Elytra Blog

The simple RSS Reader. This blog publishes release notes, engineering and design details.

June 2020 Web Service Update

I’m starting a new series of posts detailing changes I release to the Web Service. The Web Service is responsible for syncing your account across your devices and browsers. It also caches new articles so you only fetch information from sources that have changed since the last sync. 

  • I keep getting error reports from the Web Service in a unified private channel on Elytra’s Slack group. I use these reports to patch bugs as soon and as quickly as I can. 
  • Yesterday, I received some errors regarding adding feeds using the ftr.freshangle.net service. This is the first I had heard about so I quickly investigated and found some issues in Elytra’s code that prevented these feeds from being processed. The ftr.freshangle.net service now has first class support in Elytra for both the XML and JSON feed endpoints. 
  • There was a major sync bug in Elytra’s code both on the Web Service and iOS App. I released v1.7.4 on iOS to patch this issue and patched the Web Service as well. By morning of 4th June, these errors dropped down to just 12% compared to the day before it. As soon as all users update to the latest version of the iOS App, this should drop down to 0%. If you still haven’t updated, check the App Store for updates. 
  • On 2nd June, we faced an interruptions and eventually an outage from our service provider which caused Elytra’s first ever downtime this year. Things eventually began recovering by 03:30AM IST on the 3rd of June. Everything is now stable. This outage resulted in some angry customers and I completely understand that. If you ever face any issues with the App or Service, always feel free to contact me at support@elytra.app

On a separate note, a White Hat Hacker recently got in touch with me regarding a critical issue with the API Service. I have since patched the issue. No data was affected as the core issue had to do with DNS setup for emails sent from Elytra’s domain. 

That’s it for this update. Happy Reading! 

Elytra Web is now in Public Beta

Elytra Web in Safari with Article open.

Elytra for web is now in public beta and in this post I’ll document some features and quirks of the webapp. You can start using it right away.

When I set out to build the Web App, I wanted to bring as much functionality of the iOS App as possible, and this proved to the tricky. Since version 1 of the app, the Article Reader never used HTML to render the contents. Everything was drawn native to bring native accessiblity functions and remove privacy-sucking scripts from the entire reading experience.

To do the same on the web with the same data was a tad bit challenging, but not impossible.

Elytra Web in Safari with Article open. Some features are notably missing at the moment like:

  • Viewing and reading your bookmarks
  • Searching Feeds
  • Synced settings

to name a few. I’ll be adding these over the next couple of days and I hope to align the final release of the Web App along with v1.8 of the iOS App.

Elytra Web in Safari with Article open. Just like the iOS App, you can also view your Youtube feeds in the Web App. This has become the de-facto way of me and some hard critics of Elytra to consume the latest content from their favourite Youtube Creators.

Elytra Web in Safari with Article open. Microblog Feeds also get first-class treatment on the Web App just like the iOS App. I am a supporter of what Micro.blog stands for and try to actively use it as time permits. My main website is basically a hosted Micro.blog.

Elytra Web in Safari with Article open with a seaprate window open with a podcast playing. I am really exicted to talk about this feature. I’ve always wanted to listen to podcats in Elytra on iOS but I believe it deserves its own separate app so it does not come in the way of reading content. But things are different on the web. Browsers can host multiple tabs for the same domain. So now on the web, you can open any article in it’s own tab and continue reading another article in the main window. I personally use this to play a podcast in the background while I work or read other articles. I’d love to hear from you how you use this feature.

As some of you may have noticed, I have used the New York font in one of the screenshots. If you have the font installed on your macOS systems, you will be able to use in the App as well. The app does not host the font itself because of its License, but can use it if you have it installed.

We now also have a Slack Group for discussions around the iOS and iOS app and soon the macOS App as well. I’d love to see you there and join in on the discussion.

It’s been a tremendous journey for Elytra since its inception back in 2016 and it’s public launch in 2018. As an Indie Developer, I’d really appreciate it if you shared this post with your friends who may be looking for an RSS Feed Reader on the web. As this is a public beta, everybody is welcome. And as always, you can send support queries to support@elytra.app or DM me on Twitter. Happy Reading.

A lot of Unread Articles

If you launch the app or open the web app (if you have access) and notice a sudden surge of unread articles waiting for you, I can explain.

