This page gives an overview of the Gettext Commons and describes how to integrate the library into existing Java applications.

Quick Links: I18nExample.java, API Documentation


  • Java 1.3 (or higher)
  • GNU gettext




Most Unix systems and Linux distributions ship with gettext packages.


The Gettext Commons provide the class I18n that has methods that need to be invoked each time a user visible string is used:

I18n i18n = I18nFactory.getI18n(getClass());

System.out.println(i18n.tr("This text will be translated"));

I18n also supports proper handling of plurals:

System.out.println(i18n.trn("Copied file.", "Copied files.", 1));
// will print "Copied file."

System.out.println(i18n.trn("Copied file.", "Copied files.", 4));
// will print "Copied files."

In addition there are convenience methods that use the Java API MessageFormat.format() for substitution:

System.out.println(i18n.tr("Folder: {0}", new File("/home/xnap-commons"));
System.out.println(i18n.trn("{0} file", "{0} files", 5, new Integer(5)));

And sometimes it is necessary to provide different translations of the same word as some words may have multiple meanings in the native language the program is written but not in other languages:

System.out.println(i18n.trc("chat (verb)", "chat"));
System.out.println(i18n.trc("chat (noun)", "chat"));

The preferable way to create an I18n object is through the I18nFactory. The factory caches the I18n object internally using the the package name of the provided class object and registers it with I18nManager. Thus all classes of the same package will use the same I18n instance.

public class SampleClass
	private static I18n i18n = I18nFactory.getI18n(SampleClass.class);

	String localizedString;

	public SampleClass()
	        localizedString = i18n.tr("Hello, World");

I18nManager lets you register independently created I18n objects and provides the facility to change the locale of all registered I18n objects thereby notifying possible LocaleChangeListeners:

public class LocaleChangeAwareClass implements LocaleChangeListener
	private static I18n i18n = I18nFactory.getI18n(LocaleChangeAwareClass.class);

	String localizedString;

	public LocaleChangeAwareClass()
	        localizedString = i18n.tr("Hello, World");

	public void localeChanged(LocaleChangeEvent event)
	        // update strings
	        localizedString = i18n.tr("Hello, World");

Creating Resource Bundles

Once the source code has been internationalized, i.e. all user visible strings are wrapped by a call to i18n.tr(), xgettext can be used to extract these strings for localization.

This 3 step process is illustrated in this figure:

  1. xgettext scans the source code for calls to tr(), trc() and trn() and creates a pot file that contains all strings in the native language.
  2. msgmerge merges the strings into a po file that contains translations for a single locale. This file can be edited with convenient tools like poedit, KBabel or Emacs.
  3. msgfmt is used to generate Java class files that extend the Java ResourceBundle class.

Here is a simple example of running the gettext commands:

# extract keys
xgettext -ktrc -ktr -kmarktr -ktrn:1,2 -o po/keys.pot src/*.java 

# merge keys into localized po file
msgmerge -U po/de.po po/keys.pot

# translate file
poedit po/de.po

# create German ResourceBundle class file in app.i18n package
msgfmt --java2 -d src/conf -r app.i18n.Messages -l de po/de.po

Loading Resource Bundles

In order to specify the name of the resource bundles you want to use, you create an i18n.properties file and place it in your application's toplevel package. All subpackages will use this configuration file unless they find a different one on the way up in the package hierarchy.

i18n.properties expects the base name of the resources as the value of the key basename:


For more information on how the resource lookup works, please read here.

Maven Integration

If Maven is used for building, the invocation of gettext can be easily integrated into the build process. Follow the appropriate link below for more information: