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Major release for L20n, Mozilla's Localisation Framework

| by James Chesters Follow 1 Followers on Jan 13, 2015. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes |

Mozilla has released version 1.0 of L20n, an open source, localisation-specific scripting language.

Axel Hecht, technical lead for L20n in Mozilla, unveiled the framework for the first time at FOSDEM in 2007 in a presentation entitled "Releasing Mozilla Localisations." 

Localisation engineer Jeff Beatty says Mozilla are now bringing together the APIs for developers, the file format and tools to edit localisations, as well as integrating these into the project flows and tooling.

Speaking to InfoQ, Beatty elaborated on L20n, and the problems it aims to solve:

The traditional framework for localisation places the logic used to process user interface strings globally within the application logic. The code in the application globally dictates how static string resources for multiple locales are processed and displayed.

Two principles have challenged localisation for decades: the first that static strings for all languages will be subject to the global application logic of an application, the second that the developer determines the logic by which these strings are processed, regardless of whether they know all the languages the UI will be localised into.

With all strings for all languages being processed globally by a possibly monolingual developer, the resulting translations of each UI element lack natural expression. Even worse, the translations can be entirely inaccurate due to the application's inability to intelligently process unique elements in the target language's grammar within the context they appear.

What sets L20n apart from traditional frameworks, Beatty says, is that it allows developers to drop the hacks around artefacts of natural language. While it isn't completely unique, he says it offers developers a distinct advantage over many frameworks that share the same challenges

Beatty also says that because L20n is an open project, developers can help to expand its reach.

The framework has received a mixed response from some parts of the developer community. L20n has been presented at various events since its FOSDEM debut, and reportedly has enjoyed constructive and inspiring discussions, but the response online has been less measured in some places.

A discussion on Reddit, entitled L20n, a localisation framework by Mozilla for the web, attracted a small number of comments from programmers who were slightly less convinced.

User Drfuzzykins commented:

[L20n] seems like a good idea as a programmer to make localisation files into a scripts, but unfortunately translators aren't generally programmers. The file format needs some serious tooling support or this will only be usable in open source contexts where contributors with experience in both programming and translation will do the work for free.

Beatty responded to InfoQ:

Adoption will be a challenge, as it usually is with any technology that attempts to shift an existing paradigm. We don't anticipate all translated content will require L20n scripting treatment. For many localisation projects, the translation process will remain the same for the bulk of their content. For content that requires processing to efficiently process the target language, L20n is available to help localizers achieve a level of natural expression they haven't been able to before in localisation.

Currently, the L20n development team's main focus is on using the framework in HTML and JavaScript, to localise Firefox OS. Much of this involves work on the JavaScript and Gecko implementations of the framework, along with tooling for localisers and project management.

InfoQ readers interested in contributing to the L20n project should visit l20n.org. From there, developers can learn and experiment with the L20n syntax, fork the L20n repository, and talk with others about where to contribute code to the project.

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