Using Translations Outside Views and Templates - Python Django Tutorials

Using Translations Outside Views and Templates

While Django provides a rich set of internationalization 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.

Implementation Notes

Specialties of Django Translation

Django’s translation machinery uses the standard gettext module that comes with Python. If you know gettext, you might note these specialties in the way Django does translation:

  • The string domain is django or djangojs. This string domain is used to differentiate between different programs that store their data in a common message-file library (usually /usr/share/locale/). The django domain is used for python and template translation strings and is loaded into the global translation catalogs. The djangojs domain is only used for JavaScript translation catalogs to make sure that those are as small as possible.
  • Django doesn’t use xgettext alone. It uses Python wrappers around xgettext and msgfmt. This is mostly for convenience.

How Django Discovers Language Preference

Once you’ve prepared your translations – or, if you just want to use the translations that come with Django – you’ll need to activate translation for your app.

Behind the scenes, Django has a very flexible model of deciding which language should be used – installation-wide, for a particular user, or both.

To set an installation-wide language preference, set LANGUAGE_CODE. Django uses this language as the default translation – the final attempt if no better matching translation is found through one of the methods employed by the locale middleware (see below).

If all you want is to run Django with your native language all you need to do is set LANGUAGE_CODE and make sure the corresponding message files and their compiled versions (.mo) exist.

If you want to let each individual user specify which language they prefer, then you also need to use the LocaleMiddleware. LocaleMiddleware enables language selection based on data from the request. It customizes content for each user.

To use LocaleMiddleware, add 'django.middleware.locale.LocaleMiddleware' to your MIDDLEWARE_CLASSES setting. Because middleware order matters, you should follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure it’s one of the first middlewares installed.
  • It should come after SessionMiddleware, because LocaleMiddleware makes use of session data. And it should come before CommonMiddleware because CommonMiddleware needs an activated language in order to resolve the requested URL.
  • If you use CacheMiddleware, put LocaleMiddleware after it. For example, your MIDDLEWARE_CLASSES might look like this:

    For more on middleware, see Chapter 17.

LocaleMiddleware tries to determine the user’s language preference by following this algorithm:

  • First, it looks for the language prefix in the requested URL. This is only performed when you are using the i18n_patterns function in your root URLconf. See url-internationalization for more information about the language prefix and how to internationalize URL patterns.
  • Failing that, it looks for the LANGUAGE_SESSION_KEY key in the current user’s session.
  • Failing that, it looks for a cookie. The name of the cookie used is set by the LANGUAGE_COOKIE_NAME setting. (The default name is django_language.)
  • Failing that, it looks at the Accept-Language HTTP header. This header is sent by your browser and tells the server which language(s) you prefer, in order by priority. Django tries each language in the header until it finds one with available translations.
  • Failing that, it uses the global LANGUAGE_CODE setting.


  • In each of these places, the language preference is expected to be in the standard language format, as a string. For example, Brazilian Portuguese is pt-br.
  • If a base language is available but the sublanguage specified is not, Django uses the base language. For example, if a user specifies de-at (Austrian German) but Django only has de available, Django uses de.
  • Only languages listed in the LANGUAGES setting can be selected. If you want to restrict the language selection to a subset of provided languages (because your application doesn’t provide all those languages), set LANGUAGES to a list of languages. For example:
      LANGUAGES = [         
      ('de', _('German')),         
      ('en', _('English')),

    This example restricts languages that are available for automatic selection to German and English (and any sublanguage, like de-ch or en-us).

  • If you define a custom LANGUAGES setting, as explained in the previous bullet, you can mark the language names as translation strings – but use ugettext_lazy() instead of ugettext() to avoid a circular import. Here’s a sample settings file:
      from django.utils.translation import ugettext_lazy as _
              LANGUAGES = [
                  ('de', _('German')),
                  ('en', _('English')),

Once LocaleMiddleware determines the user’s preference, it makes this preference available as request.LANGUAGE_CODE for each HttpRequest. Feel free to read this value in your view code. Here’s a simple example:

from django.http import HttpResponse

def hello_world(request, count):
    if request.LANGUAGE_CODE == 'de-at':
        return HttpResponse("You prefer to read Austrian German.")
        return HttpResponse("You prefer to read another language.")

Note that, with static (middleware-less) translation, the language is in settings.LANGUAGE_CODE, while with dynamic (middleware) translation, it’s in request.LANGUAGE_CODE.

How Django Discovers Translations

At runtime, Django builds an in-memory unified catalog of literal translations. To achieve this, it looks for translations by following this algorithm regarding the order in which it examines the different file paths to load the compiled message files (.mo) and the precedence of multiple translations for the same literal:

  • The directories listed in LOCALE_PATHS have the highest precedence, with the ones appearing first having higher precedence than the ones appearing later.
  • Then, it looks for and uses if it exists a locale directory in each of the installed apps listed in INSTALLED_APPS. The ones appearing first have higher precedence than the ones appearing later.
  • Finally, the Django-provided base translation in django/conf/locale is used as a fallback.

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. Or, you can just build a big project out of several apps and put all translations into one big common message file specific to the project you are composing. The choice is yours.

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

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

To create message files, you use the django-admin makemessages tool. And you use django-admin compilemessages to produce the binary .mo files that are used by gettext.

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

What’s Next?

In the next chapter we will be looking at security in Django.