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GNU gettext utilities

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13.1 The Language Implementor's View

All programming and scripting languages that have the notion of strings are eligible to supporting gettext. Supporting gettext means the following:

  1. You should add to the language a syntax for translatable strings. In principle, a function call of gettext would do, but a shorthand syntax helps keeping the legibility of internationalized programs. For example, in C we use the syntax _("string"), in bash we use the syntax $"string", and in GNU awk we use the shorthand _"string".

  2. You should arrange that evaluation of such a translatable string at runtime calls the gettext function, or performs equivalent processing.

  3. Similarly, you should make the functions ngettext, dcgettext, dcngettext available from within the language. These functions are less often used, but are nevertheless necessary for particular purposes: ngettext for correct plural handling, and dcgettext and dcngettext for obeying other locale environment variables than LC_MESSAGES, such as LC_TIME or LC_MONETARY. For these latter functions, you need to make the LC_* constants, available in the C header <locale.h>, referenceable from within the language, usually either as enumeration values or as strings.

  4. You should allow the programmer to designate a message domain, either by making the textdomain function available from within the language, or by introducing a magic variable called TEXTDOMAIN. Similarly, you should allow the programmer to designate where to search for message catalogs, by providing access to the bindtextdomain function.

  5. You should either perform a setlocale (LC_ALL, "") call during the startup of your language runtime, or allow the programmer to do so. Remember that gettext will act as a no-op if the LC_MESSAGES and LC_CTYPE locale facets are not both set.

  6. A programmer should have a way to extract translatable strings from a program into a PO file. The GNU xgettext program is being extended to support very different programming languages. Please contact the GNU gettext maintainers to help them doing this. If the string extractor is best integrated into your language's parser, GNU xgettext can function as a front end to your string extractor.

  7. The language's library should have a string formatting facility where the arguments of a format string are denoted by a positional number or a name. This is needed because for some languages and some messages with more than one substitutable argument, the translation will need to output the substituted arguments in different order. See section 3.5 Special Comments preceding Keywords.

  8. If the language has more than one implementation, and not all of the implementations use gettext, but the programs should be portable across implementations, you should provide a no-i18n emulation, that makes the other implementations accept programs written for yours, without actually translating the strings.

  9. To help the programmer in the task of marking translatable strings, which is usually performed using the Emacs PO mode, you are welcome to contact the GNU gettext maintainers, so they can add support for your language to `po-mode.el'.

On the implementation side, three approaches are possible, with different effects on portability and copyright:

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