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How to create an RSS feed

An RSS news feed can be used to communicate with your target audience. It is an ideal means of notifying people of new content on your website without the need for them to keep on visiting your site. You can send newsletters to your readership without having to use email and risk being accused of spamming. You will be comfortable in the knowledge that people who request your feed are actually interested in it because they have actively subscribed to it. This article will explain just how to create your own RSS news feed.

There are a couple of ways to create an RSS file, you can use an editor designed for the purpose or you can create a file using a simple text editor. The latter will require you to learn some XML whilst the former will do the hard part for you. First off I will describe an RSS file, there are several versions and I will be showing you version 2.0, the latest RSS version.

An RSS file looks just like an HTML file except it has different tags and the files end in .rss or .xml rather than .html. The file is made up of header information and item information, the item information contains the actual news items.

The first section of the file contains the header information. This states that the file is XML and which version, the encoding used and the version of RSS that you are using. This part of the file is mandatory. Next up is the channel tag, this encloses the whole of the rest of the file. This is followed by a title, description and link which explain the what the feed is about and what website it is associated with. The final part of the header is the optional image information. If you use this the software that is used to parse or read your file can display a small picture such as a logo.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="iso-8859-1"?>
<rss version="2.0">
<channel>
<title>The Widget news feed</title>
<description>The latest news on widgets</description>
<link>http://www.widget.com/</link>
<image>
<title>Widget News</title>
<url>http://www.widget.com/widget.gif</url>
<link>http://www.widget.com/</link>
</image>

The body of the file is made up of the news items. Each news item is enclosed in the item tag and comprises of a title, a description and a published date. The date needs to be in the format shown in the example below.

<item>
<title>Which is the best Widget to?</title>
<description>In this article we discuss the release of several new widgets, but which is the best widget.</description>
<pubDate>Sun, 20 Mar 2005 14:38:50 GMT</pubDate>
<link>http://www.widget.com/the-best-widgets.html</link>
</item>

You can have as many items in the feed as you like but many webmasters just show the 10 most recent items to keep the bandwidth usage down and also so not to overwhelm the end user with too many items.

Finally the file is ended with the closing channel tag and a closing RSS tag.

</channel>
</rss>

I have covered the basic tags to create an RSS file, there are other tags that can be used and these are explained in the RSS 2.0 specification.

Once you have created your file you will need to verify it is ok, to do this upload the file to your server and then go to this validator to validate the file. Your file is now ready. Now anyone can subscribe to your feed just by pointing their RSS reader to your RSS file.

That is the basics covered. I will be covering other areas in future articles as there is far too much information to fit into a single article.

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