How to Subscribe to News Feeds and Blogs

NOTE: This article applies to Thunderbird 24 and above.

Websites may publish content for download by applications using one of either the RSS or Atom protocols. Such content is commonly called a "news feed" or "RSS feed" or "syndication". Feeds are often used by blogs, but more traditional websites can make any content available in this format. When you subscribe to a site's feed link, your feed reader (for example, Thunderbird) automatically checks the location and downloads the articles to local folders.

When you use Thunderbird to handle your Feeds, you can use the same presentation and tools (archiving, filters, search, etc.) that you are familiar with from managing your email messages.


Step 1: Create a Feed Account

First you must create an account in Thunderbird for your Feeds.

1. In the Menu Bar, click File | New | Feed Account. The Feed Account Wizard window appears.

2. Type a name for your Feed account in the Account Name box, then click Next.

3. Click Finish. Your new account will now appear in Thunderbird's folder pane.


Step 2: Subscribe to Feeds

Next, choose the feeds you want to subscribe to.

1. Use your web browser to open a website that you want to subscribe to. Most media sites and blogs that are regularly updated have Feeds.

2. Look for a familiar RSS icon or text link on the site. On most sites the link appears at the bottom or on the side of the home page.

rss icon on website


3. Right-click on the RSS link and copy the link’s address. (If you use Mozilla Firefox, click Copy Link Location on the context menu. If you use Google Chrome, click Copy link address.)

copying rss link from website


NOTE: On some large websites, the home page’s rss or feeds hyperlink is not a feed itself, but a link to a set of feeds provided by the site. For example, a major media site may have different feeds for its news, sports and entertainment sections. Just click the RSS icon on the home page, then perform Step 3 on the page that hosts all the site’s feeds.

4. In Thunderbird, click your Feed Account name in the folder pane.

5. Click Manage subscriptions.

6. In the Feed URL box, right-click and paste the link address from the website.

7. Click Add. Thunderbird will validate the link, create a new folder, subscribe a valid link to the new folder, and download all current articles. The new folder appears under your Feed Account in the folder pane.

rss subscriptions dialog

8. Feeds can also be quickly subscribed by drag and dropping links from a browser onto either the Feed Account folder or any other folder in a Feed Account, directly in the folder pane. If a new folder is created, the folder's name is derived from the feed's title.

NOTE: Thunderbird will validate new feed urls and let you check for correct protocol syntax in an existing feed. For already added Feeds, click the Validate link in the Subscribe dialog. If a feed does not Validate in Thunderbird (for example, if it is a web page), it may, however, appear to be correct in the Validation Service. This is because the Service will attempt to locate a valid link. Check that the Service's link is the same as the link you entered in Thunderbird. (A web page may have more than one feed url in it; the Service will use the first one it finds.)


Step 3: Read and Manage Feeds

Reading and managing your Feeds is as easy as using your email in Thunderbird.

To read a feed

1. Click Get Mail to download all the newest feed messages, along with your regular email messages.

2. In the folder pane, click on the folder whose content you want to read. A list of unread messages from the feed appears in the message list pane.

3. Click on a message in the message list.

4. Read the article in the message body. If you’d like to see the article on the website, click the link in the message header next to Website (this will open the link in your default browser).

rss message view

5. You may also select the view action to perform when double clicking or hitting <enter> on a Feed message selected in the list. The options are found in Message | When Opening Feed Messages.

NOTE: You can set whether the message displays as an article summary or the article web page in two ways:
  • In the Subscribe dialog, select the feed folder and set Show the article summary instead of loading the web page checkbox. This preference applies to all feeds in the folder.
  • Select a message from the message list, then click View | Feed Message Body As, and select whether to use the Default Format (folder setting above), or override the default and show Summary or Web Page globally.
In Tools | Account Settings, select the name of your Feed Account and set By default, show the article summary instead of loading the web page checkbox. This selection is the default for all new feed subscriptions that create a folder in that Account.

To organize your feeds

You can create email-style folders to group individual feeds:

1. Click on your Feeds Account name to select it.

2. Click File | New | Folder. The New Folder dialog box appears.

3. Type a name for your new folder, then click Create Folder.

NOTE: To create subfolders of your folders, first select the folder you want as the parent folder, then click File | New | Subfolder.
NOTE: A Feed Account subfolder may have zero, one, or many subscriptions attached to it. You can see folder subscriptions in the Subscribe dialog. Feeds may be drag and dropped and otherwise organized in folders however you like. For example, it is useful to have a blog feed and its comments feed both subscribed to the same folder.

4. Alternatively, you can organize your feeds by creating additional Feed Accounts. Just repeat Step 1: Create for every account you want to create, giving each one a different name.

Import and Export your Feeds

1. If you have a list of feed urls exported in the OPML format to a file, perhaps from another feed reader, you may Import them using Tools | Import | Feed Subscriptions. Choose either a new or existing Feeds Account.

2. You may also Import using the Subscribe dialog, selecting the Feed Account folder, and clicking Import.

3. To Export, select the Feed Account (top folder) in the Subscribe dialog and click Export. The folder structure and preferences of your feeds will be saved to a .opml file. (To Export a simple list, press Ctrl then click the button).


Tips

  • To quickly mark a feed's messages as all read, so they no longer appear in bold type, press Shift + C while the feed is selected.
  • For options on how often Thunderbird checks for new feed messages and deletes old ones, click on Tools | Account Settings, then click on the name of your feeds account. Click on Disc Space below your account name for more options.
  • Use the Quick Filter toolbar to save time if you're getting a lot of messages from a feed.
  • If you wish to use Message Filters on feed messages and filter by website, create a Custom header named Content-Base. This header contains the feed message's website link.


Advanced Tips

  • Thunderbird has extensive logging of Feed activity, viewable in Tools | Error Console. Change the preference Feeds.logging.console to debug or trace (and restart) to see details of Feed processing.

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