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From Thunderbird to Liferea as a feed reader

2019-09-20 18:04 -0300. Tags: comp, unix, mundane, in-english

I've recently switched from Thunderbird to Liferea as my RSS feed reader. Thunderbird was randomly failing to update feeds at times*, and I thought it might be a good idea to use separate programs for e-mail and RSS for a change, so I went for Liferea. (I considered Elfeed too, but Elfeed does not support folders, only tags. In principle, tags can do everything folders can and more; the problem is that Elfeed cannot show a pane with all tags and the number of unread articles with each tag, the way Thunderbird or Liferea (or your average mail client) can do with folders.)

Liferea is pretty good, although I miss some shortcuts from Thunderbird, and sometimes shortcuts don't work (because focus is on some random widget). Here are some tips and tricks.

Importing feeds from Thunderbird to Liferea

Thunderbird can export the feed list in OPML format (right click on the feed folder, click Subscribe…, then Export). You can then import that on Liferea (Subscriptions > Import Feed List). No surprises here.

The tray icon

Liferea comes with a number of plugins (Tools > Plugins). By default, it comes with the Tray Icon (GNOME Classic) plugin enabled, which, unsurprisingly, creates a tray icon for Liferea. The problem with this for me is that whenever the window is 'minimized', Liferea hides the window entirely; you can only bring it back by clicking on the tray icon. I believe the idea is so that the window does not appear in the taskbar and the tray, but this interacts badly with EXWM, where switching workspaces or replacing Liferea with another buffer in the same Emacs 'window' counts as minimizing it, and after that it disappears from the EXWM buffer list. The solution I used is to disable the tray icon plugin.

Playing media

Liferea has a Media Player plugin to play media attachments/enclosures (such as in podcast feeds). To use it on Debian, you must have the gir1.2-gstreamer-1.0 package installed (it is a 'Recommends' dependency, not a mandatory one).

Alternatively, you can set Liferea to run an arbitrary command to open a media enclosure; the command will receive the enclosure URL as an argument. You can use VLC for that. The good thing about it is that VLC will start playing the stream immediately; you don't have to wait for it to download completely before playing it. The bad thing is that once it finishes playing the stream, the stream is gone; if you play it again, it will start downloading again. Maybe there is a way to configure this in VLC, but the solution I ended up using was to write a small script to start the download, wait a bit, and start VLC on the partially downloaded file. This way, the file will be fully downloaded and can be replayed (and moved elsewhere if you want to preserve it), but you don't have to wait for the download to finish.

# download-and-play-media.sh

# Save file in a temporary place.
file="/tmp/$(date "+%Y%m%d-%H%M%S").media"
# Start download in a terminal so we can see the progress.
x-terminal-emulator -e wget "$1" -O "$file" &
# Wait for the file to be non-empty (i.e, for the download to start).
until [[ -s "$file" ]]; do
    sleep 1
# Wait a bit for the file to fill.
sleep 2
# Play it.
vlc "$file"

Miscellaneous tips


So far I had two UI-related problems with Liferea:


Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with Liferea. There are a few problems, but so far I like it better than Thunderbird for feed reading.

Update (2020-03-23): After a few months using Liferea, I have to say that Thunderbird is better to use from the keyboard. Liferea is way too sensitive to which invisible thing has focus at a given moment. Were it not for Thunderbird not handling well hundreds of feeds, I think I would switch back.

Update (2020-07-10): I ended up switching to Elfeed.


* I suspect the problem was that Thunderbird was trying to DNS-resolve the domains for a huge number (perhaps all) of feeds at the same time, and some of the requests were being dropped by the network. I did not do a very deep investigation, though.

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