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The Atom Feed: RSS Feed Alternative

written by: Lucinda Watrous•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 8/24/2009

An atom feed is much like an RSS feed. Read this article to find out more about what makes this feed different and when it should be chosen for your blog or website.

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    About the Atom Feed

    The Atom feed was developed as an alternative to RSS, because developers believed RSS had flaws and limitations that Atom could solve. Atom feed is an XML based script, allowing it to process text, HTML, and XHTML. This makes it a more flexible feed option, because errors in code can create difficulties in reading the feed. Atom 0.3 was released in 2003 and adopted by Google and several of its services such as Blogger and Gmail.

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    Atom vs. RSS

    RSS 2.0

    RSS 2.0 is the more widely accepted format for feeds. It is more widely used, primarily because of the fact that WordPress uses it by default. It however, does have a number of drawbacks. RSS does not like XML, and as such, doesn't allow any of it in its content. It is harder to work with than Atom 1.0 because it will only support plain text or HTML.

    RSS 2.0 only requires three things for each entry in the feed. It requires: a title, a link, and a description. Other things should be included and required, such as a "last updated" field.

    Atom 1.0

    Atom 1.0 is more flexible and has more features than RSS 2.0. It is not as widely accepted as a format for feeds. It requires a link, a title, and a description for each item in the feed, in addition to the feed itself. There is a last updated field, allowing people to see the last time each element in the feed was updated.

    Atom 1.0 uses "Autodiscovery." This makes it easier for users and browsers to find and subscribe to feeds.

    Atom 1.0 is more secure than RSS 2.0.

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    The resources below were used to create this article. We suggest taking a look at each of these resources to learn more about Atom and RSS to help in the decision regarding which feed format to use.

    RSS vs. Atom: What's the Big Deal?

    Tim Bray Compares RSS and Atom

    IIS: This has a wonderful comparison chart with all the features of each feed format along with a column to show which one "wins" and why.