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Technical notes index

Making your podcast
A sample feed
Uploading your podcast
Copyright
Submitting your podcast to the iTunes Store
Changing your feed URL

Podcast tags in iTunes
Diagnosing a podcast feed

HOW TO MAKE A PODCAST

This is intended as a fairly simple guide to making and posting a podcast. For more detail, please see Apple's Podcast Technical Specifications Page.

Firstly, you need to record your first podcast episode in an audio editor, and save it as an .mp3, .m4a, .m4v, .mov or .mp4 file (not Windows Media, RealMedia or Flash).

The last three are video formats; .mp3 is audio only (you can embed one image); .m4a is audio only but can accept chapter markers with individual images. The facility for doing this has been removed from GarageBand as from version 10.0.0 and Podcast Maker is not reliable with Lion and above; for Macs Fission can do this (I've not tried it.)

The link you will put in the feed must be directly to the media file, not to an embedded player of the sort provided by various file-sharing services (including YouTube videos which won't work). Don't include any spaces or accented characters in the name - stick to plain letters and numbers, and - or _. Upload this to your webspace and note the URL by which it can be accessed. (The company who provides your internet connection may offer webspace, or there are plenty of other companies who do.) Your URL should begin with http: - https:// (secure connection) is not advisable. (Omitting the http or using https will cause some podcast creation programs to fail to create the necessary 'enclosure' tag.)

Some people intermix episodes with and without playable media to match the way their weblog is constructed; this can cause problems. In any case iTunes does not display episodes with no media. You should also note that if when you submit your feed the top episode is one without playable media the Store will reject the submission as it checks only the top episode and won't notice the others which have media.

To complicate matters, Apple now require the server you host your media files on to have 'byte-range support' enabled - basically this means coping with requests for only part of a file at a time, which is required for the iPhone to be able to play podcasts - and refusing to accept podcasts where this is not the case. You should confirm with any proposed hosting service that they support this: if they don't (or don't know what it is) you should find another hosting service.

Now you need to write the 'feed' file which tells iTunes and other services about your podcast.  There are programs which can do all this for you and make the process a lot simpler: one such, for Macs, is Podcast Maker (though it's been reported that it doesn't work reliably with OSX 'Lion'); and iWeb (now discontinued) and RapidWeaver can also do this; I don't know about Windows but there must be similar programs. There are also online services such as Blogger, Podbean or LibSyn which will handle a lot of the work for you but will also leave you with less control.


A SAMPLE FEED

Personally I wouldn't mess about writing my own XML file, but if you are going to write the file yourself: copy the sample XML file below and paste it into a plain text text editor. Amend the sections in red (of course they'll probably be black in the text editor) with suitable information. Note that there must be no line breaks between the < and > tags (the browser display may have put some in).

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<rss xmlns:itunes="http://www.itunes.com/dtds/podcast-1.0.dtd" version="2.0">
 
<channel>
<title>THE NAME OF YOUR PODCAST</title>
<link>THE URL OF THE WEB PAGE ABOUT YOUR PODCAST</link>
<language>en-us</language>
<copyright>&#x2117; &amp; &#xA9; YEAR, AND YOUR NAME (OPTIONAL)</copyright>
<itunes:subtitle>A SUBTITLE</itunes:subtitle>
<itunes:author>YOUR NAME</itunes:author>
<itunes:summary>A PARAGRAPH DESCRIBING THE SUBJECT OF YOUR PODCAST</itunes:summary>
<description>A BRIEF SENTENCE ABOUT YOUR PODCAST</description>
<itunes:owner>
<itunes:name>YOUR NAME</itunes:name>
<itunes:email>AN EMAIL ADDRESS FOR VISITORS (OPTIONAL)</itunes:email>
</itunes:owner>
<itunes:image href="URL OF AN IMAGE FOR THE PODCAST" />
<itunes:category text="CHOOSE A CATEGORY FROM THE APPLE LIST (SEE BELOW)">
<itunes:category text="CHOOSE A CATEGORY SUBTITLE"/>
</itunes:category>
<itunes:category text="ANOTHER CATEGORY (OPTIONAL)"/>
 
<item>
<title>TITLE OF THE EPISODE</title>
<itunes:author>YOUR NAME</itunes:author>
<itunes:subtitle>A SUBTITLE FOR THE EPISODE</itunes:subtitle>
<itunes:summary>A DESCRIPTION OF THE CONTENTS OF YOUR EPISODE</itunes:summary>
<enclosure url="THE FULL URL OF THE MEDIA FILE FOR THE EPISODE" length="FILE SIZE IN BYTES" type="FOR AN MP3 FILE - audio/mpeg" />
<guid>THE FULL URL OF THE MEDIA FILE FOR THE EPISODE</guid>
<pubDate>DATE, E.G. Wed, 15 Jun 2005 19:00:00 GMT</pubDate>
<itunes:duration>DURATION H:MM:SS</itunes:duration>
<itunes:keywords>ENTER KEYWORDS FOR SEARCHING</itunes:keywords>
<itunes:explicit>yes IF CONTAINS ADULT MATERIAL, OTHERWISE no</itunes:explicit>
</item>
 
 
</channel>
</rss>

These are the 'type' attributes inside the 'enclosure' tags for the different file types -
 
.mp3:  audio/mpeg
.m4a:  audio/x-m4a
.mp4:  video/mp4
.m4v:  video/x-m4v
.mov:  video/quicktime

For an explanation of how the various tags appear in iTunes please see this page.

