RSS Feed Styles

Now that I’m in my 15th year of blogging it’s past time I spruced up my RSS feed. I’ve also launched a new bookmark blog. Perfect time to revisit RSS.

For the last 15 years my RSS feed was an unreadable mess when viewed in a browser:

screenshot of my unstyled feed
Unstyled RSS as seen in Firefox

Obviously it’s meant to be viewed in an RSS reader but those aren’t so popular nowadays. Despite Big Tech’s effort to eradicate RSS it remains a critical piece of the open web for syndicating content. I have no plans to let it be forgotton. Admittedly I almost forgot during the social media winter but now Twitter is dead and RSS lives on.


XSLT“Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations” — is a mouthful. Basically for my purposes it can be used to render an XML document as an HTML page when viewed in a browser.

First I added an XML processing instruction to the top of my RSS feed. This references an XSL file that I created later.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<?xml-stylesheet href="/rss.xsl" type="text/xsl"?>

Next I created the XSL file:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<xsl:stylesheet version="3.0" xmlns:xsl="">
  <xsl:output method="html" version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" indent="yes"/>
  <xsl:template match="/">
    <html xmlns="">
        <title><xsl:value-of select="/rss/channel/title"/></title>
        <meta charset="utf-8"/>
        <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1"/>
        <link rel="stylesheet" href="/rss.css"/>
          <h1><xsl:value-of select="/rss/channel/title"/></h1>
          <p><xsl:value-of select="/rss/channel/description"/></p>
          <xsl:for-each select="/rss/channel/item">
                  <xsl:attribute name="href">
                    <xsl:value-of select="link"/>
                  <xsl:value-of select="title"/>
              <p><xsl:value-of select="description"/></p>
              <p><xsl:value-of select="pubDate"/></p>

Above is a basic template. Feel free to use it!

Remember this is XML with nested XHTML. It’s not HTML and therefore tags need to be closed like <meta charset="utf-8"/> (which is self-closing). Otherwise, XSL is composed as you would an HTML document using the special XSL elements for templating.

CSS can be added inline or in an external stylesheet like I have done.

Finally, the RSS feed needs to be served with the content-type header: application/xml; charset=utf-8. If you use application/rss+xml browsers may not render it.

Now my RSS feed looks like this in the browser:

screenshot of my styled feed

That’s a big improvement!

With this change browsers will no longer prompt users to open their RSS app. This is a reasonable trade-off in my opinion. People who know RSS and have reader apps installed can easily copy the feed URL. Those that don’t — I suspect the majority — will see a pretty page and not a mess like before. Perhaps I need a message at the top explaining RSS? I’ve seen a few feeds do that.

It may be controversial that I don’t put my entire blog content in the feed. I don’t know why to be honest, I made the decision so long ago. What is your opinion? I’m on Mastodon and Twitter (for now) let me know.

Edge Cases

One minor issue is that Firefox does not support the disable-output-escaping attribute (and is more likely to remove XSLT entirely). So using HTML in CDATA for descriptions will render as code in Firefox rather than the HTML. I simply opted to remove all CDATA. HTML entities like &#8217; for an apostrophe still work.

Buy me a coffee! Support me on Ko-fi