This section aims to help software developers getting familiar with the localization (l10n) tools and the internationalization (i18n) process for the GNOME project and software written for GNOME. It should cover most of the aspects of localization, from the technical details on how to enable localization, to how to avoid common pitfalls and how to prevent making the translation work for translators unnecessarily troublesome.

Why localize?

The process of localization is making software accessible to users of a different language or a different culture. The last part is important. Users may share more or less the same language but still require different settings due to differences in culture and society.

Why should one localize? It’s a complex question with many answers, but one is of course that this dramatically helps attract many more users. In the free software world, a large user base is not only important because it helps getting the software tested, but it also helps with getting potential new contributors in the future, in addition to several other important benefits. Another aspect is the aspect of freedom. The user has the freedom to chose whatever localization of your software that he or she prefers and is most comfortable with, thanks to the software supporting localization. Please bear in mind that you as a developer only have to enable localization in the software. Lots of the other hard work is done by other volunteers such as translators and developers of the libraries and tools used. Thus it is usually a small price to pay for the user getting a lot of freedom and an accessible application.

The most well-known aspect of localization is the localization of the language, the translation, but localization also covers a lot of other aspects, ranging from the decimal character used, the thousands separator used, whether the week starts on Sunday or Monday, or whether other icons or symbols are needed, and countless other aspects. Most of these should be considered as important as the translation. The translation is just one of several steps needed for making the software usable to people around the world. If the user should have difficulties understanding for example the display of a decimal number, then the application still isn’t accessible. Even if the user does understand it but it is presented in a, from his or her perspective, very strange and inconvenient format, then the application still isn’t accessible. Other similar applications that can present the values correctly will most likely be preferred. Worse, the user might even interpret the value wrongly, like for example with different and ambiguous date formats or different decimal and thousands separators, in which case the end result can be disastrous.

Useful resources