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What Is XLIFF and Why Should I Use It?

A brief overview of the XML Localization Interchange File Format (XLIFF)

The attributes of the trans-unit element can be used to store data about the resource being translated. Note that the id tag in a trans-unit identifies the trans-unit relative to the XLIFF file, and does not represent the native resource id. The resname tag stores the native resource id.

The XLIFF sample code below represents a cancel button. Using this information, a localization resource editor can render the button or windows resource, which can then be visually represented in a WYSIWYG editor.

<trans-unit id='1' resname='IDCANCEL' restype='button' coord='8;8;50;14'>
   <source xml:lang='en'>Cancel</source>
</trans-unit>

Logically or structurally related trans-unit elements can be grouped together using the group element. An example of where this is useful is representing a dialog box as a group of trans-units that contain its individual components.

bin-unit
The bin-unit is used to store nontextual data such as icons, cursors, or images. The objects can be stored as a reference to an external file or embedded internally within the XLIFF document itself. When stored as an external file reference, the bin-unit contains the address where the file is found. The binary file can also be embedded within the bin-unit as base-64 encoded data.

If there is localizable text associated with the binary object, it can be stored in one or more trans-unit elements contained within the bin-unit.

context-group/context
The context-group element and its child context provide a method for storing resource metadata related to the trans-unit. This structure keeps track of vital information that may be used to rebuild the content into its native format, or to identify resource-related content such as custom control class names or related properties.

Listing 3 shows how to represent PO (portable object) files when the translation unit occurs in multiple positions within a file. In the example, we use context-group elements to represent each individual position.

Extensibility
One of the major initiatives within XLIFF 1.1 is the use of XML schema namespaces to allow XLIFF to be embedded within another XML document or for XLIFF to be extended with another namespace. A company might have an XML application that meets their needs in all areas except localization. A small section of XLIFF could be embedded within this file to deal with that. It is also possible to embed a section of another XML vocabulary at particular extension points within an XML document.

Listing 4 shows an example of how an XLIFF document could be extended. The "mysc" elements are embedded within the XLIFF document and are identified by its namespace.

Alternate Translations
The alt-trans element is used to store alternative translations. This could be Translation Memory, Machine Translation, a previous translation, or a previous translation in a different dialect than the current target language. An example of where you would store a different dialect would be where you have translated an English document to French Canadian and you previously have a French translation. The XLIFF file would have English as the source language and French Canadian as the target language, but you can provide the French translation as the alternative translation in the alt-trans element.

The example below illustrates a previous translation of similar text is available and the alt-trans element, with this translation, is placed within the trans-unit.

<trans-unit>
   <source xml:lang="en-US">We are testing XLIFF.</source>
   <target state="needs-review-translation" xml:lang="fr-CA>Nous testons
XLIFF.</target>
   <alt-trans>
    <target xml:lang="fr-FR">Nous testons.</target>
   <alt-trans>
</trans-unit>

Version Control
Within an XLIFF document, it is possible to keep track of what is happening with the use of the phase element. This can be used for version control where different versions of the translation are stored in the alt-trans element, or it can used to provide other control data.

The phase element is used inside the header element and this provides the details of a particular phase. Information such as what was done to a segment with a particular tool can be tracked here.

<header>
  <phase-group>
   <phase phase-name='trans' process-name='translation' tool='Trados'
   date='2005-04-01T20:01:23Z'/>
   <phase phase-name='edit' process-name='editing' tool='Trados'
   date='2005-04-01T20:01:23Z'/>
  </phase-group>
</header>

A target element can be associated with a particular phase. In the example below, we have used the phase element to show that the target element introduced during the phase labelled "trans." Details of this phase would be specified in the header section.

<trans-unit>    <source xml:lang="en-US">We are testing XLIFF.</source>    <target xml:lang="fr">Nous testons XLIFF.</target>    <alt-trans>     <source xml:lang="fr">We are testing.</source>     <target xml:lang="fr" phase-name='trans'>Nous testons.</target>    <alt-trans> </trans-unit>

XLIFF in Action with Web Services
This solution was implemented for a customer of Bowne Global Solutions (BGS) that manufactures automobiles. They had a significant Web presence but wanted to expand their Web site to be more global by providing the content in a range of languages. There was a complicated process involved in the localization of their existing Web site. They were concerned that this process was adding extra cost without the corresponding value.

Together with this customer, BGS designed a solution that made innovative use of XLIFF, Web services, and BGS's online translation service, Elcano. Figure 3 shows the system that was built in order to achieve this. The repository on the customer's side was a Content Management System (CMS).

More Stories By Peter Reynolds

Peter Reynolds is manager of the software development team at the Dublin, Ireland office of Bowne Global Solutions (BGS), the leading provider of localization and translation solution. Peter and his team are responsible for developing some of the software that BGS use to run their business, including Elcano, the online translation service, and myInfoShare, the online project collaboration workspace. Peter has been working on XLIFF since its inception and is a founder member and secretary of the OASIS XLIFF Technical Committee. He also chairs the OASIS Translation Web Services Technical Committee.

More Stories By Tony Jewtushenko

Tony Jewtushenko is the founding and present chair of the XLIFF TC as well as the director of R&D for Product Innovator (www.productinnovator.com), a Dublin, Ireland-based consultancy that provides product management, process improvement, localization, and internationalization services to software companies.
During his 23-year career, Tony was a key contributor to dozens of releases of successful commercial software products, including Lotus 1-2-3 and Notes, Oracle JDeveloper, and iDS. His multinational work and life experience spans USA, Europe, Middle East, and Asia.

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