feed reader and you should find several. For a free stand alone reader try this one from FeedReader.com
To see your subscribed feeds in Internet Explorer 7, just click the gold star in the upper left and your favorites will open. Look at the top bar above your favorites. Notice the item that says Feeds. Click that and you will see any feeds you are subscribed to. If there are any new updates you haven't seen yet, the feed names will be shown in bold text. Hover your mouse over a subscription and you should see a popup indicating the number of new items available. Internet Explorer comes with Microsoft Office and Microsoft Home Feeds already subscribed. You can delete any Feed, or group of Feeds you don't want by right clicking on the feed and choosing delete.
In Outlook 2007, the Feeds folder can be found as a listed item under your Personal Folders group. Outlook 2007 and Internet Explorer share Feed links so any you add to Explorer will show up in Outlook and vice versa. Outlook checks for new feeds each time it retrieves e-mail.
How to make an RSS feed available on your website
The basic RSS feed is fairly simple, but getting it started can be a bit daunting if you have never worked with html before.
First you need to decide on a file name for your feed. I used CowboyFrank.rss, so we will use that as our example, but you can use any name you like as long as the extension is .rss.
The file itself is a an ASCII text file with an rss extension. You can use Windows Notepad to create the file if you don't have an html editor that writes raw code. Do not use Microsoft Word or Wordpad, they won't work. In this tutorial I will attempt to give you details that will help your feed be compatible with the widest array of readers. However, take note of the last update on this page as rss standards tends to change from time to time.
Take note that all the tag coding in an rss file must be in lower case, except where you see a capital letter in mine.
The first 2 lines define which versions you are writing your feed under and should look like the following
The next section begins the channel which is basically your feed.The channel begins with
There are numerous other options, but I will skip them for now as they are not required
If you want an image to be available on the visitor's feed index you can define that in the next section. This is optional and is not required. If you look at my feed you may see a tan cowboy hat somewhere on your feed index. Whether your image even shows at all is dependant on the specific feed reader the visitor is using. It is recommended that you use a small graphic no larger than about 100x100 pixels
The image begins with
Now for the individual items. These are easy, but the format must be precise. If you do something wrong the feed may not work. Never fear, there is help available for checking your feed. I'll get to that later.
Each item consists of 5 parts.
Now for the more complicated parts required to get your feed going. You only need to do these items once to get things working.
On you main site index page you need to modify the head some. If you have never worked with HTML before you need to get a little instruction first. HTML is not as hard as it looks, you just have to understand a few of the codes to figure it all out. This part allows Microsoft Internet Explorer to find your RSS file and then it will show an active RSS feed in the tool bar.
Modify the begining of your html head tag to look like this.
Begining with the next line in your head add the following set of lines modifying the title to match your feed and href to point to your rss file.
The last thing you may need to do is to add a mime type to your server. Huh? What? Web servers have to be told what kinds of files to handle in what ways. Unless we tell the server that an .rss file is to be sent to the web browser with instructions to run a specific program on the other end, the server doesn't know how to serve the file and may send it out as a text file.
If your web site is hosted on an Apache server then you can use a .htaccess file (pronounced dot h t access) to include the proper instructions. Sorry, I don't know how to do this with other types of servers. Check with your hosting service if you don't know.
What the heck is an .htaccess file you ask? It's a fairly simple file with the strange name of .htaccess. One problem is you can't create one under Windows because you have to give the file a name not just an extension. I use my web editor program (HomeSite) to create my files. Once created you can edit the file in Notepad if you need to modify it. Once created you place the file in the root directory of your website.
To make an rss feed work you need to have the following line in your .htaccess file. One final point, it is possible you may not be allowed to use a .htaccess file on your site or your hosting company may have Apache set so it won't add any mime types to your server so this may not work. If this is the case the only option you have is to find another hosting company
Make sure if you have other types added that they all fall in alphabetical order in line otherwise they will not work.
Upload everything to your site and then run an RSS Validation service. I like this one by the W3C. Enter the full URL to your rss file, not to the page being advertised.
If you have problems with your feed, the validator should give you a list of problems and may hint at a suggested solutions.
That's it. Happy Feeding. Now I need feeding, time for dinner.