Turns out I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about XML syndication feeds, publishing redundancy, and how we link to those feeds. Dan Cederholm was wondering last week why we still support multiple feed formats. A few weeks before, Molly Holzschlag surveyed a few sites to determine how they link to respective feeds, and where those links are located on the page.

I’ve grown tired of the need to choose which formats I support (between Atom and multiple versions of RSS). I’m not about to join the debate over which format is better. I simply don’t care. I acknowledge that RSS/Atom syndication is an important technology that has changed the way we distribute and access information. But my decision to publish a feed shouldn’t be complicated by which format or how many of them I publish just to ensure I cover all possible bases.

A solution

Feedburner Enter Feedburner. Although I’m a little late in discovering the benefits of this extremely simple service, I don’t think there’s any harm in directing a few more bloggers and publishers toward Feedburner. It’s amazing how simple it is to start using this feed conversion service.

The geek scale on this topic is a little high, but I’m sold on what Feedburner provides. It removes the previous choice I had to make about which formats to publish — I only need to publish one format. Feedburner takes that format and (via its SmartFeedâ„¢ option) automatically makes my feed available in virtually any format required by modern news readers.

The site covers the basic benefits of Feedburner. In addition to the SmartFeed option, I was particularly interested in the stats collected on my feeds, and the browser-friendly format if someone clicks on one of my feed links.

Additional benefits

To expand on Feedburner’s listed benefits, there are a few others if you follow the steps to ensure all currently subscribed users automatically start pulling down the new Feedburner feed. Those steps are detailed in a forum post: Pointing an existing feed URL at your new FeedBurner URL.

Rather than using the Apache Redirect from step 3, I chose to use the mod_rewrite directives suggested by “adrian” a few responses down in that forum thread. I’m pointing users to a non-existent file (e.g. index.xml). Then I catch requests for that file (as well as all the old feed URLs) with the mod_rewrite rules that redirect to my Feedburner feed. A few lines from my .htaccess file look like this:

RewriteEngine on

RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !FeedBurner

RewriteRule ^atom\.xml$ http://feeds.feedburner.com/stopdesign [R,L]

RewriteRule ^index\.rdf$ http://feeds.feedburner.com/stopdesign [R,L]

RewriteRule ^index\.xml$ http://feeds.feedburner.com/stopdesign [R,L]

This method provides two levels of abstraction that give me the greatest flexibility in continuing to provide feeds into the future. By pointing Feedburner to a private URL for the source feed, I have the freedom to change the source feed format at any time without disrupting current subscriptions. I can also change the location of my private source feed anytime by simply updating Feedburner settings to use a new source feed URL.

The second level of abstraction comes in by continuing to point subscribers to a virtual feed location on my own site, rather than pointing directly to the new Feedburner location. Since requests for local feeds get handled by mod_rewrite, I can redirect those requests anywhere I want. Handy if Feedburner were to ever cease to exist, or if I decided to use some other service to provide my feeds. By preventing new subscribers from using Feedburner URLs to subscribe to my feeds, I get a small insurance policy that helps avoid service lock-in.

Another benefit of Feedburner is the bandwidth saved by not serving up your own feeds. This savings could be significant to sites with high subscription volumes, especially if their feeds provide the full text of each news item.

The ability to splice photo and link feeds together with a main feed could save some folks a lot of MT plugin work. Others might take advantage of automatic Amazon Associate link insertions. From a standards perspective, I can now publish once, and Feedburner takes care of the rest. Feedburner also needs valid XML. Before your new feed can be activated, Feedburner validates each feed — badly formed XML might trip up some news readers, so it’s good to know if your original feed contains any invalid XML.

Leave the complexity to someone else

I don’t think Feedburner will go away anytime soon. Hopefully its new funding will enable more improvement of feature offerings and continued interoperability with future formats, such as mobile syndication. Feedburner is in a pretty good position to help publishers easily manage the complexity around feed formats and options.

If you publish some form of syndication feed, but haven’t checked out Feedburner, go do it whenever you have a few minutes. The account creation process is an extremely simple 1-page form. You’ll simplify your feed publishing choices, while remaining confident that your readers can still easily subscribe or stay subscribed, no matter what application or device they use to do so.


  1. Keith 7nights.com/asterisk/

    I’ve been trying to think of a way to get all my old feeds to point to Feedburner–which I agree is great–I guess I missed that mod_rewrite soluition. It’s a keeper! Thanks for reposting that.

  2. Mike P. fiftyfoureleven.com

    Feedburner has been a great little tool. It’s nice to see the stats, for sure, and that smartfeed is quite slick.

    Just an FYI, I did find some glitches with that redirect you (and many of us) use. Basically, some feedreaders (I only really found it to be Opera) will rewrite the stored url to the feedburner url. So if you ever leave Feedburner, you may lose some users.

    I’ve only seen a handlful of Opera users in my stats though, so it’s not a huge issue, as far as I can tell. (I wrote about all of this here).

  3. Mark Priestap designwisestudios.com

    Glad you’re enjoying it too. Makes things so much simpler, especially for my millions of readers. (cough)

  4. Josh jooke.net

    Are we positive that Opera is wrong in its behavior? From some googling, I believe that the [R] flag will default to a 302 redirect (“Temporarily Moved”), but that by specifying a fully resolved URL rather than a relative URL, the RewriteRule forces an external redirect. (the docs)

    This all means, as I quasi-grok, that this method is NOT transparent to the client requesting the feed. Not that I have a solution.

