One place where the gettext functions, if used normally, have big
problems is within programs with graphical user interfaces (GUIs). The
problem is that many of the strings which have to be translated are very
short. They have to appear in pull-down menus which restricts the
length. But strings which are not containing entire sentences or at
least large fragments of a sentence may appear in more than one
situation in the program but might have different translations. This is
especially true for the one-word strings which are frequently used in
As a consequence many people say that the gettext approach is
wrong and instead catgets should be used which indeed does not
have this problem. But there is a very simple and powerful method to
handle these kind of problems with the gettext functions.
As as example consider the following fictional situation. A GUI program
has a menu bar with the following entries:
| File | Printer | |
| Open | | Select |
| New | | Open |
+----------+ | Connect |
To have the strings File, Printer, Open,
New, Select, and Connect translated there has to be
at some point in the code a call to a function of the gettext
family. But in two places the string passed into the function would be
Open. The translations might not be the same and therefore we
are in the dilemma described above.
One solution to this problem is to artificially enlengthen the strings
to make them unambiguous. But what would the program do if no
translation is available? The enlengthened string is not what should be
printed. So we should use a little bit modified version of the functions.
To enlengthen the strings a uniform method should be used. E.g., in the
example above the strings could be chosen as
What this little function does is to recognize the case when no
translation is available. This can be done very efficiently by a
pointer comparison since the return value is the input value. If there
is no translation we know that the input string is in the format we used
for the Menu entries and therefore contains a | character. We
simply search for the last occurrence of this character and return a
pointer to the character following it. That's it!
If one now consistently uses the enlengthened string form and replaces
the gettext calls with calls to sgettext (this is normally
limited to very few places in the GUI implementation) then it is
possible to produce a program which can be internationalized.
With advanced compilers (such as GNU C) one can write the
sgettext functions as an inline function or as a macro like this:
The other gettext functions (dgettext, dcgettext
and the ngettext equivalents) can and should have corresponding
functions as well which look almost identical, except for the parameters
and the call to the underlying function.
Now there is of course the question why such functions do not exist in
the GNU C library? There are two parts of the answer to this question.
They are easy to write and therefore can be provided by the project they
are used in. This is not an answer by itself and must be seen together
with the second part which is:
There is no way the C library can contain a version which can work
everywhere. The problem is the selection of the character to separate
the prefix from the actual string in the enlenghtened string. The
examples above used | which is a quite good choice because it
resembles a notation frequently used in this context and it also is a
character not often used in message strings.
But what if the character is used in message strings. Or if the chose
character is not available in the character set on the machine one
compiles (e.g., | is not required to exist for ISO C; this is
why the iso646.h file exists in ISO C programming environments).
There is only one more comment to make left. The wrapper function above
require that the translations strings are not enlengthened themselves.
This is only logical. There is no need to disambiguate the strings
(since they are never used as keys for a search) and one also saves
quite some memory and disk space by doing this.
Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License