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Why is my FeedSweep widget not updating on my website?

Summary: When things work right, all is OK with the world. But if your FeedSweep widget is not working properly, here are some things for you to check.

If your FeedSweep widget does not update...

Your hosting page cannot see the FeedSweep Servers

Yes, it is rather obvious - but if the web page or blog page you are using as the 'hosting page' for your widget cannot reach the FeedSeep servers, then no updates can take place. Often this can be a firewall problem, but most likely it would be a DNS lookup problem. Test by using the IP address of the FeedSweep servers instead of the domain name.


Badly formed feeds

Feeds can be badly formed. Not only is it difficult to understand all the nuances of different feed types like ATOM and RSS from a programming viewpoint, but most feeds are generated automatically using content from a different content source. It is very easy for this changing content to sneak in bad characters or other problems that prevent the FeedSweep servers from updating a feed.

The biggest reason why your FeedSweep widget is not updating has to do with an invalid source feed. Check the validity of the feeds you are using in your FeedSweep widget with:


FeedSweep does A LOT of caching and this can affect the speed of updating.

As a courtesy to feed owners, the FeedSweep servers will never request a feed more than once every 10 minutes. This means even if there are new articles regularly added to the feed, FeedSweep will only include these updates roughly 6 times an hour.

Each of these feeds is cached on FeedSweep servers as a file cache.

Then, once all the feeds in a widget have been cached, the FeedSweep servers will "build" the widget and cache it in a memory cache.

When the FeedSweep servers do request a feed update from the feed server, they include an algorithm in the request (HTTP header items If-None-Match and If-Modified-Since) that allows the feed server to determine if the FeedSweep servers have the latest content. Naturally, it makes no sense to resend the contents of a feed if FeedSweep already has the exact contents. So, if this was the case, the feed server would just send back a small message (technically referred to as a "304 - Not Modified") and the FeedSweep servers would know that the feed cached in the file cache is the latest content. Any widgets using that feed would obtain it from the feed file cache.

However, if the feed content has changed then the feed is removed from the feed file cache and the widget is removed from the widget memory cache - and the build process starts all over again.

Why is this relevant to you? Your FeedSweep widget should reflect the contents of its feed sources - but not necessarily. Your widget might lag slightly behind in the article updates. Eventually all new articles will be included but there might be a delay of up to 20 minutes. In fact, for feed servers which regularly update their articles sooner than every 20 minutes, it is theoretically possible for your widget to always be behind because of caching.


Comparing Feed content to Widgets

You might compare the contents of your FeedSweep widget with what you see in another "feed viewer" and see differences. This can be confusing.

Many "feed viewers", whether it is a standalone program or a browser, download the feed in the background and massage it before displaying it. The number of articles you are see might not be the number within the actual feed at that moment.

Internet Explorer is a good example. IE will download feeds using a separate process, then combine the new articles with past feed downloads into something called the Common Feed List and finally present you with a list of articles. You might see 20 on this list - but in reality there were only 10 in the actual feed contents and the other 10 were added from the Common Feed List.

FeedSweep shows the articles in the current feed only.

To test this, use an application that displays XML. Such a program would display the raw feed contents and you will then be able to compare contents knowing the exact content of the feed. An example such programs include XML NotePad or XMLSpy.


Filters have a way of limiting more content than you intend. That is why we say, "Less is better" when it comes to applying filters within your FeedSweep widget. However, this is a simple thing to test. Simply recreate or import your FeedSweep widget in the Advanced Designer without filters and see if the content is different.



If your FeedSweep widget works intermittently...

If at one time your FeedSweep widget was displaying correctly and then at some point there is a blank square displayed or an error message making reference to "a 404: Not Found" error, your hosting server has lost connectivity with the FeedSweep servers. This is NOT to be confused with seeing a FeedSweep widget that displays any sort of message, including "No News is Good News". In that case, read "If your FeedSweep widget does not update".

These symptoms will be most likely related to network and internet connectivity problems. You can try to spot where the problem is occurring by doing a TraceRoute test. From the server hosting your FeedSweep widget, or at least from a computer on the same intranet, try doing an online TraceRoute test.

A more accurate test would be to do the TraceRoute test from the server hosting your FeedSweep widget:

For information on how to do a TraceRoute test:


If your FeedSweep widget has never worked at all...

Check if the DNS (domain name service) on the server hosting your FeedSweep widget can see the domain name of "FeedSweep.com". Important! Do not do this test from your personal computer. Do not do a DNS lookup from a browser page on your hosting server - you will just be doing a lookup from the web server hosting that page then. It must be done on the server hosting your widget using the proper command for your operating system.

For information on how to do a DNS lookup:

Check if the server hosting your FeedSweep widget can "ping" the FeedSweep servers by doing a Ping test. Once again, this must be done from the server hosting your widget.

For information on how to do a Ping test:

If either of these tests fails, then you most likely have a Firewall problem. Contact your network administrator for a fix.

If these tests pass, then test to see if your hosting server can run the widget code. Take the widget code you have generated and strip off everything but the URL within the code. For example, if your widget code looked like the following, copy only the bolded URL:

<script type="text/javascript"

Paste this URL into a browser opened on the server hosting your widget. You should see some resemblance to the feed contents your widget contains. There will be some extra, nonsensical characters and the links will not work, but if you see content then that means your server can run the widget code. This suggests your existing widget code on your hosting page has not been inserted correctly.

To correct, follow the steps outlined in the article, "How to insert a FeedSweep widget into a web page or blog".


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Posted by: admin, on 04/08/2009, in category "General Articles"
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