Self-hosted alternative to Google Reader: selfoss

No no no! Google has just announced it is shutting down Reader on 1 July 2013.

Personally, I can’t really understand this. It is a good product, with surely plenty of advertising and marketing opportunities. Nevertheless, there’s no point railing against the decision. It was “free”. It was good while it lasted. I shouldn’t complain.

Like many people, this leaves me scrabbling around for an alternative. There are one or two similar web-based services out there, but having been burnt once by the whim of a content publisher, I would rather take my destiny into my own hands going forwards. In short, this means setting up a web-based RSS reader on my own server.

There are a few features I’ve come to regard as indispensable in a news reader:

  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Desktop- and mobile-friendly interfaces
  • No limits on number of subscriptions
  • Responsive (uses Ajax)

selfoss logoIt didn’t take too much searching to find a solution that looked ideal: selfoss. The author describes selfoss as:

The new multipurpose rss reader, live stream, mashup, aggregation web application

The features of selfoss that stood out most to me were:

  • web based
  • open source
  • mobile support (Android, iOS, iPad)
  • lightweight PHP application
  • supports MySQL

There are one or two similar projects out there, but selfoss most closely fits my requirements and seems to be in a good state of development. Interestingly, within 36 hours of Google’s announcement it was retiring Reader, a selfoss user called Michael Moore had written code for selfoss to import OPML files – which is the format we’ll be exporting from Google.

Preparing your web server

If you’ve followed my guide to DIY web hosting, you’ll be able to do what I did:

  • Create a new virtual server in Virtualmin (e.g. myfeeds.fredbloggs.com)
  • Configure my external DNS host to point to this new website (I host my main domains with GoDaddy and manage this through its DNS control panel)
  • Configure my local DNS server similarly (I run an internal DNS server, to avoid the problem of hairpin NAT)
  • Set up a dedicated MySQL user for the new database Virtualmin created

Installing selfoss

Update: In a very short space of time since writing this article, selfoss went through several updates and feature improvements. The current version is 2.6 and better than ever. You can download that straight from the official website.

Really quite simple:

  • Download the latest zip file from GitHub to the root directory of your new virtual web site: eg wget https://github.com/SSilence/selfoss/archive/master.zip. At the time of writing, version 2.2, which is the version that includes OPML import, is only available on GitHub, not on the main selfoss website.
  • Unzip: unzip master.zip
  • Move files into place: mv selfoss-master/* .; mv selfoss-master/.* .
  • Tidy up: rm -r master.zip selfoss-master
  • Set permissions as described on the selfoss website: chmod a+w data/cache data/favicons data/logs data/thumbnails data/sqlite public/
  • Edit config.ini. You’ll probably want to change db_type to mysql, and set db_database, db_username and db_password. You may also want to set username and password. You actually enter a hash of the password here, rather than the password in plain text. To generate this hash, browse to selfoss/password (e.g. http://myfeeds.fredbloggs.com/password)
  • You’ll most likely update feeds using a cron job. Every 30 minutes is enough for me, so I made an entry in /etc/crontab like this: 10,40 * * * * fredbloggs wget -O - -q -t 1 http://myfeeds.fredbloggs.com/update

Migrating from Google Reader

The first step is to export your existing RSS subscriptions from Google Reader. Proceed as follows:

  • Log into Google Takeout, Google’s data export service.
  • Ensure “Reader” is displayed and click “Create archive”
  • Click “Download”
  • You should receive a zip file that contains (amongst other things) your RSS subscriptions in an XML file called “subscriptions.xml”. Extract that file.
  • In version 2.2, at least, there’s no direct link to selfoss’s new OPML import page, so type /opml in your browser (e.g. http://myfeeds.fredbloggs.com/opml)
  • Upload the subscriptions.xml file
  • Click the “Update” link to force selfoss to commence loading your feeds.
  • Start whizzing through your RSS feed using the keyboard shortcuts >t< ("throw" - i.e. mark this item as read and open next item) and >r< (reload current view)

Be sure to add my RSS feed to selfoss for more great articles! http://pomeroy.me/feed/.

selfoss code and logo copyright © Tobias Zeising. All rights acknowledged.

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