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Tools for the Internationalization
of C Applications


This paper relates to applications written in C and running under UNIX. "Internationalization" is a method providing applications written in English with the capability to work in other languages (English, German, Spanish, Arabic, Greek c.). To achieve this objective, a number of problems must be solved. The most important are :

  • An extended character set allowing storage and display of information in the selected native languages.
  • Mapping the keyboards to satisfy the national language conventions.
  • The full set of C function libraries accepting 8-bit codes (256 characters) including national sort functions.
  • If the application is written with the curses package, it must also support 8-bit codes.

In addition, a whole battery of utilities is needed to complete the process ; for example the user needs a text editor such as ed or vi, capable of accepting an extended character set.

  • The LANGBOX product family supports the following languages :
  • SEMITIC LANGUAGES : Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Pashto, and Swahili.
  • WEST EUROPEAN : French, German, Italian, Spanish.
  • SCANDINAVIAN LANGUAGES: Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian. EAST EUROPEAN : Russian, Bulgarian, Byelorussian, Croatian, Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, and Romanian.
  • OTHERS (Please inquire).

The above list of problems have been solved and an integrated international work environment is thus created. In addition, these products contain supplementary tools that reduce the internationalization process to a pure manual translation effort.

 Internationalization process

To simplify the case study, a general case has been chosen. It is a simple C program, written in English, with messages embedded in the source code using printf and puts. (The "curses" function library could have been used as well).

The LANGBOX products come with a set of tools that will read the source code, extract the character strings and put them in a special file. Another utility prints the message file in numbered lines.

A translator (not a programmer!), will create, for example, the French version of these English messages. The new French text is entered into a file.

The rest of the effort is handled automatically by the system. If the variable LANG is set to French, the French messages are used when executing the program, otherwise English is used if LANG is set to English.

Schematically, this process is summarized as follows :

 Detail of a Case Study

The example used is a source program written in C as follows ; it will be running in French under the West European Languages :

#include <stdio.h>

int n; char y[5];
printf("This program converts decimal numbers to hexadecimal\n\n");
while(1) {
printf("\nEnter decimal number: ");
printf("\nNumber entered is <%d> decimal and <%x> hexa",n,n);
printf("\nDo you want to continue? ");
if(strcmp(y,"yes")) {
printf("\n exiting ..\n");

To extract the messages, the following command is used :

xtract -f printf -l en mypg xmypg.c mypg.c

This creates a file mypg.en containing the messages, and xmypg.c containing the program mypg.c without the messages. The option "-f printf" selects only the messages used by this function. If this option is not used, all messages are extracte d.

The new xmypg.c code is as follow:

#include <stdio.h>
extern unsigned char *intl_m_msg(), *intl_f_msg();

int n; char y[5];
while(1) {
if(strcmp(y, (intl_m_msg("","mypg",6))) {


Step 2 - Printing the Messages

The following command is used to print the extracted messages, now in mypg.en :

xdisp mypg.en > mypgmsg.en

The result, in mypgmsg.en is as follows :

"This program converts decimal numbers to hexadecimal\n\n"
"\nEnter decimal number:"
"\nNumber entered is <%d> decimal and <%x> hexa"
"\nDo you want to continue?"
"\nexiting ..\n"


Step 3 - The Manual Translation

mypg.en is translated manually to French.

The translated version is in :

"Ce programme convertit les nombres décimaux en hexadécimal\n\n"
"\nEntrer le nombre décimal:"
"\nLe nombre entré est <%d> décimal et <%x> hexadécimal"
"\nVoulez vous continuer?"
"\nSortie ..\n"

Step 4 - Creation of the File

All LANGBOX products supply an international version of ed and vi. Under the West European Languages, these editors are called xed and xvi respectively. xvi has been used to enter the text The LANG variable was set to French and the French shell, frsh, that also comes with the LANGBOX, was used.

Step 5 - Compilation of File

The file having been created, it must be transformed to a format that makes these messages accessible to the program xmypg.c, in a multilingual environment. This is done with the command :

xind -l fr mypg

One can use xdisp to reprint and verify the content.

Step 6 - Compilation of the C Program

The program xmypg.c can be recompiled now, but needs access to the messages library and Extended C library as follows :

cc xmypg.c -o xmypg -lmsgE -lcE

xmypg will execute using the French or English messages depending on whether the LANG variable is set to French or English.

 Advantages of Internationalization under the LANGBOX products

The simplicity of this approach to internationalization results in a number of strategic advantages. Here are some highlights :

  • Programming is totally separated from translation. National teams in the target markets will translate the application messages. The programmer need no more be involved in this effort nor be knowledgeable with national languages.
  • The application maintenance is centralized. Only message files are updated or translated. No need to coordinate updates with national teams. The result is a more coherent product across linguistic frontiers.
  • In consideration of the particularities of LANGBOX products, programmers will no more worry about national characters or contextation rules. These problems are totally handled by the system.
  • The end user wishing to use the application in two or more languages will be able to do so with the same set of binaries. No need to buy several versions, one in each language.


The LANGBOX product family solves the problems of internationalization. Its utilities allow the production of multilingual applications for all languages of western Europe, Greece, Eastern Europe and the Arabic world.

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