Your web browser receives the content of a webpage in HTML and interprets it. It "tells" the browser which font to use, and in which size and color, as well as whether and where to display an image, and to align the elements of a page - everything needed to visually render the web page on your computer. XML is not used to describe the look and feel of anything; it is used to describe the structure and format of data.
XML's purpose is to allow easy exchange of data across any technical platform.
The XML Standard is defined by W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) http://www.w3.org/XML/.
The structure is simple and straightforward. It starts with the statement that the file is XML, and specifically XML with an ATOM structure, followed by the elements for the title of the blog, subtitle/short description, author, last updated date, URL to the blog and ID*.
Then follows the list of posts in the blog, which are sorted by date published in descending order. Elements of a post are the title, URL (link), author, last updated date, summary or full content and ID*. Here is an example of a simple ATOM Feed file.
ATOM has different versions because it is an evolving standard. The current ATOM definition as defined by the Internet society can be found here.
*ID - The ID is auto generated by the blog software and used by other to identify a post easily (important to make features like trackback work and for aggregators to determine if they know about the post already, or if it is new).
It is not specified how the ID has to be generated and appear, but UUID (Universally Unique Identifier) became the most commonly used type of ID used by blog services and software. To find out more about UUID check the entry for UUID at Wikipedia.org and the current UUID specifications.
Each type and version of RSS has a slightly different structure and a different name:
The conversion from RSS to ATOM is not always possible, at least not without the loss of some properties. All feeds (including this blog's weblog) are in RSS 2.0 Format and distributed via Feedburner.
Feedburner provides the option to make your feed a "smart feed," which is a feature that converts the RSS 2.0 feed on the fly to another RSS format or even ATOM depending on the software or service that requests the feed content. Pretty neat: one feed URL that provides them all.
There are a lot of uses for RSS, but I will describe only the one which is the most commonly used by Internet users today, the delivery of news articles.
Prior to the wide use of RSS, users had to frequently visit various web sites that provided the news or information needed for their jobs or other information that most interested them. This was very cumbersome, especially if one had a number of news sources to cover.
Then "personalization" became the buzzword on the Internet and the first web portals emerged.
Ways had to be found to allow easy access to a wide range of information sources from which the user of the web portal could pick and choose the ones he is interested in and wanted to be displayed on his personalized homepage.
No wonder the first version of RSS was created by Dan Libby of Netscape in March 1999 for use on the My Netscape portal.
Other formats were also developed before and after, but the purpose was the same for all of them. More and more webmasters start making use of those feeds to provide their visitors with information like their local weather and headline news.
In the early days of RSS, users did not play a major role. That changed in 2002 when The New York Times began to offer its subscribers the option to receive the latest news via RSS Feed.
News sources such as Reuters, CNN and Fox plus major newspapers were the first to make news available as a web feed in RSS format. It did not take long for RSS to become the de facto standard for the distribution of news as a web feed.
Today there are feeds in RSS format provided to the public (and most of the time for free) by any major news source on the Internet, from CNN, BBC, Fox, Reuters and many newspapers.
It is not only classic news sources that provide RSS feeds today, but also a large number of other information sources as well.
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