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Internationalization and localization

Internationalization and localization are means of adapting products such as publications or software for non-native environments, especially other nations and cultures.

Alternative names

Internationalization is often abbreviated as I18N (or i18n or I18n) where the number 18 refers to the number of letters omitted. "Localization" is often abbreviated L10n or l10n in the same manner. (The most common forms are i18n and L10n, respectively. These forms won out because many fonts do not readily distinguish uppercase "I" and lowercase "l", but lowercase "i" and uppercase "L" are always clear.) Both notions are sometimes collectively termed globalization (g11n), but that word has a more common meaning. Also seen in some circles, but less commonly, are "p13n" for personalization, "m17n" for multilingualization, and "r3h" for reach, as in the reach of a website across countries and markets. A related concept is a11y (accessibility), which is concerned with adapting products for people with disabilities or age-related limitations.

Scope

Focal points of internationalization and localization efforts include:

  • Language
    • Computer-encoded text
      • Alphabets/scripts; different systems of numerals; left-to-right script vs. right-to-left scripts. Most recent systems use Unicode to solve many of these problems.
    • Graphical representations of text (printed materials, online images containing text)
    • Spoken (Audio)
    • sub-titles to video
  • Date/time format, including use of different calendars
  • Time zones (UTC in internationalized environments)
  • Currency
  • Images and colors: issues of comprehensibility and cultural appropriateness
  • Names and titles
  • Social Security numbers and passports
  • Telephone numbers, addresses and international postal codes
  • Weights and measures
  • Paper sizes

The distinction between internationalization and localization is subtle but important. Internationalization is the adaptation of products for potential use virtually everywhere, while localization is the addition of special features for use in a specific locale. Subjects unique to localization include:

Difficulties

In making software products, internationalization and localization pose challenging tasks for developers, particularly if the software is not designed from the beginning with these concerns in mind. A common practice is to separate textual data and other environment-dependent resources from the program code. Thus, supporting a different environment, ideally, only requires change in those separate resources without code modification; greatly simplifying the task.

The development team needs someone who understands foreign languages and cultures and has a technical background; such a person may be difficult to find. Moreover, the duplication of resources could be a maintenance nightmare. For instance, if a message displayed to the user in one of several languages is modified, all of the translated versions must be changed. Software libraries that aid this task are available, such as Gettext.

Since free software can be freely modified and redistributed, it is more apt to internationalization. Most proprietary software is only available in languages considered to be economically viable whereas the KDE project, for example, has been translated into over 70 languages.

Methods

The current prevailing practice is for applications to place text in resource strings which are loaded during program execution as needed. These strings, stored in resource files, are relatively easy to translate. Programs are often built to reference resource libraries depending on the selected locale data.

Thus to get an application to support multiple languages one would design the application to select the relevant language resource file at runtime. Resource files are translated to the required languages. This method tends to be application-specific and at best, vendor-specific. The code required to manage date entry verification and many other locale-sensitive data types also must support differing locale requirements. Modern development systems and operating systems include sophisticated libraries for international support of these types. However many development environments still lack full Unicode support, which drastically hampers the translation effort, especially to East Asian languages.

Locale

In computing, locale is a set of parameters that defines the user's language, country and any special variant preferences that the user wants to see in their user interface. Usually a locale identifier consists of at least a language identifier and a region identifier.

Relation to globalization

Internationalization is sometimes used interchangeably with globalization to refer to economic and cultural effects of an increasingly interconnected world.

While internationalization most commonly refers to the addition of a framework for multiple language support, especially in software, it sometimes refers to the process whereby something (a corporation, idea, highway, war, etc.) comes to affect multiple nations. This usage is rare; globalization is preferred. Because of globalization, many companies and products are found in multiple countries worldwide, giving rise to increasing localization requirements.

Localization may describe production of goods nearer to end users to reduce environmental and other external costs of globalization.

Relation to localization

In software development, after a product has been internationalized, "localization" refers to the process of making it ready for a specific market.

So you can refer to a product as being "internationalized" if it has been developed to meet most of the needs of an international community, but not yet customized to a specific region. The customization to a specific region is called "localization".

Notes

Note 1: In the Commonwealth Countries, except Canada, the spelling variants internationalisation and localisation are more common.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia