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Term of the Week: RSS

  • January 23, 2004
  • By Jim Minatel
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RSS (Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) began as a way to summarize major news web site articles into headlines and updates that other sites could use easily. While that original mission is still a major component of RSS use, RSS has exploded with the growth of blogs and other frequently updated items as a way to keep up with what's new.

RSS is based in XML. The current official specification is 2.0 but several other versions including 0.91 and 1.0 are still in widespread use. Which version you'll want to use depends on your needs, as explained well in the table in this article.

An RSS feed consists of several parts. The feed will include the originator's site URL with a description of the site; each article in the feed will have a title and description. The exact formatting and syntax varies depending on the RSS version in use. You won't read the RSS feed directly; you'll use either an RSS aggregator to read it or use a script to parse it for other uses.

To use an RSS feed, you have a couple of options. First, if you just want to keep up with headlines and updates from your favorite sites and blogs, just get a news aggregator client. Radio Userland (which has grown in popularity as a full-featured blogging tool) has a built in aggregator as well.

The other route you can take if you want to use RSS feeds from someone else is incorporating the feeds into your own blog or Web site. If you are using a blogging tool, many of these, including Radio Userland, make RSS feed incorporation easy. If you're going to do this in a Web site without aid of a blogging tool, this tutorial provides you with the basics you need to know to get started.

If you want to become an RSS provider, supplying a news feed for your own site, or have other ideas for developing an RSS feed, you'll want to start with the latest RSS specification. In addition to building the feed, you'll also need to validate it, and want to register it with the major RSS aggregator sites such as syndic8 so others know it's there. Incidentally, if you are looking for RSS feeds to follow, syndic8 is also a good place to start.

Not surprisingly, major vendors are beginning to jump all over RSS. Microsoft demoed an early version of Windows "Longhorn" at PDC 2003, showing builti-in RSS functionality on the desktop. On the developer side, Microsoft's ASP.NET "Whidbey" release will make incorporating RSS feeds easy through a built-in control. For those of you interested in the Java platform, one of the RSS projects is this set of custom JSP tags to simplify incorporating RSS feeds into Web pages.

You can find several additional articles and tutorials on RSS at:
web / authoring / languages / xml / rss - WebReference.com


Jim Minatel is a freelance writer for Developer.com in addition to working with Wiley and WROX publishing.

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