Development/Tutorials/Localization/i18n Build Systems

    From KDE TechBase
    Building KDE's l10n Module
    Tutorial Series   Localization
    Previous   Writing Applications With Localization in Mind
    What's Next   Dealing with language changes
    Further Reading   n/a


    Now that your application is ready to be localized, we next look at how to incorporate the necessary mechanisms into the CMake build system of your application.

    First we'll explain the "theory" of the steps that need to happen from extracting message strings to installing the generated .po files. After that we'll look at how to implement those steps (#Theory: The xgettext toolchain). If your application is developed in KDE's repositories, many of those steps will happen automatically (see #Handling i18n in KDE's repositories). Else you will want to read on in the #Handling i18n outside KDE's repositories section.

    Theory: The xgettext toolchain

    Making translations work consists of the following steps:

    1. Extract the translatable strings
    2. Merge the new or changed strings with existing translations
    3. Compile the translations into message catalogs
    4. Install the message catalogs
    5. Use the message catalogs in the application

    Extracting the strings

    In this step, all the strings you marked as i18n()/ki18n()/etc. in your sources need to be collected into a translation template (.pot) file. Some translateable strings are also contained in .ui, .rc, or .kcfg files. Also tips-of-the-day need to be collected into the .pot file.

    These steps are handled by xgettext, extractrc, and preparetips programs, respectively. In some cases you may also need extractattr.

    Merging translations

    Generally, only a few translatable string will change at a time, in an application. Some will be removed, some will be added, some will be changed into different strings, and some will be moved around in the source files. These changes need to be reflected in the translations, but of course it would be a huge effort to redo the entire translation every time a string was changed. Rather the changes should be merged with the existing translations. This is the job of the msgmerge tool.

    Compiling the translations

    In order to make message lookup fast, the .po files need to be compiled into so-called "message catalogs" (.mo / .gmo). This is done using the msgfmt tool.

    Installing the message catalogs

    The compiled message catalogs need to be installed alongside the application. In KDE, the standard location for message catalogs is $DATAROOTDIR/locale/xx/LC_MESSAGES/.

    Using the message catalogs

    Finally, when the application is run, it needs to load the appropriate message catalog in order to be able to look up and show translated strings. In KDE applications, this is the job of the KLocale class, and in the great majority of cases happens automatically.

    For some special cases, such as plugins, look at #Runtime Loading Of Catalogs.

    Handling i18n in KDE's repositories

    If your application is developed inside KDE's repositories, most of the steps outlined above are automated. In this case, generally, all you will need to do is provide a simple script called, which we will look at below.

    Of course, for the curious, a more detailed account of what happens behind the scenes is also provided.

    Writing a script

    Basically, the only thing that is necessary to prepare and install translations for applications in KDE's repositories, is to provide information, which sources, ui-files or tips need to be translated. For this purpose, you write a small script called and place it in your sources. Here is an example with inline comments:

    # invoke the extractrc script on all .ui, .rc, and .kcfg files in the sources
    # the results are stored in a pseudo .cpp file to be picked up by xgettext.
    $EXTRACTRC `find . -name \*.rc -o -name \*.ui -o -name \*.kcfg` >> rc.cpp
    # invoke the grantlee extract script for translatable string from Grantlee themes
    $EXTRACT_GRANTLEE_TEMPLATE_STRINGS `find . -name \*.html` >> html.cpp
    # if your application contains tips-of-the-day, call preparetips as well.
    $PREPARETIPS > tips.cpp
    # call xgettext on all source files. If your sources have other filename
    # extensions besides .cc, .cpp, and .h, just add them in the find call.
    $XGETTEXT `find . -name \*.cc -o -name \*.cpp -o -name \*.h -name \*.qml` -o $podir/APPNAME.pot

    As you can see, this script contains only four actual lines of code, and not all may even be needed. The $XGETTEXT, $PREPARETIPS, $EXTRACTRC, $EXTRACT_GRANTLEE_TEMPLATE_STRINGS and $podir environment variables are predefined, you do not need to worry about setting these. The only thing that you will need to do is to replace "APPNAME" with the name of your application (but see #Naming .pot Files for exceptions).

    • $XGETTEXT - Extract i18n translatable strings from C++ files
    • $EXTRACT_TR_STRINGS - Extract Qt tr translatable strings from C++ files for Qt5-based projects
    • $EXTRACTRC - Extract translatable strings from xml configuration and ui files.
    • $EXTRACT_GRANTLEE_TEMPLATE_STRINGS - Extract translatable strings from Grantlee template files.

    Try to make sure your script collects only those messages that are really needed. If in doubt, look at other files in the KDE repositories for inspiration, or -- of course -- ask.

    Testing your script

    To test your script, you need a checkout of the l10n scripts. To get one:

       git clone [email protected]:sysadmin/l10n-scripty.git

    You can then go to your project dir and run:

       mkdir po
       mkdir enpo # only needed if $EXTRACT_TR_STRINGS is used in any file
       PATH=/path/to/scripts:$PATH bash /path/to/scripts/

    When it is done, the po/ dir should contain the generated .pot files.

    Translating .desktop Files

    You don't need to do anything to get the common fields (See #What's happening behind the scenes for a list) of .desktop or .desktop.cmake files translated.