Traditionally, to check if an article is unique and new, I checked its GUID which the feed provides and checked if it already exists in Elytra’s database. This works fine if there is only one source for an RSS feed. It breaks when there are multiple sources for a single website. This happens when say I subscribe to a Website’s XML Feed and someone else subscribes to its JSON Feed. Both sources are valid, but both bring in articles with the same content and GUID. So the articles would map only to the first feed. The second feed would never get new articles. 

To solve this problem, I just updated my unique constraint to also use the Feed’s unique ID. The new unique pair constraint of GUID-FeedID works for all feeds from a single website, irrespective of which source the user subscribes too. 

This caused a huge surge in unread articles for all users. I do apologise for having overlooked this issue, but on the bright side: We all have a bunch of articles to read over the weekend which we missed out on, no thanks to me. 

TestFlight Changes

I’ve been contemplating on this decision for a while now and I think it’s finally time to implement a major breaking change in Elytra’s TestFlight policy. All future releases of Elytra on TestFlight will require you to have an active and valid subscription. 

Since before v1.0, all testers using Elytra through TestFlight bypassed all subscription checks. This is generally what is expected. However, some people are using this to bypass subscriptions entirely. 

This however doesn’t mean all testers will be affected. I know those who actively share feedback, crash reports and communicate with me. I’ll maintain your subscriptions for free for as long as you wish to be on TestFlight program. Everyone else getting started can use the free trail and as required contact me for a a bump in your subscription expiry dates. 

Summer 2020 Update

The Summer 2020 update is here. If you feel generous and have a couple of minutes, please leave a review on the App Store. It makes a huge difference for me. Thank you in advance. Here’s the full change log:

New

  • Support for Mouse/Pointer Interactions on iPadOS 13.4.
  • New Custom Feed: Today. All articles from the day, read and unread. Sort by your own preference.
  • Now add Youtube Channel RSS Feeds directly from the Share Extension.
  • Article Reader Customisation: You can now customise your reading experience based on your personal preferences. Set line heights, font sizes and individual fonts for paragraphs and headings.

Improvements

  • Improvements for handling Youtube URLs inside the app when adding a new channel feed.
  • Push Notifications will now show richer previews if you open them in context.
  • Show refresh control animation when the app loads and is loading Feeds data from the API.
  • GIFs will now show the first frame if the Image Proxy is enabled.

Fixes

  • Fixed incorrect paragraph line-spacing calculation with the selected value for font size.
  • Fixed an issue where opening a push notification on iPads would open them in the primary column.
  • When you tap on a push notification while another article is open from a Feed, the Feed now correctly deselects the active article.
  • When you tap on a push notification, the app sets up correctly on the iPad. If you tap on a Feed after this, it no longer dismisses the previously opened Article.
  • Fixed a crash when creating a new Folder for the first time.
  • Fixed GIF playback.
  • Fixed an issue where an article would remain marked as Read even after opening it.
  • Fixed font sizes for the Feed description on iPads.
  • Fixed a type bug on the iPad where the font sizes were comically large for titles.

RPC First Class Support

Back in December 2018, I wrote a post about RPC Pings support in Elytra. I cannot believe it has been that long. Later in 2019, I promised to bring first class support to blogs that implement RPC pings to Elytra. 

I have just finished implementation and it is now live. To recap the steps from the earlier blog post, let’s assume you have a WordPress Blog. 

…if your blog runs on WordPress, you can add the following URL: https://api.elytra.app/rpc-ping under > WordPress Blog’s Settings > Writing > Update Services. 

That’s it. WordPress handles all the complexities for you. If you use Micro.blog, you can find instructions here. You can adapt that shortcut to send RPC pings for any website you host as well as to any other service other than Elytra. 

Here’s what happens in the background:

  1. Your website/script sends an RPC ping to Elytra.
  2. Elytra immediately processes your website’s RSS Feed. 
  3. Any new posts are added for your subscribers to read. 
  4. Additionally, users subscribed to your blog’s push notifications from the iOS and iPadOS Apps are sent a push notification.

Starting today, 29 Mar, 2020: Once your blog sends at least 5 pings every 14 days, Elytra will no longer poll for changes to your RSS feed. Elytra will then assume that you will send RPC pings every time content on your website is updated. If no RPC pings are posted for 14 days, Elytra will once again begin polling changes at regular intervals until the 5 pings are received and the cycle can repeat. 

So you get the benefit of real-time updates, push notifications and no penalties for downtime. This hugely benefits users using a blogging platform like Github Pages, Micro.blog, etc. that don’t inherently support WebSub yet. You can use this for your WordPress based blog as well if you don’t want to install the WebSub plugin for whatever reason. 

