Thursday, 31 January 2008

Problems with the iTunes Feed

Apologies to any FolkCast subscribers who noticed a problem with the feed via iTunes in January. The reason for this was simple: me. The mysteries of RSS feeds, the bit of code that allows podcasting to work in the way it does, are dark and deep. It 21st Century voodoo, really but, for those interested in the technical side, I'll try to explain the problem. iTunes and other Podcatcher services work by reading the RSS feeds created by podcast producers. And although RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, it's anything but really simple. In fact, it's really tricky. When we set up FolkCast three years ago, we knew next to nothing about RSS, but managed to figure out how to get the feed working by piecing together advice on various websites. Basically, it involves writing descriptions of each podcast episode, along with special headers that the Podcatchers can understand. If you want to see the code in the raw, click here. Exciting, huh? So, once we'd got the RSS feed written we had to put it somewhere on our website, and give out that address (or URL) as the bit of info people needed to subscribe to the show. Unfortunately, we chose a really ugly place to put it - and the resulting URL was a mess: http://www.folkcast.co.uk/Folkcast Pages/folkcast001.rss Fast forward three years. I'd always intended to change the URL for the RSS feed, and in January 08 I finally got around to it, moving it to the much simpler www.folkcast.co.uk/folkcast.rss. Back at the original URL, I put a notice that would redirect podcatchers to the new feed. And all was well. At least, all was well until Mark Askren got in touch from California, telling us that he was getting an odd message from iTunes, saying that FolkCast "does not appear to have a valid URL". After a bit of further investigation, it turned out that iTunes doesn't read redirection notices in the way other Podcatchers do (or should), and I needed to add a special line of code just to redirect iTunes, restore the feed to its original URL, wait until iTunes picked up on the special redirect message and updated its database, and then resubstitute the RSS file for the redirect in HTML for other podcastchers to see. Still with me? If not, don't worry. The end result is that we were off iTunes for a couple of days, but now we're back. Most of you probably didn't notice, but if you did now you know why it happened ... even if you probably don't care! :-) However, if after all that, if you have had problems with your feed to FolkCast - either through iTunes or another Podcatcher - the simple way around it is to make sure you are subscribed to the new feed address: www.folkcast.co.uk/folkcast.rss Thanks to Mark for all his help in checking that the feed was working again. We rely on people letting us know if they are having problems. And now, back to editing the February show... Phil

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