    If you have a file with the same syntax than a .desktop file but it has a different extension, you have to create an file that outputs the path of those files

    #! /bin/sh
    find -name * -print

    Translating .json files

    You don't need to do anything to get the common fields (Name, Description, Copyright, ExtraInformation, Authors) for your .json files that belong to a KPlugin.

    If you want to have extra fields (inside the KPlugin JSON object) from those .json files translated you can create a file named extraJsonTranslationKeys.txt in the top-level folder of the repository and write the keys of those fields in separate lines.

    Translating Mimetype descriptions

    Add a file named to the folder with your mimetype XML foo.xml with this content:

    function get_files
        echo foo.xml
    function po_for_file
        case "$1" in
               echo foo_xml_mimetypes.po
    function tags_for_file
        case "$1" in
               echo comment

    What's happening behind the scenes

    If your application is in the KDE code repository, all this happens automatically. If your code is not in the KDE repository, you must perform these steps yourself. See #Handling i18n outside KDE's repositories.

    Periodically, the script (a.k.a. scripty) runs on the KDE server. This program basically calls all scripts in the repository with the appropriate parameters. The extracted messages are stored in template (.pot) files in the templates folder of the l10n module. See What Is Scripty for more information.

    The KDE translation teams translate the messages and commit them into a messages folder corresponding to the language, which is further broken down by module. For example, German translated messages for konqueror are committed to l10n/de/messages/applications/konqueror.po.

    When the l10n module is built, the .po files are compiled into a binary format for fast lookup and installed as .mo files to $DATAROOTDIR/locale/xx/LC_MESSAGES/, where xx is the two-letter ISO 639 code for the language. These are called the message catalogs.

    At runtime, the i18n(...) function, using the original string you coded, looks up the string in the message catalog of the user's desktop language and returns the translated string. If the message catalog is missing, or the specific string is not found, i18n(...) falls back to the original string in your code.

    .desktop files in your project are handled separately. makemessages extracts strings, such as Name and Comment from the .desktop files and places them into a file named desktop_mmmm.pot, where mmmm is the module name, in the templates folder. Once translators have translated this file, makemessages inserts the translated strings back into the .desktop files. The list of strings extracted is in l10n/scripts/ Here's the code that checks for them:

    if (checkTag("Name", in, argc, argv, newFile))
    if (checkTag("Comment", in, argc, argv, newFile))
    if (checkTag("Language", in, argc, argv, newFile))
    if (checkTag("Keywords", in, argc, argv, newFile))
    if (checkTag("About", in, argc, argv, newFile))
    if (checkTag("Description", in, argc, argv, newFile))
    if (checkTag("GenericName", in, argc, argv, newFile))
    if (checkTag("Query", in, argc, argv, newFile))
    if (checkTag("ExtraNames", in, argc, argv, newFile))


    KI18n is the framework most used in applications made by KDE (you can also use the Qt translation system though it's not recommented, see #Qt5-only: Code using Qt translation system

    It has a very comprehensive documentation that you can read at

    Special cases (plugins, multiple catalogs, etc.)

    Declarative plasmoids

    For plasmoids written in pure qml, the .pot file must be named the same as its plugin name (with plasma_applet_ prefix), specified in its desktop file as X-KDE-PluginInfo-Name. For instance if we have the .pot file will be called

    If the qml files are developed in the form of package instead of an autonomous plasmoid (for instance a package loaded by a C++ plasmoid) the .pot file will have the prefix plasma_package_ instead.

    Akonadi Agents

    Akonadi agents get the catalog loaded based on the name of the binary, so your .pot file should be named the same way your binary adding .pot at the end You can check that in AgentBase::parseArguments in kdepimlibs

    Qt5-only: Code using Qt translation system

    Some Qt5-based applications and libraries use the Qt translation system instead of KI18n. Examples of such code are:

    • Tier 1 KF5 frameworks because they cannot depend on KI18n.
    • Applications which provide a Qt-only version.

    To make translators aware of this distinction, your .pot file should follow these naming schemes:

    • *.po: code using gettext with KDE translation extensions. .po files are compiled into .mo files (most common case).
    • *_qt.po: code using Qt translation system. The .po files are compiled into .qm files (some KF5 frameworks, applications providing a Qt-only version).
    • *_qt-mo.po: code using pure gettext. The .po files are compiled into .mo files (legacy).

    If you are using the Qt translation system you have to make sure the translations are loaded properly in your application at runtime. For that you can use ECMPoQmTools by adding this to your CMakeLists.txt:

    ecm_create_qm_loader(mybinaryname_QM_LOADER mypotfilename_qt)


    Handbooks, which are written in docbook format, are handled different from applications. The translated Handbooks are committed into the l10n module in the docs folder under each language. In addition, the docs folder is broken down by module and application. For example, the German Kate Handbook is committed to the l10n-kf5/de/docs/applications/kate/ folder. When compiled, the German Kate Handbook is installed to $DATAROOTDIR/doc/HTML/de/kate/index.cache.bz2.

    Note that it is up to each translation team to generate the translated Handbook when they feel it is complete.

    Handling i18n outside KDE's repositories

    There's a whole page dedicated to that in /Outside_KDE_repositories