The funny thing about RSS is that it is always a topic of discussion. One day, someone is talking about the “revival” of RSS, the next – someone tries to justify why RSS is still a thing, or why it’s a must-use service. The fact of the matter is, that RSS never went anywhere. It is to this day the best method for keeping up with the latest news and blog posts from a large subset of sources.
Even if a blog/website/publisher doesn’t have an RSS feed (very unlikely) – you can use something like The RSS Bridge to generate one. And if you think you can keep up with 100+ content feeds with only social media or a bookmarking site – you’re sorely mistaken.
What’s the deal with RSS readers charging money, anyway? The most simple answer to this question is the fact that fetching RSS feeds all day long for thousands of users has a significant cost in terms of data storage, but also server capabilities. On top of that, many popular (premium) RSS Readers provide additional features included in the cost. That said, this post is focused primarily on free software, with a few exceptions where appropriate.
The goal of this blog post then is to provide a concise list of free-to-use RSS readers. I’ve put together a varied mix of both Browser-based but also Desktop-based readers. The advantage of a Browser-based RSS reader is that you can also use it on your mobile device.
I’m also going to talk about a few open-source projects that you can fork yourself and implement new features as needed. If you’re working on an open-source RSS reader and it’s not on this list – feel free to ping me on Twitter or send me an email and I’ll see what I can do.
One last thing, if you decide to use one of the self-hosted solutions and don’t want to host it on your own device – I have compiled a separate article on free hosting solutions for developers. The list includes crowd favorites like Vercel, Netlify, and others. In most cases, if you don’t start monitoring tens of thousands of feeds at once – a free plan should suffice for basic needs.
As I spend so much time on my Desktop anyway – I don’t mind using standalone software such as Fluent Reader. And because it has a clean UI with some nifty features (privacy-friendly) – it’s easily my top pick. It’s also built with a familiar stack; Electron, React, and Fluent UI.
One of the key features for me was the ability to import OPML files from other services, thus saving me time from needing to reenter feeds manually. Additionally, Fluent Reader supports syncing with external services like Feedbin, Inoreader, and others.
Fluent Reader does have a mobile version, also. The Lite version is built on the back of Flutter and has almost all the same features as the Desktop version. You can download and compile it from the source yourself, but if you get it from one of the app stores – there is going to be a small fee attached to the app. This is to cover the yearly fees that app stores impose on developers.
Inoreader is the first of 3 (in this list) browser-based RSS readers with a freemium model. So, in the case of Inoreader – the maximum number of feeds you can add is capped at 150. Which, to be fair, is still a decent number of feeds, particularly if you only want to monitor niche blogs.
That said, plenty of people (particularly in the developer community) are happy to pay for the premium plan because it provides additional features. In the case of Inoreader, those features are ad-less experience, custom styling, automation, filters, and advanced tools like translation.
The filter system in particular is extremely powerful. You can create custom notifications or perform actions based on the smallest of details. For example, if a particular feed item has a certain word in its title – you can send yourself an email or a push notification about it.
Inoreader does have a mobile app also, both on Apple Store and Google Play.
Feedly has been around since 2008, though it wasn’t until 2013 (when Google Reader was discontinued) that the platform picked up some serious pace. The browser-based reader app is now one of the world’s most popular solutions for fetching and managing RSS feeds.
It’s also the reader that I myself prefer to use. Their interface is clean and accessible. And, in recent years they’ve made several leaps in adding unique features. The most notable of which is their AI engine “Leo” – an intuitive algorithm that can understand your reading patterns and sort out feeds automatically based on what you like to read the most.
So, shortly after publishing this article, Erik Gahner Larsen came out to say that a lot of these “modern” features are to the detriment of Feedly. In his opinion, the two culprits of the platform are the oversaturation of features but also the price tag. While I agree that the platform has changed a lot, it does offer a free plan for up to 150 feeds. And, ultimately, there are plenty of alternatives that focus strictly on fetching feeds and nothing else.
Last but not least, Feedly has its own Explore directory, which has upwards of 100,000 various feeds indexed by categories. So, if you’re just signing up and don’t have an OPML file ready – their feed directory will help you quickly find relevant feeds to your interests.
NewsBlur has been in active development for over a decade. While the service does have a freemium model, it is limited to only 64 feeds at a time. But, if you have the resources – you can check out the GitHub repo for NewsBlur and maybe try putting together a build yourself. From what I understand – it might actually be cheaper to just subscribe to their service, though.
Some notable features include the ability to track article changes over time. This is particularly useful for reporters who may then avoid having to subscribe to an additional service. NewsBlur also supports channels like social media (Twitter), YouTube, and email newsletter subscriptions.
It is available in the Browser, and also on smartphones (Apple & Android).
Yet Another RSS Reader is an open-source project which provides a reliable Desktop-based feed reader, which also can be hosted on an external server. Outside of Feedly – yarr is the Desktop alternative I use because it’s very simple to use and has a clean interface.
The tech stack behind YARR is Go, Vue.js, and SQLite for data storage.
If all you need is a simple interface that can fetch feeds for you – Stringer is the answer. This minimalist feed reader/fetcher has no additional features outside of fetching RSS feeds and indexing their content. Thanks to its small footprint, it will be possible to run Stringer from any cloud provider that offers a free plan. This we already learned at the intro, though.
Miniflux and Stringer have a lot in common. Most notably, both are super simple implementations of a feed reader. Stringer is written in Ruby, and Miniflux uses Go for its back-end.
You do get a few additional features like stars, history, and categorization. But outside of that, the interface is kept to a bare minimum. The documentation is detailed and concise.
NetNewsWire is the only software in this article that is locked to a specific OS. And that OS is macOS and iOS. In other words, this is the feed reader for Apple users. If you’re already familiar with Apple’s design – this feed reader will retain that smooth user interface.
Now, while it looks great – NetNewsWire does have a plethora of interesting features. Some of the more notable ones are the ability to sync with other RSS readers. Also, you get a custom Safari browser extension to quickly add and sync your feeds. Love dark mode? No problem, NNW got you covered. You also don’t have to re-check feeds since fetching is done as a background process.
Tiny Tiny RSS
If you love the idea of self-hosting but retaining browser access: TTR is for you! This web-based RSS reader has been in active development since 2005. The software is also fully pluggable (written in PHP) and supports Plugins and Themes.
Let others keep up-to-date with your content
So, when doing research for this post – some of my reference points were Hacker News, GitHub Issues, and Reddit. It seems as though the biggest pain point is that writers/publishers aren’t manually generating RSS/Atom feeds for their content. Welp.
I think part of the issue is the current landscape of web development. It’s quite easy to forget about RSS when your site is built with a janky framework. And while there are certain workarounds, wouldn’t it be nicer to simply have the feed ready to go?
Nevertheless, I hope this post shed some light on what is considered the best RSS readers.