Using internationalization in your own projects

At runtime, Django looks for translations by following this algorithm:

  • First, it looks for a locale directory in the directory containing your settings file.
  • Second, it looks for a locale directory in the project directory.
  • Third, it looks for a locale directory in each of the installed apps. It does this in the reverse order of INSTALLED_APPS
  • Finally, it checks the Django-provided base translation in django/conf/locale.

In all cases the name of the directory containing the translation is expected to be named using locale name notation. E.g. de, pt_BR, es_AR, etc.

This way, you can write applications that include their own translations, and you can override base translations in your project path. Or, you can just build a big project out of several apps and put all translations into one big project message file. The choice is yours.


If you’re using manually configured settings, as described in Using settings without setting DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE, the locale directory in the project directory will not be examined, since Django loses the ability to work out the location of the project directory. (Django normally uses the location of the settings file to determine this, and a settings file doesn’t exist if you’re manually configuring your settings.)

All message file repositories are structured the same way. They are:

  • $APPPATH/locale/<language>/LC_MESSAGES/django.(po|mo)
  • $PROJECTPATH/locale/<language>/LC_MESSAGES/django.(po|mo)
  • All paths listed in LOCALE_PATHS in your settings file are searched in that order for <language>/LC_MESSAGES/django.(po|mo)
  • $PYTHONPATH/django/conf/locale/<language>/LC_MESSAGES/django.(po|mo)

To create message files, you use the makemessages tool. You only need to be in the same directory where the locale/ directory is located. And you use compilemessages to produce the binary .mo files that are used by gettext. Read the Localization document for more details.

You can also run compilemessages to make the compiler process all the directories in your LOCALE_PATHS setting.

Application message files are a bit complicated to discover – they need the LocaleMiddleware. If you don’t use the middleware, only the Django message files and project message files will be installed and available at runtime.

Finally, you should give some thought to the structure of your translation files. If your applications need to be delivered to other users and will be used in other projects, you might want to use app-specific translations. But using app-specific translations and project translations could produce weird problems with makemessages: It will traverse all directories below the current path and so might put message IDs into the project message file that are already in application message files.

The easiest way out is to store applications that are not part of the project (and so carry their own translations) outside the project tree. That way, makemessages on the project level will only translate strings that are connected to your explicit project and not strings that are distributed independently.

Using translations outside views and templates

While Django provides a rich set of i18n tools for use in views and templates, it does not restrict the usage to Django-specific code. The Django translation mechanisms can be used to translate arbitrary texts to any language that is supported by Django (as long as an appropriate translation catalog exists, of course). You can load a translation catalog, activate it and translate text to language of your choice, but remember to switch back to original language, as activating a translation catalog is done on per-thread basis and such change will affect code running in the same thread.

For example:

from django.utils import translation
def welcome_translated(language):
    cur_language = translation.get_language()
        text = translation.ugettext('welcome')
    return text

Calling this function with the value 'de' will give you "Willkommen", regardless of LANGUAGE_CODE and language set by middleware.

Functions of particular interest are django.utils.translation.get_language() which returns the language used in the current thread, django.utils.translation.activate() which activates a translation catalog for the current thread, and django.utils.translation.check_for_language() which checks if the given language is supported by Django.