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RSS feeds are an increasingly popular and powerful way to wade through many Web sites' worth of information at once. In big organizations, though, that can mean thousands of people hitting the same feeds over and over again all day long, sometimes as often as every 10 minutes.
This means a lot of bandwidth usage, not to mention a strain on the servers providing the feeds. But banning the use of RSS isn't realistic, since it's sent over conventional HTTP connections -- and it's ultimately far too useful to users to dispense with entirely.
Exchange Server developer Glen Scales has come up with an interesting solution to the performance issues associated with heavy RSS feed usage. He's written a script that aggregates RSS feeds and places them into an Exchange public folder as a series of posts.
Instead of accessing RSS feeds on their own and running up lots of redundant connections, users can simply go to an Exchange Server public folder (a local connection) to read what's posted there.
Obviously an administrator needs to set up the script to aggregate the desired RSS feeds, but if many people are reading the same feeds anyway, it's clearly more efficient and worth that minimal effort.
The script is a .VBS script that needs to be run from the command line on the Exchange server where the public folders are hosted. Multiple feeds can be aggregated into one folder, or each feed can have its own folder if you so choose. Atom, RSS 2.0 and RSS 1.0 RDF are all supported feed formats.
One of the challenges Scales faced was to read the RSS feeds in such a way that they would only be reread when something changed. He was able to do this by adding two content headers into the GET command that obtains the feeds.
If-Modified-Since and If-None-Match tells the server to only provide a new feed if there's new material. He also used the Accept-Encoding header to use compression on the returned data, but there are some Web servers that don't correctly honor all of these headers. Scales estimates that only some 40% of the blogs or feed providers he's tried this script with supported compression.
About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter.
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This was first published in April 2006