What is an RSS feed and how to use it? (especially for developers)

Update: Google Reader is in the process of discontinuation, I use digg’s feed reader these days.

feedlogo Even though RSS is out there for a long time, there are people(even programmers) who still don’t really know what an RSS feed is, even if they know what it is, most of the them don’t really understand how feeds can be helpful for them.

If you ask to some of your friends about..“feed”, “web feed”, “RSS feed” or “ATOM feed”, they may say “I am not sure”, but if you ask them.. “noted an orange icon in the browser’s address bar?” they most probably say “yes”.. everyone notes that.

So I thought of writing a post to introduce feeds(for those who don’t yet know) and the benefits I have noted when using them.


What is an RSS feed or ATOM feed or web feed?

It’s a way a website provides updated content which you can read via your feed reader. It’s generally called web feed. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, more about RSS here. There is another popular format called ATOM, more here.


What is a Feed Reader?

It’s a software or web application you can use to subscribe to the feeds of websites. You can use feed readers to aggregate all of your favorite websites’ feeds in an organized way. Feed readers automatically check the feeds and let you know if any new content is available in the website, you can configure how often you want to do this check. You can read the new content in your feed reader itself.

You can try Feed Demon, Google Reader, etc. Even latest versions of all popular browsers provide options to subscribe to feeds, but I recommend a feed reader application as it could provide more options to manage your feeds, for example, accessing in any PC if it’s a web application(or has online synchronization), categorizing feeds, etc.


How to subscribe to a feed?

  • Find the feed url by clicking the feed1 icon in the browser’s address bar or use the icon/link provided by the website itself.
  • You will be taken to the feed, copy the feed url, add in your feed reader by pasting the url


Uses of feeds..

  • Basically, using feed readers to subscribe to all your favorite websites/blogs provide you a single organized location where you can update all your feeds and find out which website/blog has new content, instead of visiting each one manually to check for new content.
  • You can use feed readers as a bookmarking application too.
  • Feeds mostly provide abstract of the full content, so you can decide to visit the site only if you want to read more about a particular content.
  • Most feeds including mine nowadays use FeedBurner, which provides more options to the user, like, you can subscribe to the feed via e-mail, to get alerts when new content is posted.
  • Feed readers provide categories which I use to organize feeds and read them based on my mood.
  • Even I don’t prefer feeds some times..when I prefer visiting the website/blog, as its design is good and I like to read with the layout of the website, but still I subscribe to the feed to see if there is new content, then click the heading and visit the actual website/blog to read further.

There is another fact I should say frankly, the author would be happy to see the no. of subscribers to his/her feed, and most websites(including this) would like to showcase their subscribers to promote them, so by subscribing to the feed you can actually support the website or blog too.

That’s it, hope you got some basic idea about web feeds and hope you’ll start using feeds and don’t forget to subscribe to my feed :)

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