Starting with v1.7, users of the iOS and iPadOS apps will also be able to subscribe to feeds for Push Notifications which use RPC pings. 

I invite your feedback on this feature if you decide to implement and make use for it. For any questions, please feel free to email me at support@elytra.app. Enjoy Reading. 

v1.6.2 Submitted for Review

I just finished submitting the v1.6.2 build for review. It’ll be released automatically to everyone once it passes review and finishes processing for the App Store. 

It fixes two bugs: 

  • Fixed a bug which caused the app to launch with the Empty State Interface with no way to navigate within the app when opened in split-view mode on compatible iPads.
  • Fixed a crash that would occur when launching the app from a cold state.

I’m also happy to note that work on v1.7 of the iOS app is nearing completion. It won’t be released until Summer, 2020 though. It’ll be released alongside something else. So stay subscribed to know more about that. 

Spring 2020 Supplementary Update

Youtube is very wide, densely spread content aggregation service which almost every single one of us has used at least once. Youtube has supported RSS Feeds for channels for a while now; for as long as I can remember actually. Although, it makes it very hard to find and subscribe to them. There is no direct option to do so. 

Until recently, I traversed a channel’s homepage and realised that Youtube advertises these links, like any good citizen of the WWW should. So now when you enter your favourite channel’s URL in Elytra, the app will automatically fetch the RSS Feed URL for you and add it to your account. 

I’ve further programmed Elytra to know the 3 varieties of the URLs Youtube uses for channels and handle all of them gracefully. I’ve personally configured mine to all go inside a Youtube folder so I can tap on the folder to view its custom feed and go through all published videos. 

In v1.6, I also updated how Youtube videos are handled in the app. It now uses the HLS stream which automatically configures the player based on your device settings like Low Power Mode, Low Data Mode, and the like. So it’s very energy efficient compared to opening the main stream or embedding in a web view. 

Unfortunately, Youtube does not support WebPush/PubSubHubBub on these feeds yet, and I doubt they ever will. 

If you need to import all your channels, you can follow Google’s support documentation which can be found here

As always, if you like the app, please take a moment and rate it on the App Store. It helps the app and me a lot. Happy Reading.

Spring 2020 Update

The Spring 2020 update for Elytra is here. If you feel generous and have a couple of minutes, please leave a review on the App Store. It makes a huge difference for me. Thank you in advance. Here’s the full change log:

New

Elytra's new triple column layout in light and dark mode.

  • iPadOS users gain the ability of the three column collapsible layout in landscape mode. This has been a highly requested feature and I’m glad to finally include it in Elytra.
  • iOS 12 support has been dropped. From this version on, only iOS 13 will be supported. v1.5.4 will continue to work for users still using iOS 12.
  • Blog Names below the Article’s title are now tappable. They open the blog’s article’s list. When you open an article from the blog’s own article list, this behaviour is disabled to prevent a rabbit hole situation.

Elytra on iPhone 11 showing changes to the Blog names in the article reader.

Improvements

  • Re-add WebP Images support.
  • Improved handling of opening articles from push notifications.
  • Minor Quality of Life adjustments and rendering improvements.
  • Improved loading Youtube Videos. The HLS Manifest of the video is now loaded when available. If this is absent, then the mp4 file is checked for and loaded if available. Using the HLS Manifest improves battery usage, performance and lowers data usage. The HLS Manifest is directly handled by the OS and hence also respects Low Data modes on your WiFi or Cellular connections.
  • Keyboard commands are now available once again. KNOWN ISSUE: Once you open an article, the keyboard commands for the Feeds Interface may not work in certain cases.
  • Improved legibility and visibility of a couple of icons.

Fixes

  • Fixed recommendations not displaying the feed correctly.
  • Fixed issue with loading images where narrower images would be enlarged to fix the max width as determined by the app.
  • Fixed a 14 month old bug which could cause a crash when reloading feeds with one or more folders open.
  • Fixed opening an Feed from the search results.
  • Moving from open to open folder no longer crashes the app.
  • Fixed the default sorting option for Unread showing the wrong icon.
  • Fixed rendering on the launch splash screen.
  • Fixed displaying article helper view on larger iPhones.
  • Fixed the iOS 13 link tap bug: when scrolling in the article reader, if your finger scrolls by dragging a link, iOS would tell the app to open that link.
  • Fixed the Search Bar not toggling in the article view correctly.
  • Fixed the search previous button being enabled when viewing the first search result in the article.

