What Is an RSS Feed? (And Where to Get It)

Really Simple Syndication saves time and makes life easier

Person using a laptop with an RSS logo on a website

Lifewire / Kaley McKean

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and it’s is a simple, standardized content distribution method that can help you stay up-to-date with your favorite newscasts, blogs, websites, and social media channels. Instead of visiting sites to find new posts or subscribing to sites to receive notification of new posts, find the RSS feed on a website and read new posts in an RSS reader. 

The History of the RSS Standard

In March 1999, Netscape created RDF Site Summary which was the first version of RSS. It was used by web publishers to display their website content on My.Netscape.com and other early RSS portals.

A few months later, Netscape simplified the technology and renamed it to RSS Rich Site Summary. Netscape quit participating in RSS development soon after when AOL took over Netscape and restructured the company.

A new version of RSS was released in 2002, and the technology was renamed to Really Simple Syndication. With this new version and the creation of the RSS icon for the Mozilla Firefox web browser in 2004, RSS feeds became more accessible to web visitors.

What Is RSS and How Does It Work?

RSS is a way for website authors to publish notifications of new content on their website. This content may include newscasts, blog posts, weather reports, and podcasts.

To publish these notifications, the website author creates a text file with the XML file extension for the RSS feed that contains the title, description, and link for each post on the site. Then, the website author uses this XML file to add an RSS feed to web pages on the site. The XML file automatically syndicates new content through this RSS feed in a standard format that displays in any RSS reader.

When website visitors subscribe to this RSS feed, they read the new website content in an RSS reader. These RSS readers collect content from multiple XML files, organize the information, and display the content in one application.

There's a lot you can do with an RSS feed and an RSS reader. Here are just a few examples:

  • Follow discussions on web pages and in forums without visiting each page to read the list of posted comments.
  • Keep up-to-date on the tasty foods your favorite bloggers dish up and share recipes with your friends.
  • Stay current with local, national, and international news from several sources.

What Is an RSS Feed and Where Are RSS Feeds Found?

An RSS feed consolidates information sources in one place and provides updates when a site adds new content. With social media, all you see is the favorite stuff that people share. With an RSS feed, you see everything a website publishes.

To find an RSS feed on a website, look on the site’s main or home page. Some sites display their RSS feed as an orange button that may contain the acronyms RSS or XML.

RSSWeather.com web page showing an RSS icon for an RSS feed
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Not all RSS icons look alike. RSS icons come in different sizes and colors. Not all these icons contain the acronyms RSS or XML. Some sites use a Syndicate This link or another type of link to indicate an RSS feed.

Planet Money web page at NPR.org podcasts showing an RSS link to an RSS feed
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Some sites offer lists of RSS feeds. These lists may include different topics for an extensive website, or list feeds from many websites that cover a similar topic.

Nasa.gov RSS Feeds web page showing a list of RSS feeds on the site
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When you find an RSS feed that sounds interesting, click the RSS icon or link to display the XML file that controls a website's feed. You’ll use this RSS link to subscribe to the feed in an RSS reader.

The XML file for an RSS feed on the NASA.gov website
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If the website is powered by WordPress, add /feed/ to the end of the website URL (for example, www.example.com/feed/) to view the RSS feed.

If you don't see the RSS icon or link, examine the page source of the web page. To view the page source and find an RSS link in Google Chrome:

  1. Open a web browser and go to a web page.

  2. RIght-click on the web page and choose View page source.

    The NPR.org home page showing how to view the page source to find an RSS feed
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    In Microsoft Edge, go to Settings > Developer Tools. In Firefox, go to Settings > Web Developer > Page Source.

  3. Select Settings > Find.

    The source code for the NPR.org home page showing how to find text on a web page
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  4. Type RSS and press Enter.

    The Find dialog box in Google Chrome
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  5. The instances of RSS are highlighted in the page source.

    Highlighted instances of RSS in the source code of the NPR.org home page
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  6. Right-click the RSS feed URL and select Copy link address.

    Copy the link address to the RSS feed found in the source code of a web page
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  7. Use this URL to subscribe to the RSS feed in an RSS reader.

What Is an RSS Reader?

Think of an RSS reader like your email inbox. When you subscribe to the RSS feed for a website, the RSS reader displays content from that website. Use the RSS reader to view the content, or to go to the website. As you read each piece of new content, the RSS reader marks that content as read.

There are a variety of RSS readers. If you prefer to read blog and news posts in a web browser, choose a free online RSS reader. If you’d rather read your RSS feeds in an app, explore the different free Windows RSS feed readers and news aggregators.

A popular RSS reader is Feedly. Feedly is a cloud-based RSS reader that is available on a variety of platforms. Feedly runs under iOS, Windows 8, and Android making it easy to access a Feedly account from an iPhone, iPad, Windows Phone, or Android device. Getting started with Feedly is easy. All you need is a Google account. 

To subscribe to an RSS feed in Feedly:

  1. Copy the URL of an RSS feed.

  2. Paste the URL in the Feedly Search box and select the RSS feed from the list of sources.

    Add an RSS feed to Feedly at Feedly.com
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  3. Select Follow.

    Subscribe to an RSS feed in Feedly by selecting Follow
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  4. Select New Feed.

    Create a folder to organize RSS feeds in Feedly
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  5. Enter a descriptive name for the feed.

    Give a folder a descriptive name to organize feeds in Feedly
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  6. Select Create.

  7. In the left pane, select the RSS feed.

    Select an RSS feed to view in Feedly
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  8. Select the content you want to read.

    Read RSS feeds, save feeds to read later, and mark content as read in Feedly
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  9. To save the content to read later, select Read Later or Save to Board.