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Add Localization to Your Web Site

Adapting an application to a specific locale

Welcome to another installment of Extending ColdFusion. In this edition, we are going to look at one of the ways you can add localization to your Web site. What do we mean by localization? Localization or L10N (L10N is an abbreviation for the 10 letters between the "L" and "N" in localization) describes the process of adapting an application to a specific locale.

You can think of L10N as the process of applying a locale or language "skin" to an application. That can mean many things like date, currency, and number formatting; calendars; text direction, and so on. Typically localization is done after a process called internationalization. Internationalization or I18N (I18N is an abbreviation for the 18 letters between the "I" and "N" in internationalization) is the design and development of an application so that it functions in at least two locales. You can think of I18N as making an application language or locale neutral.

In this article we are going to focus on one aspect of localization, and that is the site user interface and static text. In a later edition we will talk about how dynamic content can be localized. We are going to talk specifically to the concept of "resource bundles." These are files that contain a set of translations. For example, here is a representation of a simple English resource bundle:

Cancel=Cancel
Save=Save

Not very exciting, but the basic concept here is that we have a list of keys (the strings on the left side of the equal signs) and values (the strings on the right side). This becomes clearer when we look at the French version of the bundle:

Cancel=Annuler
Save= Enregistrer

As you can see, we have the exact same keys, but the strings on the right-hand side, the actual values, are the French versions. Extending this a bit farther, you can use a larger set of keys and values, one key for each piece of text on your Web site. To add support for a new language, you simply create a new resource bundle and do the translations. You should understand that managing the translation of resource bundles can become quite a task for anything complicated. One of the more popular tools for this task is IBM's Java-based rbManager, which you can download from http://oss.software.ibm.com/icu4j/demo_tools/RBManager.html.

One note about resource bundles: we use a Java object, java.util.PropertyResourceBundle, to handle parsing in the resouce bundle. This Java object requires that the resource bundle files be encoded using escaped ASCII. For example, here is the Thai version of "Cancel": \u0E22\u0E01\u0E40\ u0E25\u0E34\u0E0. Besides the rbManager tool mentioned above, Sun provides a command-line tool, native2ascii, that handles the creation of properly escaped Unicode text. This program is included in the "bin" directory of standard Java installs. You can find documentation for it at: http://java.sun.com/j2se/1.4.1/docs/tooldocs/windows/native2ascii.html.

How do we use this in ColdFusion? Listing 1 demonstrates a simple CFC that we will use to load resource bundles and display them on our Web site. Let's begin by looking at the getResourceBundle method. This method will take a resource bundle and return a structure of keys and values. The method takes two arguments. The first argument is the file name of the resource bundle. (We actually do some magic with this argument, which I will go into a bit later.) The second argument is optional, and represents the locale. Java uses a different format for locales than ColdFusion. Notice how the default is "en_US." In CFML, this is the same as English (US).

After initializing our arguments, we then have a set of var statements. Do not forget that it is vital to var scope any variable created with a CFC method. As I said above, we are going to do some magic with the resource bundle file name. If the file doesn't exist as passed, we check to see if a locale version exists. What do we mean by that? Imagine you have a set of resource bundles in your c:\projectX\resources\text folder. Each one is named "language_en_US.properties", where the only part of the name that changes is the locale version. In other words, the French version would be "language_fr_FR.properties." The getResourceBundle method allows us to simply pass in "c:\projectX\resources\text\language.properties" as the file name. When it discovers that the file does not exist, it will automatically try to load "c:\projectX\resource\text\language_en_US.properties". This is because the rbLocale argument defaults to en_US; to load the French version you would simply pass in fr_FR.

Once the method finds the file (it will throw an error if it cannot), we then use a set of Java objects we created in the constructor area of the CFC:

<cfscript>
variables.rB = createObject("java", "java.util.PropertyResourceBundle");
variables.fis = CreateObject("java", "java.io.FileInputStream");
</cfscript>

These objects then enable getResourceBundle method to load the properties file:

variables.fis.init(arguments.rbFile);

and then initialize the PropertyResourceBundle object:

variables.rB.init(variables.fis);

Once we have done that, we can use another method, getKeys(), to get the keys of the resource bundle. We then simply loop over our keys and create a structure of the values. Once we have the structure we return it.

So, let's take a quick look at how this could be used on a sample page. Listing 2 contains a simple form, in this case, one with just a submit and cancel button. However, the labels for these buttons need to be localized. To get the correct strings, we use <cfinvoke> to get the resource bundle from a property file, and to specifically grab the fr_FR version. We can then use this returned structure to populate the values of our buttons. As you can see from the code, switching to English would be a trivial change.

Let's take a look at another method in the CFC, loadResourceBundle. This is an extremely short method. All it does is take a file and an optional locale. It calls the getResourceBundle method we described earlier, and then stores it in the CFC's local variable scope. This allows us to create an instance of the CFC and have it parse the resource bundle once.

Finally, the method getResource allows us to grab one particular string from the structure. Why would you use this when you could getResourceBundle? This method will slightly modify the result when debugMode is detected. Instead of returning just the string, it will actually return the string wrapped in * characters. Visually, this makes it easy to see which parts of your page are localized and which are not. This method will also "swallow" any errors that involve missing resources, so if you try to retrieve a resource for the French locale that doesn't exist, you will get a blank string. (This may or may not be preferable. What's nice is that you can modify the CFC to handle it differently. You may want it to retrieve the en_US version if one doesn't exist for the fr_FR version. You could also have it optionally log a warning, or e-mail a localization team.)

One more example before we end. In the code in Listing 2, we had a hard-coded locale. Normally you probably want your user to select a locale. You may think it's a good idea to store the resource bundle in the user's session scope. However, this means that every user in locale N will have a copy of the bundle, which isn't efficient. Listing 3 shows a modified version of Listing 2. This time we allow the user to select a locale. We store the user's preference, but keep the bundles stored in the application scope.

The author wishes to give special thanks to Paul Hastings, who he says is, without a doubt, the localization/internationalization master, and was a big help in writing this article. His blog can be found at http://cfg11n.blogspot.com. (Watch for a series by Paul in future issues of CFDJ.)

More Stories By Ray Camden

A longtime ColdFusion user, Raymond is a co-author of the "Mastering ColdFusion" series published by Sybex Inc, as well as the lead author for the ColdFusion MX Developer's Handbook. He also presents at numerous conferences and contributes to online webzines. He and Rob Brooks-Bilson created and run the Common Function Library Project (www.cflib.org), an open source repository of ColdFusion UDFs. Raymond has helped form three ColdFusion User Groups and is the manager of the Acadiana MMUG.

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