Translation of database content using gettext

When using the i18n and l10n features of easymode, you can use gettext’s standard translation features to translate all the database content.

Automatic catalog management

If the MASTER_SITE and AUTO_CATALOG directive are set to True, every time a model decorated with I18n is saved, easymode wil add an entry to the corresponding gettext catalog [1]. (for all the options related to the location of the catalogs please refer to Easymode settings). The default for AUTO_CATALOG is False, the default for MASTER_SITE is also False.

For each language in your LANGUAGES directive, a catalog will be created. This way you can translate all the content using something like poedit or rosetta. This is especially convenient when a new site is created, for the first big batch of translations.

For modifications afterward, you can just use the admin interface, which will show the translations from the gettext catalog if they exist.


The translation mechanism using gettext is best used when a site is initially going to be translated to other languages. After this fase, content will most likely be edited directly in the admin interface, and you can have issues with translations not showing up. This can happen when content was allready stored in the database, as described in Database is bigger than gettext. In effect any changes made to the gettext catalog after editors are changing content in the admin interface has a very low probability of being shown on the website [2]. However, easymode will help you, showing you the origin of a value in the admin, by displaying symbols next to the input fields:

  • If a value is from the gettext catalog or fallback, easymode will display ∴°
  • If a value is from the database, but the catalog has a different value, easymode will display ∴⁺ . You can hover over this symbol to see the catalog value.
  • If a value is from the database and there is no conflict with the catalog, easymode will display only

It takes proper planning to make full use of the gettext capabilities of easymode. The proper workflow is:

  1. edit and add base content of the website, ALL OF IT and make sure you don’t want to modify it anymore.
  2. translate content using gettext, and completely stop all editing, just lock up the site during translation! [3] [4]
  3. edit and modify all you like in the admin, all translations will be there. [5]

If you choose to deviate from this workflow be sure to understand all the next topics and learn how to use easy_reset_language.

Translation mechanism explained

It is important to realise, that allthough you can make translations using gettext, the catalog is not the only place where translations are stored. The I18n decorator not only registers a model for catalog management, it also modifies the model.

suppose we have a model as follows:

class Foo(models.Model):
    bar = models.CharField(max_length=255)
    foobar = models.TextField()

Normally the database would look like this:

CREATE TABLE "foobar_foo" (
    "id" integer NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY,
    "bar" varchar(255) NOT NULL,
    "foobar" text NOT NULL

The I18n decorator modiefies the model, given we’ve got both ‘en’ and ‘yx’ in out LANGUAGES directive this is what the model would look like on the database end:

CREATE TABLE "foobar_foo" (
    "id" integer NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY,
    "bar_en" varchar(255) NULL,
    "bar_yx" varchar(255) NULL,
    "foobar" text NOT NULL

On the model end you would not see this, because you will still access bar like this:

>>> m = Foo.objects.get(pk=1)
>>> = 'hello'
>>> print

Any field that is internationalized using the I18n decorator will always return the field in the current languge, both on read and on write.

Database is bigger than gettext

Only when a field is empty (None) in the database for the current language, the gettext catalog will be consulted for a translation

This way, a model has exactly the same semantics as before, in that we can read and write to the property, the way we defined it in it’s declaration. We still get the gettext goodies, which is nice when large ammounts of text must be translated.

If the gettext catalog would be the only place where the translations would be stored, having proper write semantics would become very difficult.


>>> from django.utils.translation import activate

>>> m = Foo()
>>> = 'hello'
>>> activate('yx')
>>> = 'xy says hello'
'xy says hello'
>>> activate('en')

What you’ll notice is that is allready available in the language ‘yx’ even though we did’t specify it’s value yet. This is because the normal behaviour of gettext is to return the msgid if the msgstr is not yet available. This is because the value for in language ‘yx’ was resolved as follows:

  • see if the database value bar_yx is not null, if so return bar_yx
  • see if the msgstr for ‘hello’ (The value of in the MSGID_LANGUAGE) exists if so return ugettext(‘hello’)
  • otherwise return the value in the fallback language

Importing translations is implicit

One thing that follows from the mechanics as described above, is that there is no need to explicitly import translations from gettext catalogs into the database.

Importing does take place however, each time a model is saved in the admin, the translations are written to the database.

This is because the translations from the gettext catalog ARE displayed in the admin, which means they ARE present in the form, but since the database column itself is EMPTY it will be marked as a change and written to the appropriate field.

This implicit import could pose a problem. If for example a model was edited in the admin, BEFORE the gettext catalog was properly translated and imported, it could be that the wrong value, from some fallback language got written to the database. Because the database get’s precedence over the gettext catalog, the new translation would never show up.

This inconvenience can be resolved using the easy_reset_language command

[1]It is possible to have more finegrained control over which models should be automatically added to the catalog by settings AUTO_CATALOG to False and using easymode.i18n.register() to register individual models. More info in the AUTO_CATALOG docs.
[2]Obviously, other gettext catalogs, generated from static content, that are not managed by easymode are unaffected.
[3]You can make sure nobody goes into the admin to edit things, by commenting out the admin routes in the new message id. Unless the content is allready saved in the database (Database is bigger than gettext).
[4]If you don’t lock up the admin you might have issues with translations not showing up. Someone could for some reason save an item in the wrong language. This means the value in the database will be used instead of the translation in the catalig. You can detect when this has happened by looking for a ∴⁺ sign in the admin next to the untranslated field. Hover over the field to see the value in the catalog.
[5]Watch out when you completely replace existing content in the MSGID_LANGUAGE. The MSGID_LANGUAGE is used for the message id’s in the catalogs. When you completely replace the existing message id with something different, gettext will see that as adding a new message instead of changing an existing message. When this happens, translations can nolonger be associated with the new message and all languages will fall back to