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simplicity applied

I was going off the deep end in Win32 (yes, I know...) to finish some tests I need to do for my thesis research, and I decided to get some instant gratification by doing something simple: update my templates since there were a couple of weblogs in my blogroll that had recently changed location, and check out my feeds to see what, exactly, was being generated. I had been using the default movable type templates (which in my installation, an upgrade from 2.4 or something, where RSS 0.91 and RDF). In the process I discovered that my original 0.91 feed did not validate due to the date format, which was not RFC 822 (as the RSS spec requires), but ISO 8601...

So I went looking and I found that Movable Type now has a template for RSS 2.0 feeds. Nice! Grabbed it updated, and tested through the feed validator. It worked.

So far so good.

Then I read Sam's great presentation on RSS at Seybold, and there he had a mention of "Funky" feeds.

I remembered that a big argument had started a few weeks ago in this regard. At the time the discussion had turned ugly so fast that I simply stayed away, and didn't even follow it that much.

But now I was intrigued. So I started looking at the RSS 2.0 feed that was being generated by MT, and I understood what the discussion was about.

What was happening was that MT's RSS 2.0 template was using Dublin Core elements to replace elements for which RSS 2.0 had equivalents.

Aha! It wasn't clear to me why this was being done. The feed was valid, true, but somehow it didn't feel quite right... I felt it was like using JNI to access C code for, say, calculating the tangent of a value when using java.lang.Math would suit just fine.

If RSS 2.0 had the elements, then why replace them with something else? I revisited the discussion a bit and saw that Mark had argued that DC elements were more of a standard than RSS 2.0 equivalents, which was a fair point but still didn't quite explain why you'd require aggregators to deal with additional namespaces when you could get away with simply using "built-in" tags. Besides, it was Mark's opinion, rather than MT's, so as reasonable as his argument was it didn't definitely explain why MT was going in a certain direction. Furthermore, I didn't quite agree with the logic; as much as I like the idea of Dublin Core, I'd prefer to go with built-in elements any day of the week (as Atom has done, btw, in not using DC elements even when it could have done so). I now had the opportunity to follow up on what I had been talking about a couple of days ago regarding simplicity, with something small but concrete.

Okay, so I started investigating more and trying to change the feed template into pure RSS 2.0 (no namespaces). Everything seemed to be going fine until I hit the pubDate and lastBuildDate elements. MT was using, for example, dc:date. When I tried to take the date "out of the namespace" it didn't work, even if I changed the formatting to match that of RFC 822. Why? Because MT does not have a tag to generate RFC 822 timezones. The only tag to generate a timezone included in MT is $MTBlogTimezone$, which generates ISO 8601-style timezones.

Things now started to make sense. MT didn't have a tag for that, hence the best way to generate a valid feed was to use an ISO 8601 date, which can only be included if you're using Dublin Core elements, rather than the RFC 822 elements that the feed requires. And after you include one namespace, well, why not do it all on namespaces, since the line has been crossed so to speak. At first I thought that this "line crossing" had been because of the use of category in an entry through dc:subject tags, but rechecking the RSS spec I saw that RSS 2.0 has a category tag for items as well as for feeds, so that wasn't it. It was only the date that was bringing this whole cascade of namespaces tumbling in. That's my theory anyway. :-)

Regardless of why this was happening, I was sure there must be a solution. The Movable Type tutorials at were empty, so no luck there. One googling, though, turned up John Gruber's RFC 822 plugin for MT. John's plugin adds the $MTrfc822BlogTimeZone$ tag, which is all that was missing to generate the correct date. Great! Now I had all I needed.

The result is this template which depends on John's RFC plugin and generates valid RSS 2.0 with the tags that I need and avoids using namespaces (maybe when adding more functionality not supported in the base spec, namespaces will be necessary, but I prefer to avoid them if possible). Now I have a pointer for both RSS and RDF feeds on the page. Still have to re-generate the whole site, though, which will take a while.


Posted by diego on September 12 2003 at 11:46 AM

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