    Does anyone know: is there a mod_rewrite solution that will allow a silent redirect to an external URI?

  5. Brian brianbehrend.com/

    That simple 1-page form can get pretty complicated if look through all the various options they have available. There’s almost too many features, and a lot of them seem to do similar things. It all makes more sense once you read the detailed descriptions, but the difference between “Convert Format Burner” and “SmartFeed” isn’t immediately obvious.

    I’ve been using them to burn 6 different feeds for about a month now and have been completely satisfied. No problems or complaints.

  6. Jordan Moore devotedfreak.com/

    I’ve been hearing more and more about FeedBurner lately, but I still haven’t set aside the time to check it out.

    I will probably do so sometime soon, but I’ll admit I’m concerned about letting someone else have control of my feeds.

  7. 1985

    Josh, isn’t the behaviour you described called cross-site scripting? It’s a security exploit actually

  8. Jordi Bunster bunster.org/

    I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Not to sound like a troll, but the entire world using a third party website for syndication is just not going to scale.

    Your CMS has templates for both. Use them, add them to auto discovery, link to one. You pick.

    What’s the big deal?

  9. Josh jooke.net

    1985, that’s a good point.

    Getting back to Mike P’s Opera comment though,
    it would appear that Opera is being sent a 302 HTTP code which it is not respecting? (“302 Found
    The requested resource resides temporarily under a different URI. Since the redirection might be altered on occasion, the client SHOULD continue to use the Request-URI for future requests.
    ” (http://www.w3.org/Protocols/rfc2616/rfc2616-sec10.html))

    Good to know.

  10. Mike P. fiftyfoureleven.com

    Hey Josh, that is what we concluded.

  11. andrew compooter.org/

    Wait… why would a transparent redirect be a bad thing? I don’t see how that could be a security vulnerability. Also, couldn’t you just use magpieRSS or something of the like to cache the feedburner feed and that would prevent the need to 302 your users?

  12. Scrivs 9rules.com/

    Funny I just wrote a FeedBurner review today and the comments I have received are making me question using it for my other sites. I don’t want my readers timing out while trying to get to my content.

  13. 1985

    Andrew, transparent redirect isn’t a bad thing, redirecting the client to another location without him knowing it is.

  14. Gordon McLean gordonmclean.co.uk/

    To comment on Jordi’s comment:

    Remove the geek element from this… FeedBurner IS good.

    For those less technically minded, but who know about “news feeds” (but not how the technology works), the confusion is understandable. RSS or Atom? What’s all that?? Why is there a choice? Should I offer both? Help me I’m confused?!!

    Enter FeedBurner. Follow the instructions and don’t worry about all those RSS 1.0, 0.x, Atom thingys. It’s understandable why it appeals.

    As for scalability, I don’t think the entire world WILL use it, same as we don’t all use Blogger, or WordPress or Movable Type etc etc. I’m sure other services like this will spring up as RSS spreads.

    (Ohh and shouldn’t we change the name RSS… it’s hardly simple these days! ;-) )

  15. Phil! Gregory aperiodic.net/phil/

    If you want your use of Feedburner to be completely transparent to your
    users, you can use ‘P’ instead of ‘R’ in the flags for your rewrite rule.
    ‘P’ will cause apache to act as a transparent reverse proxy; it will fetch
    the real URL and serve its content back to the original requestor.

    This, of course, causes a net increase in bandwidth usage, especially for
    your site host, but it will, I think, accomplish exactly what you want.

  16. John Y. yuda.org/

    What’s the over/under on how long until Feedburner starts putting ads into the feeds they’re serving? 6 months? A year?

  17. Neil arrfans.com


    I was just wondering that every time I hear something about syndication (RSS, ATOM) , its always to publish a feed. But nobody cares about how to display them in HTML. There are millions of feeds available, but I bet, 1 % of them are being posted in form of HTML. I tried to search for a nice php/java/perl script that easily converts feeds into HTML, amd I agree that one can get those from http://www.hotscripts.com , but it is insanely hard for most people to implement them! Moreover, there are issues about CSS designs of those feeds in HTML.

    I use MovableType for my site (www.arrfans.com){under construction}, and luckily there is one neat plugin available for MT !!! Otherwise, I was screwed !

    I hope someone comes up with solution like Feedburner for displaying feeds in HTML… From my knowledge, there is one service called Feedroll, but it sucks big time since the parser is not on my own server.

  18. Aristotle Pagaltzis plasmasturm.org/


    There goes the Atom feed. I always pick Atom when I’m given the option, and until now there was an Atom feed available from Stopdesign. But I can’t figure out how to make FeedBurner give me an Atom feed.

    I guess RSS is what’s for dinner, like it or not.

  19. Michael Moncur figby.com/

    Thanks–I just implemented this on one of my sites.

    One minor issue: I think you need to add an additional RewriteCond directive for each of the RewriteRule directives.

    Until I did that, FeedBurner got a “feed is eating itself” error on all but the first feed in the RewriteRule list. The mod_rewrite documentation confirms that RewriteCond only applies to the next RewriteRule, not all of them.

    This only applies if you’re using the same URL as the feed source for FeedBurner and as the redirected feed for everyone else. From what I read here, it appears that you’re using a separate URL for FeedBurner to read, so you don’t need the RewriteCond directive at all.

  20. Matt Harris focusontheclouds.com

    Thanks Doug – another post that is both helpful and usable!

Comments are now closed.