Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Internationalizing Java Web Applications Part I

Internationalizing an application can become a daunting task. Specially if the application already existed for quite some time. What more if the business decides to support a huge number of languages? There are several things to consider to ensure that the application displays the correct translation according to its locale. This is just the minimum list but there might be some other stuff to consider. Let's start with the list below.

The Setup:
1. Windows Server
2. Windows XP Client Machine
3. Java Web Application
4. SQL Server 2005
5. Firefox/IE

1. Browser Support
2. OS and Microsoft Office Language Settings
4. Database Internationalization Support
6. i18n Bundle - Property Files and Data
7. Font Support (Highlight If Text is embedded in an image)
8. UTF-8 Encoding
9. JSON element/data Encoding/Decoding
10. The Locale class

Browser Support
This is the easiest to figure out. Lots of browsers out there supports tons of languages. It's just a matter of choice.

OS and MS Office Language Settings
1. OS Server
The operating system should have been installed with the languages the users are interested in. At least the english (en_US) language and make it the default language. You can check what the OS supports by checking the Regional and Language Options if your server is Windows based. There you can see Standards and Formats of the currency, number and time from the Regional Options tab. While the Languages tab shows the option to choose what Text Services and Input Languages to use and allows one to install East Asian Language Support and this is really important specially if we are working with Chinese, Japanese or Korean language. 

Now for an Application Testing Environment that supports many different languages, the server can have the English [United States] setting from Regional Options and leave the other properties unchanged. If Japanese, Chinese or Korean or any East Asian Language is needed for the application, then the East Asian Language Support must be installed.

To test if the language settings are correct, drop a text file that contains data with the language of interest to the server. Open the file. If the data is in Chinese, then the text characters should show up as Chinese characters. Otherwise, the language settings aren't right.

2. OS Client
On the client side, there must also be Language settings that needs to be done. The OS should also have come installed with other languages. But the East Asian Language is by default not installed. This must be installed if Japanese, Chinese or Korean needs to be supported.

3. Microsoft Office
Apparently, Microsoft Office needs to be tweaked to properly display East Asian characters. No tweaking is necessary for other languages. Just go to Microsoft Office Tools and click on Microsoft Office Language Settings. There you can enable other languages for proper viewing of data.

Database Internationalization Support
All major database products supports internationalization. It should be able to support Unicode characters or the literal character of that language (by using the prefix 'N' when inserting data into the database).

I18N Bundle
All internationalized app have i18n bundle which is used for displaying the appropriate label, description or error message to the application. This bundle is basically a jar file containing all the supported languages or locales. The files in that jar are properties file of the form I18N_locale.properties (i.e. I18N_en_US.properties for English US). So each properties file is composed of a key/value pair. If this is done right, then you avoid a lot of translation issues. The number of keys from the default locale, say en_US should match the number of keys in the other locales. The value for each key must be translated for its target locale. 

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