Apple provide a list of suitable categories here and it's best to stick to them. The URL for the media file given in the 'enclosure' tag  must be a direct link to the file, not using a script to force a download, and scripts redirecting to the actual file may not work - this includes URL shorteners such as tinyurl. Also, your episodes cannot be password-protected (and you cannot charge for your podcast).

A caveat: if you are hand-writing the feed you cannot use the '&' character directly, e.g. 'Apples & Pears'; you must use the html code for it: 'Apples &amp; Pears'. A loose '&' in your feed will cause it to be unreadable (since its presence indicates the start of a code which you are not supplying or concluding).

The 'Podcast image' which appears on the iTunes Store page (see the illustration below) is referenced in the 'itunes:image' tag; it needs to be .jpg or .png, 1400 x 1400 px, and less than 500 kB.  Some people have found that it can take several days to show after the podcast first appears, or if you change it it can also take several days before the change comes into effect. (If you decide to change it you must also change the filename.) Note that when people subscribe to a podcast they do not see this image: the explanation for that is here.

UPLOADING YOUR FEED

Save the feed as a plain text file with the name rss.xml or podcast.xml - or any name but the extension must be .xml (and not .txt). You would be advised to make everything in the URL lower-case as apparently the iTunes Store has taken on occasion to failing to recognize URLs with capital letters in. Upload the feed to your webspace.

When you come to add further episodes, duplicate the <item>...<item> section and place it above the present <item> section (so you get latest items on top - unless you want them on the bottom of the list). Enter the data for the new episode (note that the 'guid' tag must be different from other episodes, usually put the URL in again), save and upload.

To test your feed: open iTunes: from the 'Advanced' menu choose 'Subscribe to Podcast'. Enter the URL of the feed file (not the audio file) and hit return. If the feed works your podcast and episode(s) will appear in iTunes and you can check if it plays. If so you are ready to submit it. (You can delete it from iTunes at this point).

If it doesn't work, go to http://www.feedvalidator.org/ and enter the feed URL - this will show any errors. (It may throw up a few insignificant ones).

There is more detailed information on diagnosing a podcast feed on this page.


COPYRIGHT

Although this is a technical help page, it may be worth adding a warning about copyright. Many podcasts consist of 'mixes' of commercially issued recordings taken from CDs or downloads. Using such material without proper clearance (which you are unlikely to get) is a breach of copyright - the fact that you are not charging for your podcast is irrelevant, and buying a CD gets you the right to listen to it privately, not to broadcast it. If the Store staff spot that you are doing this they will remove your podcast; and though many people do it and get away with it because no-one notices, at least one podcast creator has received a demand for $25,000 plus legal costs and claims for loss; I doubt he has any defence against this. So it's something you may want to at least bear in mind when planning your podcast.

There is a range of 'podcast safe' music available which allows you to use it in a podcast: Google 'podcast safe music' for a number of sites offering this.


SUBMITTING YOUR FEED TO THE iTUNES STORE

If all is well, you can submit your podcast. You will need to be logged in to the iTunes Store. Enter this URL in your browser: https://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZFinance.woa/wa/publishPodcast. (There have been cases of people getting error messages doing this: if so, try https://buy.itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZFinance.woa/wa/publishPodcast.)This will open iTunes to a pane where you can submit the podcast: again, enter the feed URL, not the URL of the media file. iTunes does not store your media, it just uses the contents of the feed file to provide the details and access on the iTunes Store. (None of this will cost you anything).

It may take some days before the podcast is accepted, since each new podcast has to be checked. You may be rejected for unauthorized use of copyright material, bad language and sexual content, libel, or racist comments - but of course you would never do any of those things, so you should be OK.

When your podcast is accepted, iTunes will give you a URL which will open iTunes to your podcast. You will also eventually be able to search on its title, though this can take some time to become available. However searching just on the category in the iTunes Store is most unlikely to throw up your podcast. There are thousands of podcasts out there, and it would be quite impossible to display on one page the entire list for any category. What you see are 'featured' podcasts, chosen by Apple as being special; please see this Tech Note: note that there is no way you can influence the selection other than making your podcast really special (bribery won't work).

