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Internationalization and Localization in Java


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What is internationalization and localization?

Internationalization (abbreviated i18n) is the process of designing an application that can be adapted to various languages and regions without engineering changes. This process results in an application that can be run worldwide with the appropriate localized data. This also means that no strings are hard-coded in the program; they are retrieved by the program at run-time. The format in which data (such as date and currency) is displayed is not hard-coded and is culturally sensitive.

Localization (abbreviated l10n) is the process of adapting software for a specific region and language by adding locale-specific components and translating text. We can also localized things like sounds and images.

How-to Internationalize a Java Application

Here is a sample program that we want to internationalize.

public class NotI18N {
    static public void main(String[] args) {
        System.out.println("How are you?");

In order to internationalize this program, we must create a RessourceBundle that contains key/value pairs. The key/value pairs are stocked in a properties file. Suppose we create a resource bundle called MessagesBundle, we'll need the following files:
  • containing the default value for the strings.
  • containing translated strings for the fr_CA locale.
  • Other translated MessagesBundle.

A sample MessagesBundle looks like this:
greetings = Bonjour.
farewell = Au revoir.
inquiry = Comment allez-vous?

Then when we have our properties files, we can modify our sample class. First, we need to get a Locale so we can load the appropriate properties file. The Locale is comprised of two things, the language and the country. Then, when we have a Locale object, we can use that object to load the proper RessourceBundle.

To finish this example, here is the localized program.
import java.util.*;

public class I18NSample {
   static public void main(String[] args) {
      String language;
      String country;

      if (args.length != 2) {
          language = new String("fr");
          country = new String("DE");
      } else {
          language = new String(args[0]);
          country = new String(args[1]);

      Locale currentLocale;
      ResourceBundle messages;

      currentLocale = new Locale(language, country);

      messages = ResourceBundle.getBundle("MessagesBundle",currentLocale);


Dealing with compound message

A compound message is a string composed of static text and variable output.

Consider the following example:

If we want to add this message into the sample program from the previous example, we will need to create the following entries in our MessagesBundle properties files.
template = At {2,time,short} on {2,date,long}, we detected \
         {1,number,integer} spaceships on the planet {0}.
planet = Mars

The template line describes a pattern which is used to display the proper localized string. Here is a description of the arguments:
Argument Description
{2,time,short} The time portion of a Date object. The short style specifies the DateFormat.SHORT formatting style.
{2,date,long} The date portion of a Date object. The same Date object is used for both the date and time variables. In the Object array of arguments the index of the element holding the Date object is 2. (This is described in the next step.)
{1,number,integer} A Number object, further qualified with the integer number style.
{0} The String in the ResourceBundle that corresponds to the planet key.

The number after the opening bracket refers to the position of the parameters in an Object array.

The next step in the localization process is to create an Object array containing all the variables we want to use in the String. This is done like that:
Object[] messageArguments = {
    new Integer(7),
    new Date()

Next we need to create a MessageFormat object. You must set the Locale because the message contains Date and Number objects, which should be formatted in a locale-sensitive manner.
MessageFormat formatter = new MessageFormat("");

Next, we just apply the template on the MessageFormat object.
String output = formatter.format(messageArguments);

Handling Plurals

For instance, if we want to internationalize a function which produces the following output:
There are no files on XDisk.
There is one file on XDisk.
There are 2 files on XDisk.

We could take the coward way out and handle it like that, but it’s not a good idea:
There are {0,number} file(s) on {1}.

First, we need to identify the variable in this string.

We can clearly see that we have two variables; therefore we can use the following pattern:
There {0} on {1}.

The argument for the disk name, which is represented by {1}, is easy enough to deal with. You just treat it like any other String variable in a MessageFormat pattern.

In order to deal with the first variable, we need to use a ResourceBundle containing all the translation in separate key/value pairs. For instance, we need the following ResourceBundle file:
pattern = There {0} on {1}.
noFiles = are no files
oneFile = is one file
multipleFiles = are {2} files

Then once we have the proper ResourceBundle, we need to create a message formatter with the MessageFormat class and set its Locale.
MessageFormat messageForm = new MessageFormat("");

The ChoiceFormat object allows you to choose, based on a Double number, a particular String. The range of Double numbers, and the String objects to which they map, are specified in arrays:
double[] fileLimits = {0,1,2};
String [] fileStrings = {

ChoiceFormat maps each element in the Double array to the element in the String array that has the same index. In the sample code the 0 maps to the String returned by calling bundle.getString("noFiles"). By coincidence the index is the same as the value in the fileLimits array. You specify the Double and String arrays when instantiating ChoiceFormat:
ChoiceFormat choiceForm = new ChoiceFormat(fileLimits,

Once we have the ChoiceFormat object, we can apply the pattern.
String pattern = bundle.getString("pattern");

Once the pattern is applied, we need to assign the formats to the MessageFormat object.
Format[] formats = {choiceForm, null,

The setFormats method assigns Format objects to the arguments in the message pattern. You must invoke the applyPattern method before you call the setFormats method. The following table shows how the elements of the Format array correspond to the arguments in the message pattern:
Array Element Pattern Argument
choiceForm {0}
null {1}
NumberFormat.getInstance() {2}

The last step is to set the Arguments before formatting the message. In this example, the object argument look like this:
Object[] messageArguments = {null, "XDisk", null};

You can use the following code to test the output of the function.
for (int numFiles = 0; numFiles < 4; numFiles++) {
    messageArguments[0] = new Integer(numFiles);
    messageArguments[2] = new Integer(numFiles);
    String result = messageForm.format(messageArguments);

Excluding Strings from Internationalization

To exclude a Sring from internationalization, you must include // $NON-NLS-1$ after the String. For example, consider the following code:
System.out.println("This will not get translated."); //$NON-NLS-1$

In the case you have a function call containing multiple strings but only one string is not meant to be translated, you must change the index number. For example, consider the following code:
myMethod("Param 1", "Param 2", "Param 3"); //$NON-NLS-2$
In this case, the String "Param 2" will not get translated.

Internationalization in Eclipse

Create Warnings in Eclipse for String that are not Internationalized

You can set an option in the Java compiler to generate warnings when you have strings that are not internationalized. You can specify this settings at the project level or at the workspace level. However, I recommend setting this at the project level. Here is how to do it:
  1. Right-click the project and choose Properties.
  2. Click on Java Compiler.
  3. Select Use projet settings.
  4. Go to the Advanced tab.
  5. Change Usage of non-externalized strings to Warning or Error.



  • GTK does not support well complex script languages. (Thai and arabic)
  • Fonts issue can arrise. (MS Arial Unicode rotate chinese characters)

Additional Reference and Sources

-- OlivierCliftNoel - 12 Feb 2005
Topic revision: r2 - 14 Feb 2005, OlivierCliftNoel
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