The ultimate PHP RSS feed parser library

by webmaster 2024-03-23 #php #rss

The quest is over - I have found the perfect PHP library for parsing RSS and Atom feeds. I present you SimplePie.

My 2024 side project is a browser-based RSS reader/aggregator. This post isn't about why I'm building something that already exists in countless forms. Suffice to say that, with the ongoing enshittification of the web, I strongly believe we should take back control of our data.

The core of an RSS reader is a reliable parser. Unfortunately, parsing XML is hard. RSS/Atom feeds aren't much easier to parse either, mostly because there are many different versions and standards for each but worst of all, the web is rife with feeds that don't conform to any standard or are broken.

I am not interested in building a feed parser. My goal is to build the experience - the functionality, the aggregation logic, the UX. My app is Laravel (PHP), so one of the first steps was to search for a pre-built open-source feed parsing library. Tough quest.

After going on the wrong track with a different library (that shall not be named because it's somewhat decent and a lot of work went into it), I came across SimplePie.

At first glance, it's easy to discount SimplePie. After all, the website looks like it's frozen in the early 00s and the docs mention downloading the library. I mean, ugh, right? I don't mean to sound elitist because I hold a lot of nostalgia for that era, but we've long since moved on from that age with modern composer.

SimplePie does have its own website, so I took the time to read about its features and dig through the docs. The public repo is on GitHub.

Interesting facts

I found out that:

  • it has been around for 20 years!
  • it has been using composer for 12 years!
  • it handles all kinds of feeds (even somewhat-broken ones) like a champ.
  • the docs on the website stop at v1.3, yet the latest version on GitHub is v1.8.
  • the latest version has lax requirements (PHP >= 7.2).
  • it is still actively maintained (the latest commits are from a few months ago).
  • it's got way more features than I currently need.
  • the license is very permissive (BSD-3).

Quirks and gotchas

  • the website isn't very well maintained. Hell, it doesn't even run on HTTPS. I'm not holding this against the authors because I know how thankless open-source development is. Kudos to them for having a website in the first place and maintaining this project for so many years ❤️
  • the docs are very disorganized and old-school-like, yet thorough, and the API is documented in great detail.
  • there are multiple 1000+ line classes, with the main class at 3000+ lines. I love it though, bring back the old web 🤘
  • it's not immediately obvious how to use it; nothing that some source-diving and careful parsing of the docs can't fix.

Usage example

Here's a simple method that I added to a Feed model to get the data I need from an RSS/Atom feed url: basic feed metadata + feed items which I then dump into my database.

public function fetch(): void
    $pie = new SimplePie;

    // I may decide to enable this later, for now it's fine the way it is

    // the original feed URL that I want to retrieve

    if ($pie->init()) {
        $this->title = $pie->get_title();
        $this->description = $pie->get_description();
        $this->last_fetched_at = now();
        $this->link = $pie->subscribe_url(); // can be different than the original feed URL
        $this->site_link = $pie->get_base();

        $feed_items = [];

        foreach ($pie->get_items() as $item) {
            $feed_items[] = [
                'title' => $item->get_title(),
                'link' => $item->get_permalink(),
                'description' => $item->get_description(),
                'author' => $item->get_author()->name,
                'guid' => $item->get_id(),
                'published_date' => $item->get_date(),
                'updated_date' => $item->get_updated_date(),
        $this->feed_items = $feed_items;


Bonus - Quick peek

Here's a bonus preview of a very early prototype for the RSS reader I'm working on. Made with Laravel + Livewire, and of course SimplePie.

RSS reader early prototype

In closing

All things considered, SimplePie kicks some serious ass! It does exactly what I need it to, and the old-school vibe is actually attractive to this older developer who started his career in that era.

This is a serious and hardcore PHP codebase that puts newer libraries and frameworks to shame. While the DX for the API isn't quite up to our modern sensibilities, I like the old-school vibes and honesty of it. Very importantly though, it is thoroughly docblocked, giving the IDE good intelligence about the internals.

I'll end this love letter by urging any PHP developer interested in RSS to give SimplePie some affection and star it on GitHub because 1.5k stars for this jewel is low, man!

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