Thank you for reading. If you have made it so far, please consider sharing https://elytra.app on your blogs, RSS Feeds and Social Networks, thank you.

Elytra Winter 2019 Update

Winter is coming… soon. The Elytra Winter 2019 update is already here though. If you feel generous and have a couple of minutes, please leave a review on the App Store. It makes a huge difference for me. Thank you in advance. Here’s the change log:

iOS App

What’s New

Elytra's Updated Sign In Interface

New Push Notifications Interface

New Image Viewer Interface

  • Added a new Bookmarks Manager. This is much more efficient system compared to the previous system and is much more scalable. This is a non-UI update so you’ll see a lot of performance benefits from this.
  • Sign in With Apple. If you’re new to Elytra, you don’t need to take any additional steps. If you’ve been using Elytra and are updating to the latest version, please head over to Settings > Account and link your account from there.
  • Image Viewer: Tap on an image in an article to open it in a full screen image viewer. All images from the article are gathered in single place for easier viewing.
  • Push Settings: View a list of publishers you’ve subscribed to receive push notifications from.
  • Added Settings Sync to work in tandem with the web app. More on this soon.

Improvements

  • Adding a new feed from the search interface now increments the unread count.
  • Removing a feed now decrements the unread count.
  • Recommendations interface now correctly shows the custom Feed name if one is set.
  • Improves how the app handles & reacts to memory pressure warnings from the OS.
  • The Author Interface now shows the author’s name prominently and defers the blog’s name to the subtitle.
  • Drastically improved managing of unread counts in the app.
  • Improved behaviour of the app when marking backdated articles as read.

Fixes

  • Fixes push notifications opening the wrong feed.
  • Fixes push notifications not opening the article on iOS 13.
  • Fixed a bug where the app would re-sync all bookmarks even if they existed locally.
  • Fixed the Settings icon for the Push Notifications row not showing up on some devices.
  • Fixed the activity indicator persisting on screen when only one or no page exists for unread items.
  • Fixed a potential crash when opening new feed interface.
  • Fixes loading of unsupported image formats. Loading an SVG image would cause the app to crash.
  • Fixed last updated date not matching the actual refresh date when manually refreshing through the User Interface. This only updated when fetching via background refresh.
  • Fixed an issue that would cause a corrupted navigation bar in iOS 13.
  • Fixes a crash which could occur when the Trial Interface was presented.
  • Fixed linked images which would not render if they were contained inside an anchor blog with multiple other elements. These other elements were usually line-breaks preventing the entire block from rendering properly. Affected blog: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal..
  • Removed webp support.
  • Images are loaded using the same extension from the proxy as the source image.
  • Fixed a small bug with the unread count when marking read automatically from the article reader.
  • Fixed an issue with image loading preferences. “Never Load Images” now works properly in the Articles List & Article Viewer.
  • Fixed some really nasty memory leaks.
  • Fixed a crash that would occur when launching the app. This was a regression introduced in Build 275 of Elytra and OS 13.1.2.
  • Micro.blog posts with images now show the image as a thumbnail in the articles list when settings are enabled for it.
  • Fixed the colour of the summary label (iOS 13 only, correct on iOS 12).

API

I have been discussing with a few developers across platforms to open Elytra’s API to them so they can also build apps on top of it. I hope this takes off because that’ll mean more and more apps will be using a more private and secure way to read their favourite RSS Feeds. 

Other than that, I have made some significant changes to the API and RSS Feed Poller in this update. Here’s a quick change log of things which affects us as Elytra’s Users:

  • The RSS Feed Poller now fetches more frequently and now fully complies with all HTTP caching mechanisms. Previously I only used ETags to know if a feed document was fresh or stale. But this sometimes resulted in unnecessary requests. If a Feed now tells that the content is to be considered fresh for a day, that will be respected. 
  • Improved the WebSub protocol support. If you write on your own blog, I urge that you check if whatever engine runs your blog supports WebSub. If you’re using WordPress, there are plugins with enable this feature. It’s simple to setup and you get free real-time notifications for your readers.  

Thank you for your continued support and feedback and criticism. I will continue to work on the iOS and Web apps through November. I’ll be unavailable on email in December but please feel free to get in touch, I’ll try to reply to you during that time whenever possible. Happy holidays.