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What is Internationalization (i18n)?

Learn everything you need to know about internationalization here!

Table of Contents & All Terms

To have a global reach, international companies should build web and mobile apps that cater to different cultural needs, expectations, interests, and habits. Their software should easily and quickly scale to multiple versions of the same app, each with a different look and feel depending on the target audience.

Language is the most obvious example of a local feel. But so are cultural references, flexible user interfaces (UI), and products or services that reflect local buying habits, interests, and country-based trends.

Internationalization is the technical means by which software adapts to various languages and cultural contexts. For example, websites may change URL structures (e.g., /en/, /fr/) or use cookies to display different content based on a user’s locality. But much behind the scenes enables this: coded or API-driven methods that make it easy for content creators to build region-specific pages in a variety of languages, and correctly assign them to different locales.

What is Internationalization?

Internationalization is the code and the configuration that sets up an app for localization. Localization includes translating text, displaying special formats for dates, times, and currencies, and addressing cultural differences.

A standard internationalization method uses placeholders, which prepare your pages for different languages and regions. Placeholders accept and display the correct language, avoiding hardcoding each language. Internationalized software can also display special characters, like accents, and display text in different ways, such as right to left, left to right, or up and down.

Internationalization and content management

Content Management Systems (CMSes) that support multilingual content use APIs to enable engineers to make their company’s digital output multilingual. Once these API-driven modules are written and integrated into the CMS, designers and content creators can build and maintain their websites to appeal to multiple audiences.

Web pages can change by locale, and web elements can change based on the code that switches between locales. Resource files can store local elements such as strings and messages, allowing these elements to be easily swapped out depending on the locale. A CMS lets users create templates and themes. It ensures localization of its text and web page elements by supporting multiple languages.

Conclusion—decoupling content from the display

The main idea behind any internationalization effort is separating the display from the content. This is a common theme in our glossary: wireframing is a way to design the display without content, and a headless architecture enables a developer to build upon that wireframe, mocking up the content and using a CMS’s APIs to build the interfaces and insert the content. The same goes for internationalization—separate the content from the display by inserting different languages and web content on the same page, depending on the user’s locality.

Internationalization is an efficient and effective localization. It prepares a website to display multiple languages and cultural nuances, helping the company build an online presence that adapts to and expands into global markets.