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Create RSS and Atom Feeds

In our previous article on zend-feed, we detailed RSS and Atom feed discovery and parsing. Today, we're going to cover its complement: feed creation!

zend-feed provides the ability to create both Atom 1.0 and RSS 2.0 feeds, and even supports custom extensions during feed generation, including:

  • Atom (xmlns:atom; RSS 2 only): provide links to Atom feeds and Pubsubhubbub URIs within your RSS feed.
  • Content (xmlns:content; RSS 2 only): provide CDATA encoded content for individual feed items.
  • DublinCore (xmlns:dc; RSS 2 only): provide metadata around common content elements such as author/publisher/contributor/creator, dates, languages, etc.
  • iTunes (xmlns:itunes): create podcast feeds and items compatible with iTunes.
  • Slash (xmlns:slash; RSS 2 only): communicate comment counts per item.
  • Threading (xmlns:thr; RSS 2 only): provide metadata around threading feed items, including indicating what an item is in reply to, linking to replies, and metrics around each.
  • WellFormedWeb (xmlns:wfw; RSS 2 only): provide a link to a separate comments feed for a given entry.

You can also provide your own custom extensions if desired; these are just what we ship out of the box! In many cases, you don't even need to know about the extensions, as zend-feed will take care of adding in those that are required, based on the data you provide in the feed and entries.

Creating a feed

The first step, of course, is having some content! I'll assume you have items you want to publish, and those will be in $data, which we'll loop over. How that data looks will be dependent on your application, so please be aware that you may need to adjust any examples below to fit your own data source.

Next, we need to have zend-feed installed; do that via Composer:

$ composer require zendframework/zend-feed

Now we can finally get started. We'll begin by creating a feed, and populating it with some basic metadata:

use Zend\Feed\Writer\Feed;

$feed = new Feed();
// Title of the feed
$feed->setTitle('Tutorial Feed');
// Link to the feed's target, usually a homepage:
$feed->setLink('https://example.com/');
// Link to the feed itself, and the feed type:
$feed->setFeedLink('https://example.com/feed.xml', 'rss');

// Feed description; only required for RSS:
$feed->setDescription('This is a tutorial feed for example.com');

A couple things to note: First, you need to know what type of feed you're creating up front, as it will affect what properties must be set, as well as which are actually available. I personally like to generate feeds of both types, so I'll do the above within a method call that accepts the feed type as an argument, and then puts some declarations within conditionals based on that type.

Second, you'll need to know the fully-qualified URIs to the feed target and the feed itself. These will generally be something you generate; most routing libraries will have these capabilities, and you'll generate these within your application, instead of hard-coding them as I have done here.

Adding items

Now that we have our feed, we'll loop over our data set and add items. Items generally have:

  • a title
  • a link to the item
  • an author
  • the dates when it was modified, and last updated
  • content

Putting it together:

$latest = new DateTime('@0');
foreach ($data as $datum) {
    // Create an empty entry:
    $entry = $feed->createEntry();

    // Set the entry title:
    $entry->setTitle($datum->getTitle());

    // Set the link to the entry:
    $entry->setLink(sprintf('%s%s.html', $baseUri, $datum->getId()));

    // Add an author, if you can. Each author entry should be an
    // array containing minimally a "name" key, and zero or more of
    // the keys "email" or "uri".
    $entry->addAuthor($datum->getAuthor());

    // Set the date created:
    $entry->setDateCreated(new DateTime($datum->getDateCreated()));

    // And the date last updated:
    $modified = new DateTime($datum->getDateModified());
    $entry->setDateModified($modified);

    // And finally, some content:
    $entry->setContent($datum->getContent());

    // Add the new entry to the feed:
    $feed->addEntry($entry);

    // And memoize the date modified, if it's more recent:
    $latest = $modified > $latest ? $modified : $latest;
}

There are quite a few other properties you can set, and some of these will vary based on custom extensions you might register with the feed; the above are the typical items you'll include in a feed entry, however.

What is that bit about $latest, though?

Feeds need to have a timestamp indicating when they were most recently modified.

Why? Because feeds are intended to be read by machines and aggregators, and need to know when new content is available.

You could set the date of modification to whatever the current timestamp is at time of execution, but it's better to have it in sync with the most recent entry in the feed itself. As such, the above code creates a timestamp set to timestamp 0, and checks for a modified date that is newer on each iteration.

Once we have that in place, we can add the modified date to the feed itself:

$feed->setDateModified($latest);

Rendering the feed

Rendering the feed involves exporting it, which requires knowing the feed type; this is necessary so that the correct XML markup is generated.

So, let's create an RSS feed:

$rss = $feed->export('rss');

If we wanted, and we have the correct properties present, we can also render Atom:

$atom = $feed->export('atom');

Now what?

I often pre-generate feeds and cache them to the filesystem. In that case, a file_put_contents() call, using the generated feed as the string contents, is all that's needed.

If you're serving the feed back over HTTP, you will want to send back the correct HTTP Content-Type when you do. Additionally, it's good to send back a Last-Modified header with the same date as the feed's own last modified date, and/or an ETag with a hash of the feed; these allow clients performing HEAD requests to determine whether or not they need to retrieve the full content, or if they already have the latest.

If you are using PSR-7 middleware, these processes might look like this:

use Zend\Diactoros\Response\TextResponse;

$commonHeaders = [
    'Last-Modified' => $feed->getDateModified()->format('c'),
    'ETag' => hash('sha256', $feed)
];

// For an RSS feed:
return new TextResponse($rss, 200, array_merge(
    $commonHeaders,
    ['Content-Type' => 'application/rss+xml']
));

// For an Atom feed:
return new TextResponse($atom, 200, array_merge(
    $commonHeaders,
    ['Content-Type' => 'application/atom+xml']
));

Summing up

zend-feed's generation capabilities are incredibly flexible, while making the general use-case straight-forward. We have created feeds for blog posts, releases, tweets, and commenting systems using the component; it does exactly what it advertises.

Visit the zend-feed documentation for more information.

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