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Chapter 5. Localization

Describes the available localization features from the point of view of the administrator.

PostgreSQL supports localization with three approaches:

  • Using the locale features of the operating system to provide locale-specific collation order, number formatting, translated messages, and other aspects.

  • Using explicit multiple-byte character sets defined in the PostgreSQL server to support languages that require more characters than will fit into a single byte, and to provide character set recoding between client and server. The number of supported character sets is fixed at the time the server is compiled, and internal operations such as string comparisons require expansion of each character into a 32-bit word.

  • Single byte character recoding provides a more light-weight solution for users of multiple, yet single-byte character sets.

5.1. Locale Support

Locale support refers to an application respecting cultural preferences regarding alphabets, sorting, number formatting, etc. PostgreSQL uses the standard ISO C and POSIX-like locale facilities provided by the server operating system. For additional information refer to the documentation of your system.

5.1.1. Overview

Locale support is not built into PostgreSQL by default; to enable it, supply the --enable-locale option to the configure script:

$ ./configure --enable-locale
Locale support only affects the server; all clients are compatible with servers with or without locale support.

To enable messages translated to the user's preferred language, the --enable-nls option must be used. This option is independent of the other locale support.

The information about which particular cultural rules to use is determined by standard environment variables. If you are getting localized behavior from other programs you probably have them set up already. The simplest way to set the localization information is the LANG variable, for example:

export LANG=sv_SE

This sets the locale to Swedish (sv) as spoken in Sweden (SE). Other possibilities might be en_US (U.S. English) and fr_CA (Canada, French). If more than one character set can be useful for a locale then the specifications look like this: cs_CZ.ISO8859-2. What locales are available under what names on your system depends on what was provided by the operating system vendor and what was installed.

Occasionally it is useful to mix rules from several locales, e.g., use U.S. collation rules but Spanish messages. To do that a set of environment variables exist that override the default of LANG for a particular category:

LC_COLLATE String sort order
LC_CTYPE Character classification (What is a letter? The upper-case equivalent?)
LC_MESSAGES Language of messages
LC_MONETARY Formatting of currency amounts
LC_NUMERIC Formatting of numbers
LC_TIME Formatting of dates and times
Additionally, all of these specific variables and the LANG variable can be overridden with the LC_ALL environment variable.

Note: Some message localization libraries also look at the environment variable LANGUAGE which overrides all other locale settings for the purpose of setting the language of messages. If in doubt, please refer to the documentation of your operating system, in particular the gettext manual page, for more information.

If you want the system to behave as if it had no locale support, use the special locale C or POSIX, or simply unset all locale-related variables.

Note that the locale behavior of the server is determined by the environment variables seen by the server, not by the environment of any client. Therefore, be careful to set these variables before starting the server. A consequence of this is that if client and server are set up to different locales, messages may appear in different languages depending on where they originated.

The LC_COLLATE and LC_CTYPE variables affect the sort order of indexes. Therefore, these values must be kept fixed for any particular database cluster, or indexes on text columns will become corrupt. PostgreSQL enforces this by recording the values of LC_COLLATE and LC_CTYPE that are seen by initdb. The server automatically adopts those two values when it is started; only the other LC_ categories can be set from the environment at server startup. In short, only one collation order can be used in a database cluster, and it is chosen at initdb time.

5.1.2. Benefits

Locale support influences in particular the following features:

  • Sort order in ORDER BY queries.

  • The to_char family of functions

  • The LIKE and ~ operators for pattern matching

The only severe drawback of using the locale support in PostgreSQL is its speed. So use locale only if you actually need it. It should be noted in particular that selecting a non-C locale disables index optimizations for LIKE and ~ operators, which can make a huge difference in the speed of searches that use those operators.

5.1.3. Problems

If locale support doesn't work in spite of the explanation above, check that the locale support in your operating system is correctly configured. To check whether a given locale is installed and functional you can use Perl, for example. Perl has also support for locales and if a locale is broken perl -v will complain something like this:

$ export LC_CTYPE='not_exist'
$ perl -v
perl: warning: Setting locale failed.
perl: warning: Please check that your locale settings:
LC_ALL = (unset),
LC_CTYPE = "not_exist",
LANG = (unset)
are supported and installed on your system.
perl: warning: Falling back to the standard locale ("C").

Check that your locale files are in the right location. Possible locations include: /usr/lib/locale (Linux, Solaris), /usr/share/locale (Linux), /usr/lib/nls/loc (DUX 4.0). Check the locale man page of your system if you are not sure.

Check that PostgreSQL is actually using the locale that you think it is. LC_COLLATE and LC_CTYPE settings are determined at initdb time and cannot be changed without repeating initdb. Other locale settings including LC_MESSAGES and LC_MONETARY are determined by the environment the postmaster is started in, and can be changed with a simple postmaster restart. You can check the LC_COLLATE and LC_CTYPE settings of a database with the contrib/pg_controldata utility program.

The directory src/test/locale contains a test suite for PostgreSQL's locale support.

Client applications that handle server-side errors by parsing the text of the error message will obviously have problems when the server's messages are in a different language. If you create such an application you need to devise a plan to cope with this situation. The embedded SQL interface (ecpg) is also affected by this problem. It is currently recommended that servers interfacing with ecpg applications be configured to send messages in English.

Maintaining catalogs of message translations requires the on-going efforts of many volunteers that want to see PostgreSQL speak their preferred language well. If messages in your language is currently not available or fully translated, your assistance would be appreciated. If you want to help, refer to the Developer's Guide or write to the developers' mailing list.