When you want to add an episode, upload it and amend and reupload the feed file as described above (new episodes above the old ones). It usually takes at least 48 hours for the new episode to appear, though subscribers see the changes immediately (since they are accessing the feed directly, not through the Store). Regrettably the iTunes Store provides no way of monitoring the number of people who visit your podcast.

As there have been some recent, and rather confusing, changes in the way iTunes handles the display of podcasts it may be worth noting them. By default only the most recent episode shows when you first subscribe. To show all episodes click 'Feed' at the bottom of List view or the 'Feed' button at top right in My Podcasts view.
 
In both views you can delete both downloaded or un-downloaded episodes from both views by control- or right-clicking on the name of the episode.
 
Each episode can be double-clicked to be played as a stream without downloading it first (so you don't have to wait for it to download fully). Click the cloud icon at right to download it (as you will have to to sync it to an iPod). Note that if you click the cloud icon to the right of the title of the podcast itself, rather than an episode, you will initiate a download of all episodes.


CHANGING YOUR FEED URL

In order to move iTunes to a new feed you have to have access to the old feed to be able to add a tag to it. You need to add the following tag to the top section of the feed, between the 'channel' tag and the first 'item' tag.
 
<itunes:new-feed-url>NEW URL FOR YOUR FEED</itunes:new-feed-url>
 
iTunes will normally pick this up quite quickly but you should leave it there for subscribers for at least 2 weeks - when they next check their iTunes application will transfer its attention to the new feed, and indeed this is the only way of retaining your subscribers. Be very careful when typing in the new URL because if you make an error and redirect iTunes to a non-existent URL you will not be able to retrieve the situation and your podcast will cease to function. You should note that this redirection is permanent once effected: removing the tag from the old feed has no effect.

Since it's necessary to have access to the old feed in order to be able to move the iTunes Store to a new feed, problems arise if you don't have access to the old feed - either because it's on a server which has become defunct or you can't access for any reason: or because you are using one of the online service which write the feed for you and doesn't allow you to modify it directly.

In this case you are rather stuck. A couple of people have reported success in getting the Store staff to move their podcast to a new feed by emailing them at podcasts@apple.com. I don't know how likely success in this is. Failing this, you will need to abandon the old feed altogether. You should attempt to get the old podcast removed from the Store - instructions here (though there have been a number of reports that iTunes Store staff are simply not bothering to carry out this process) - and submit your new feed as an entirely new podcast. You will probably need to make a small change in the title, as a bug in the Store software may tell you that the podcast has already been submitted: and of course you will lose any subscribers or comments.

To check what iTunes is up to, click 'Subscribe Free' in the Store page for your podcast. Go to the Podcasts section in the sidebar: you should see your podcast listed in the main pane. Control-click (Mac) or right-click (Windows) the line for the entire podcast (not an episode) and choose 'Copy Podcast URL'. When you paste into a text program you will see which feed iTunes is working from.

Using a 301 redirect

You need only read this section if you have control of the server and know how to implement a 301 redirect. If this is not the case you can ignore the rest of this page.

Let's call the original feed URL 'A' and the new feed URL 'B'.
 
A 301 redirect on the server causes all requests for A to be redirected to B, whether they come from iTunes, web browsers or other RSS clients. Most browsers will remember this redirect even if it is removed from the server, at least until their cache expires at which point they may revert to trying to access A.
 
When you add the 'itunes:new-feed-url' tag to feed A, the iTunes Store, iTunes application and (I assume) the podcasts app are permanently redirected to B. Once they have accessed A and seen the tag they will always access B in future for that podcast. This tag has no effect at all on browsers or on any other RSS client.
 
Therefore if your subscribers and visitors are only using iTunes, then all you need to do is to add that tag to A. You can remove the old feed after a couple of weeks as by then all subscribers will have had a chance to check the feed and be redirected. The Store will redirect when it next checks the feed, usually within a couple of days.
 
However if anyone is using some other RSS reader the 301 tag is essential to keep them up to date. If you enable one, then obviously iTunes will be redirected to B and will not see the redirection tag. However it's probable that as soon as you remove the tag iTunes will revert to looking for A.
 
For this reason, if you are implementing the 301, you should add the tag to B. This has the result that iTunes looks for A, gets directed to B, sees the tag, and makes B the URL it always checks in future for that podcast, whatever happens to the original server. (That would be important if, for example, you were changing hosts or the original server went permanently off-line - it's been known to happen.)
 
As already said, the really important caveat is to make absolutely sure you have the redirect correct. If you implement the 'itunes:new-feed-url' tag but get the URL wrong, you can't undo it - anyone seeing the tag will be redirected to a non-functioning URL and you have no way of getting them back.

Roger Wilmut. This site is not associated with Apple.