Software Review: FreshRSS

694 words, estimated reading time: 4 minute(s)
Originally published on June 8, 2024
Last modified on June 8, 2024

Most RSS users start off with desktop readers such as Newsboat or Akregator in order to keep things simple. However, due to certain drawbacks of this approach (which I will talk about below) I have looked for an aggregator I can install on my VPS and use as such. After a bit of research, I have decided to go with FreshRSS and here I’ll explain why I decided to ditch Akregator in the first place and why I chose FreshRSS.

What even is RSS?

If you’re already initiated on this subject, feel free to skip to the next section.

A practically universal use case for the Internet is reading various blogs and news. However, as your number of followed blog and news sites builds up, going through all of them looking for new content becomes a serious chore. To make things worse, many (generally news) sites are becoming increasingly bloated. (Not just technologically, but also with garbage content!)

RSS solves these issues beautifully. The idea is that each site has an XML document (called an RSS feed, or feed for short) which contains a list of the N latest posts on that website. You can add an arbitrary number of these feeds into your reader and it will automatically sync these at a specified interval, optionally notifying you of new content. This removes the chore of having to go through your followed sites manually, but it also works around the technological bloat issue as the feeds can only contain plain text or (more common and still reasonable) plain HTML. Finally, low-quality content can be much more easily ignored or straight up filtered from your reader.

Unfortunately, RSS has declined since its golden age in the 2000’s with Firefox dropping its own reader and many people forgetting about RSS, however it persists on many sites (even big ones) and other readers continue to be actively developed.

What’s the problem with traditional readers?

If you consume your feeds on multiple devices (as most people, me included, probably do) with a traditional reader, your feeds and other info on them (such as read and important markers) will not sync. Besides that, you might lose articles on high-volume feeds if you do not open your feed reader for a while (which might be just a few days) and the feed has a sufficiently low N.

The solution to these problems is to run your aggregator on a server. There exist public ones, but a far better solution would be to host your own. This is where FreshRSS comes in.

How to install it?

If you have Docker Compose, put something like this into a docker-compose.yml:

version: "3.8"


    image: freshrss/freshrss:latest
    container_name: freshrss
    hostname: freshrss
    restart: unless-stopped
      - "8181:80"
        max-size: 10m
      - data:/var/www/FreshRSS/data
      - extensions:/var/www/FreshRSS/extensions
      TZ: Europe/Zagreb
      CRON_MIN: '3,33'

Then, configure your web server to point a subdomain or path to the respective port. Open the subdomain or path in your browser, do the initial setup and you’re done. Add a few categories and feeds, then go through the settings and configure everything to your wishes.

Since FreshRSS is a PWA, you may “install” it using a Chromium-based browser (which I do on Android) or through the Web Apps program on a Linux Mint system.

How does it feel to use? Should I use it?

There’s not that much to say. Adding feeds is as simple as on a traditional reader, all my feeds and starred articles sync between devices (strictly speaking, they do not, but are fetched from the server) and it overall behaves pretty much just like Akregator did excluding the issues.

If you only read feeds on one device and don’t care about losing articles from big news sites here and there, you should probably stick with a traditional reader as that is obviously less complicated, probably a bit more secure, allows offline reading and so on. However, if your RSS experience is affected by one of the aforementioned issues, I can highly recommend FreshRSS as it’s relatively simple to set up and does not otherwise try to be radically different just for the sake of it.