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How to create feed?

Once you've decided that an RSS feed would be a smart investment for our website, the next step is obviously to create one. How to create feed? For the non-tech savvy, creating a feed from scratch can be daunting. Typically, blogging software (like WordPress) and content management systems come with built-in RSS feeds that update automatically, thanks to a lot of PHP (or perhaps some other kind of) code. But what if you have a simple site without either of these, and you would like to provide an RSS feed?

An RSS feed for your site is essentially an XML file, which, unlike HTML, is totally unforgiving when it comes to errors. If you have one character out of place (like a missing closing tag, or even the last > of a tag) you may get a white screen of death, or at least a blank gap in your message. So be careful. If your entries are not displaying properly, go over your code carefully. Also, if you are adding characters other than standard letters and numerals (such as &), use entity references (&) or character references (&).

Utilize an online tool to burn an RSS feed. There are sites such as FeedForAll and Feedity that will help you easily burn your RSS feed. You must adhere to a specific format for the XML file (as we shall see) for it to be identified as an RSS feed. Let's first have a look at how to create an RSS feed for your site from scratch. All you have to do is to specify your information for all the necessary tags. You can use any text editor. Notepad would work fine but have a look at Notepad++. Let's see what each of them mean. To create an RSS feed, you start off the RSS file as follows:

  1. The channel

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?> <rss version="2.0"> <channel>

    The first two lines specify the XML and RSS version as you can see. The third line opens a "channel" tag. This is what would contain all the information for your channel or website. Add these three lines as they are.
  1. The HEADER

    <title>MakeUseOf RSS Feed</title> <link></link> <description>Cool Websites, Software and Internet Tips</description>

    Those few lines specify information about your RSS feed and your website. The link tag points to your website here. Whatever is inside your file now, lets call it the HEADER.
  2. The content

    Next up we have the actual content of the RSS feed that will be displayed as distinct entries when viewed using a feed reader. Each entry is contained within a pair of <item></item> and must have the following content at least:

    <item> <title>Entry Title</title> <link>Link to the entry</link> <guid></guid> <pubDate>Sat, 9 Jan 2010 16:23:41 GMT</pubDate> <description>[CDATA[ This is the description. ]]</description> </item>

    Again the title tag would refer to the heading or your content, link is the complete web address at which the entry can be reached on your website, guid is a unique identifier for the entry. Since all of your entries would be located at a different URL, you can use the link as the guid (if of course no two entries would point to the same URL in your setup). pubDate houses the date on which the entry was published.
  1. The data has a specific format, refer above, the time must be in GMT, you can also refer to RFC 822 section 5 for more details on other date-time specification format. Finally the description tag houses the actual content or description of the entry. Remember the above would be repeated for every entry on your website. For example if you have a blog with 5 articles, a complete RSS feed should have 5 item tags to house 5 entries.

    Close off the open channel and rss tags and save the file. Upload it to the appropriate location on your web server (the site root would work fine) and you have an RSS file at your disposal.
  2. Make the feed discoverable

    Another thing you need to keep in mind is that feed readers should be able to identify the generated feed as an RSS feed. There are plenty of ways to do this:
    1. You can create an XML file as the RSS file and open it up, manually add items everytime a new entry is published or whenever the feed should be updated.
    2. Or if you using a script to create the RSS feed each time it is requested, you could send a Content-Type: application/xml header before any other information. You could save the script as an XML file and have your web server software treat it as a scripting file. Example, by adding:

      AddType application/x-httpd-php .xml

      in .htaccess would make Apache treat XML files as PHP files. Ideally, Firefox should recognize the RSS feed when the feed's URL is entered into the address field as opposed to showing the contents of the script. This means that Firefox detects that the file is an RSS XML file. You can then head over to services like Feedburner with your feed URL to get all kinds of analytics and other options to play along with.

What is a feed?


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