How RSS Works

Creating RSS Feeds

RSS isn't really that different from a normal Web site. In fact, they're the same in one respect: Both are simple text files on Web servers. RSS uses the World Wide Web Consortium's Resource Description Framework (RDF) as a guide to tell a feed aggregator how to read the file. RDF is based on extensible markup language (XML), a cousin of hypertext markup language (HTML), which is the language used for everyday Web sites.

Unlike writing computer-programming code, most writing in a markup language like RDF involves putting tags around existing copy. For example, to make text bold in HTML, you would just enclose your sentence in a pair of tags: and . If you wanted to write the sentence "HTML is really great" in actual HTML, it would look like this:

HTML is really great.

The Web browser on your computer knows how to interpret these tags, because they're based on a set of industry-accepted standards. Like HTML, RSS is a standard that can be read by a variety of Web browsers and aggregators that display the feeds so they can be scanned easily. Since RSS is based on XML, however, the document contains information that tells the aggregator where to look for the standard upon which it's based. It's an extra step that happens on the back end and is invisible to you as you view an RSS feed.

RSS tags tell your aggregator how to display the feed on your screen. In addition to the size of the font and other details, RSS tags also include the name of the creator of the feed, the date it was published, when the feed was updated and more useful information that helps you decide which articles to select from the feed and read in full.

So what happens if you want to add an RSS feed to your existing blog? Many common blogging tools such as Blogger, Vox, Movable Type and WordPress have the ability to syndicate your weblog in RSS, without your having to learn how to write code. These weblog programs include everything needed to publish a feed: the address, title, meta and other necessary information are all included for you.

Of course, news organizations and other Web sites that publish with their own proprietary systems have to build RSS into their Web code. You can do this, too, though it will involve learning how to write a programming language. Then again, if you already know languages such as C#, you're probably the kind of person who would prefer to write your own feed.

For more information about RSS feeds, the World Wide Web and related topics, visit the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "Introduction to RSS." Apr. 21, 2008.
  • Resource Description Framework. Apr. 24, 2008.,,sid26_gci213545,00.html
  • RSS. Apr. 24, 2008.,,sid8_gci813358,00.html
  • RSS 2.0 at Harvard Law. Apr. 24, 2008.
  • "RSS 2.0 and Atom 1.0 Compared." Sam Ruby. Apr. 25, 2008.
  • "What's in a Name -- RSS or Feeds?" ReadWriteWeb. Aug. 10, 2005. Apr. 25, 2008.