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Chapter 45. Native Language Support

45.1. For the Translator

PostgreSQL programs (server and client) can issue their messages in your favorite language — if the messages have been translated. Creating and maintaining translated message sets needs the help of people who speak their own language well and want to contribute to the PostgreSQL effort. You do not have to be a programmer at all to do this. This section explains how to help.

45.1.1. Requirements

We won't judge your language skills — this section is about software tools. Theoretically, you only need a text editor. But this is only in the unlikely event that you do not want to try out your translated messages. When you configure your source tree, be sure to use the --enable-nls option. This will also check for the libintl library and the msgfmt program, which all end users will need anyway. To try out your work, follow the applicable portions of the installation instructions.

If you want to start a new translation effort or want to do a message catalog merge (described later), you will need the programs xgettext and msgmerge, respectively, in a GNU-compatible implementation. Later, we will try to arrange it so that if you use a packaged source distribution, you won't need xgettext. (From CVS, you will still need it.) GNU Gettext 0.10.36 or later is currently recommended.

Your local gettext implementation should come with its own documentation. Some of that is probably duplicated in what follows, but for additional details you should look there.

45.1.2. Concepts

The pairs of original (English) messages and their (possibly) translated equivalents are kept in message catalogs, one for each program (although related programs can share a message catalog) and for each target language. There are two file formats for message catalogs: The first is the "PO" file (for Portable Object), which is a plain text file with special syntax that translators edit. The second is the "MO" file (for Machine Object), which is a binary file generated from the respective PO file and is used while the internationalized program is run. Translators do not deal with MO files; in fact hardly anyone does.

The extension of the message catalog file is to no surprise either .po or .mo. The base name is either the name of the program it accompanies, or the language the file is for, depending on the situation. This is a bit confusing. Examples are psql.po (PO file for psql) or (MO file in French).

The file format of the PO files is illustrated here:

# comment

msgid "original string"
msgstr "translated string"

msgid "more original"
msgstr "another translated"
"string can be broken up like this"


The msgid's are extracted from the program source. (They need not be, but this is the most common way.) The msgstr lines are initially empty and are filled in with useful strings by the translator. The strings can contain C-style escape characters and can be continued across lines as illustrated. (The next line must start at the beginning of the line.)

The # character introduces a comment. If whitespace immediately follows the # character, then this is a comment maintained by the translator. There may also be automatic comments, which have a non-whitespace character immediately following the #. These are maintained by the various tools that operate on the PO files and are intended to aid the translator.

#. automatic comment
#: filename.c:1023
#, flags, flags

The #. style comments are extracted from the source file where the message is used. Possibly the programmer has inserted information for the translator, such as about expected alignment. The #: comment indicates the exact location(s) where the message is used in the source. The translator need not look at the program source, but he can if there is doubt about the correct translation. The #, comments contain flags that describe the message in some way. There are currently two flags: fuzzy is set if the message has possibly been outdated because of changes in the program source. The translator can then verify this and possibly remove the fuzzy flag. Note that fuzzy messages are not made available to the end user. The other flag is c-format, which indicates that the message is a printf-style format template. This means that the translation should also be a format string with the same number and type of placeholders. There are tools that can verify this, which key off the c-format flag.

45.1.3. Creating and maintaining message catalogs

OK, so how does one create a "blank" message catalog? First, go into the directory that contains the program whose messages you want to translate. If there is a file, then this program has been prepared for translation.

If there are already some .po files, then someone has already done some translation work. The files are named language.po, where language is the ISO 639-1 two-letter language code (in lower case), e.g., fr.po for French. If there is really a need for more than one translation effort per language then the files may also be named language_region.po where region is the ISO 3166-1 two-letter country code (in upper case), e.g., pt_BR.po for Portuguese in Brazil. If you find the language you wanted you can just start working on that file.

If you need to start a new translation effort, then first run the command

gmake init-po

This will create a file progname.pot. (.pot to distinguish it from PO files that are "in production". The T stands for "template".) Copy this file to language.po and edit it. To make it known that the new language is available, also edit the file and add the language (or language and country) code to the line that looks like:


(Other languages may appear, of course.)

As the underlying program or library changes, messages may be changed or added by the programmers. In this case you do not need to start from scratch. Instead, run the command

gmake update-po

which will create a new blank message catalog file (the pot file you started with) and will merge it with the existing PO files. If the merge algorithm is not sure about a particular message it marks it "fuzzy" as explained above. For the case where something went really wrong, the old PO file is saved with a .po.old extension.

45.1.4. Editing the PO files

The PO files can be edited with a regular text editor. The translator should only change the area between the quotes after the msgstr directive, may add comments and alter the fuzzy flag. There is (unsurprisingly) a PO mode for Emacs, which I find quite useful.

The PO files need not be completely filled in. The software will automatically fall back to the original string if no translation (or an empty translation) is available. It is no problem to submit incomplete translations for inclusions in the source tree; that gives room for other people to pick up your work. However, you are encouraged to give priority to removing fuzzy entries after doing a merge. Remember that fuzzy entries will not be installed; they only serve as reference what might be the right translation.

Here are some things to keep in mind while editing the translations:

  • Make sure that if the original ends with a newline, the translation does, too. Similarly for tabs, etc.

  • If the original is a printf format string, the translation also needs to be. The translation also needs to have the same format specifiers in the same order. Sometimes the natural rules of the language make this impossible or at least awkward. In that case you can modify the format specifiers like this:

    msgstr "Die Datei %2$s hat %1$u Zeichen."

    Then the first placeholder will actually use the second argument from the list. The digits$ needs to follow the % immediately, before any other format manipulators. (This feature really exists in the printf family of functions. You may not have heard of it before because there is little use for it outside of message internationalization.)

  • If the original string contains a linguistic mistake, report that (or fix it yourself in the program source) and translate normally. The corrected string can be merged in when the program sources have been updated. If the original string contains a factual mistake, report that (or fix it yourself) and do not translate it. Instead, you may mark the string with a comment in the PO file.

  • Maintain the style and tone of the original string. Specifically, messages that are not sentences (cannot open file %s) should probably not start with a capital letter (if your language distinguishes letter case) or end with a period (if your language uses punctuation marks). It may help to read Section 44.3.

  • If you don't know what a message means, or if it is ambiguous, ask on the developers' mailing list. Chances are that English speaking end users might also not understand it or find it ambiguous, so it's best to improve the message.

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