A Beginner’s Guide to Managing Localization Files

Chidinma Egwuogu
20 Dec 2023

8 min. read


Localization files (also known as translation files) play a key role in making software and websites available to a global audience.

In this article, we'll learn what they are, why they matter, and how to create them.

Pro tip: Use a localization management platform to create and organize localization files effortlessly. Learn more.

what are localization files

What are localization files?

Localization files are text files containing content for software localization. The content is segmented into strings that have unique IDs, called translation keys. For example, software localization files contain menu labels, button text, error messages, and other UI elements with accompanying keys. Complex localization files can include bilingual strings, tags, contextual details, and pluralized versions of words.

Here’s an example of a simple software localization file:

  • key1 = show item list in the menu

  • key2 = show recently added items

  • key3 = show notifications

By assigning keys to content strings, developers can easily switch between languages and adapt their applications to different markets. All they have to do is maintain separate localization files for different languages and regions.

How to create and manage localization files

a person with a file folder Source: Freepik

Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating your localization files, along with tools and resources for each step:

Step 1. Identify text elements for localization

  • Begin by identifying all text in your software that needs translation. This includes everything from menu items and buttons to help messages and error alerts.
  • Use Poedit or GNU gettext tools to extract these text elements efficiently from your code.

Step 2. Choose the right file format

  • Select a format that suits your software's needs and your translator’s. XML, JSON, PO, and CSV files are common due to their versatility and ease of use.
  • For guidance, W3Schools offers clear tutorials on these formats.

Step 3: Create the localization file

  • With the format chosen, create your master resource file. This file will serve as the blueprint for all language versions.
  • Simple editors like Notepad++ are good for starters.

Step 4: Translate and localize content

  • This step involves translating the content in the master file into different languages, keeping in mind cultural nuances.
  • Use localization management platforms, like Centus, to simplify the localization process.

Step 5: Integrate translated files into your software

  • Once translations are complete, these files need to be integrated back into your software. This step is crucial for ensuring that the software reads and displays the new language content correctly.
  • Use Git for managing the different file versions. Your software’s IDE or localization platform (like Shopify) might also assist in this process.

Step 6: Test and refine

  • Testing is vital to ensure that translations appear correctly in the software and that there are no language or layout issues.
  • Quality Assurance (QA) tools like Bugzilla or Jira are essential for tracking and resolving any issues.

Step 7: Update as needed

  • Make sure you updated localization files after every software update.
  • For maintaining version control, Git is again your go-to tool.

Step 8: Maintain cultural relevance

  • Regularly review your localized content to ensure it remains culturally appropriate and up-to-date.
  • Consult Ethnologue for updated linguistic and cultural information.

Pro tip: With Centus, creating localization files is a breeze. It brings together all the tools you need and tops it off with great QA features, making the process faster and more accurate.

Common localization file formats

Some of the most popular localization source file formats are:

JSON (JavaScript Object Notation)

  • JSON is a localization file format that is easy for both machines and humans to read and write.
  • It is a common option for localization files and is also used for storing configuration data.
  • JSON is appropriate for small to medium-sized localization projects due to its simplicity and compatibility with most programming languages.

XML (eXtensible Markup Language)

  • XML is a markup language that may be used for different data storage needs because it can be read by both humans and machines.
  • It is appropriate for bigger and more organized localization projects since it provides a hierarchical framework that may represent complex data.
  • The flexibility of the XML-based format supports the addition of metadata and other data in addition to the localized text.

Gettext PO/POT files

  • The localization framework Gettext uses PO (Portable Object) and POT (Portable Object Template) files.
  • PO files allow translators to easily handle pairs of original strings and their matching translations.
  • POT files are templates that act as the foundation for PO files.
  • Many localization tools support Gettext files, which are usually used in open-source software projects.

YAML (YAML Ain't Markup Language)

  • YAML is a human-readable data serialization format that is usually used for data exchange and configuration files.
  • Unlike XML or JSON, it offers a clear and short syntax that is less verbose.
  • YAML’s simplicity makes it a good choice for localization files, especially in tasks where non-technical staff members need to read and write the files.

The localization source file that you choose will depend on the nature and complexity of your project, as well as the preferences of your team and translators. Some projects may even combine these formats to accommodate various components of an app or a website.

Irrespective of the format you choose, ensure that you maintain consistency. The use of properly structured localization resources reduces errors and helps maintain the integrity of your content across multiple languages.

Best practices for managing resource file formats

Effectively managing your localization file formats helps ensure that your software not only speaks multiple languages but does so accurately and efficiently.

And here's how to stay on top of your game:

1. Content organization

  • Create a hierarchical structure for your translation files. The structure must correspond to the design of your application or website. This makes it easy to find and manage specific content.
  • Create language codes and content identifiers as part of clear and standardized naming conventions for your files and directories. This enhances easy retrieval and identification.
  • Separate textual content from code or markup so that translators can work independently on the text. You can use placeholders for dynamic content.

2. File synchronization

  • Configure automatic tools or scripts to synchronize your source and localized files whenever the source content is changed. This reduces physical labor and errors.
  • Ensure your localized content is always up-to-date with the source. Regularly update the files to match changes to the website or application, ensuring that users always see accurate translations.

3. Version control and backups

  • Track changes to your localization files using version control tools like Git. This makes it easier for team members to collaborate and helps you keep track of revision history.
  • Frequently back up your localization files, including the translated and source versions. This protects against unintentional data loss or corruption and enables speedy recovery.
  • Use version tagging to identify particular releases or milestones. It is simple to refer to and go back to earlier translations with tagged versions.

4. Localization testing and feedback loop

  • Create testing processes to ensure the content of the application or website has been translated accurately. Resolve any problems right away to ensure a seamless user experience.
  • Establish a feedback loop so users may report issues in the translation. Act on user suggestions to improve the quality of the localized content.
  • Localization testing is not a one-time process. Regularly test the application or website after updates to make sure the translations are still accurate and applicable to the current context.

5. Maintaining translation memory

  • Use translation memory tools to manage previously translated segments. These tools reduce redundancy and ensure consistency in translations.
  • Create and maintain style guides and glossaries that serve as a reference for translators. These sources maintain consistency in language use and tone, which is especially important for software document localization.
  • Encourage the use of previously approved translations for texts that are the same or similar. This ensures consistency while speeding up the creation of localization files.

6. Automated string extraction and management

The benefits of using localization files

Localization files are critical to making software globally accessible. Here's how they help:

  1. Consistency in translation: Localization files ensure that every piece of text is translated consistently across the software. This helps you maintain your software’s professional appearance and functionality.
  2. Text management and translation facilitation: Localization files store all textual elements of software, including interface text, messages, and instructions. They help with translation by isolating text from code, allowing translators to work on the language without altering the software's functionality.
  3. Efficient update process: When updates or changes are needed, developers only need to modify the localization files, rather than altering the software's core code. This makes the update process quicker and less prone to errors.
  4. Cultural adaptation: Beyond direct translation, localization files allow for cultural adaptation. This can include adjusting date formats, currencies, and culturally sensitive content, ensuring the software is not just understandable, but also relatable.
  5. Cost-effectiveness: Using localization files is a cost-effective way to make software ready for international markets. It eliminates the need for creating multiple versions of the same software for different languages.
  6. Compliance with local regulations: Localization files help ensure that software complies with the legal and regulatory requirements of different countries. For instance, financial software like QuickBooks offers localized versions to adhere to the varying tax laws and financial regulations of different countries.

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