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XLIFF – Standard File Format for Translations
Peter Bastian

Peter Bastian on June 8, 2017

Peter Bastian

Peter Bastian on June 8, 2017

XLIFF – Standard File Format for Translations

Nowadays, translators use software to make their daily work easier which has led to many different kinds of file formats being introduced. However, it's quickly becoming obvious that a standardized file format is needed in order to make computer-assisted translations universally practical, and XLIFF is the odds-on favorite.

Standard format improves translation process

There are plenty of computer-assisted translation tools on the market that help translators identify already translated text fragments, check for spelling and grammar, or generate automatic translations. Comprehensive translation software, known as Translation Environment Tools (TEnTs), aggregate such tools into one product. Unfortunately, instead of making translations easier TEnTs can complicate the necessary process if no standardized file for translations is used.

In order for TEnTs to actually assist translators in their efforts, the program needs to know which parts of a text file should be translated and how to extract them. Most TEnTs are able to read text, Microsoft Word, or HTML files but there are many more file formats in use by companies and translators alike. If you have ever worked with a translator and given them a custom file format, you'll know what a hassle it is to correctly prepare and brief your translator. You need to tell them (real person or automated) which parts of your file need to be translated, how the text needs to be formatted, which elements shouldn't change, and so forth. This is a lot of work, something software is supposed to minimize instead of increase. Luckily, in order to avoid complicated and time-consuming preparations and briefings, all one needs to do is use a widely recognized file format.

Standardized formats such as the XML Localization Interchange File Format  (XLIFF for short) inherently communicate which parts of a file need to be translated and how. Of course, there are other file formats which might help but XLIFF is quickly becoming an industry-wide standard for delivering text files to translators.

How XLIFF Works

The idea behind XLIFF is simple: only give translators what they really need, nothing else. Basically, content that needs to be translated is extracted from the original text and written to a XLIFF file, while the original document's structure is kept in a 'skeleton file'. The translator doesn't get any information regarding the original file's structure. As soon as a XLIFF document is translated and merged back into the skeleton file, you end up with a fully structured translation of your original content.

To give you a better idea of how exactly this works, let's have a closer look.

<trans-unit id="1">
	<source>This is the original text that needs to be translated.</source>
	<target>Dies ist die Übersetzung des Originaltexts</target>

Example of a XLIFF translation unit

As you can see above, text that is extracted into an XLIFF file is categorized into translation units. A translation unit can consist of a single sentence or an entire paragraph. Each translation unit contains a source element which houses the original text (<source>...</source>). As soon as the original text is translated in a TEnT, a target element containing that translation is added to the translation unit. Once everything is translated, the XLIFF file can be reimported into your original authoring system and you'll have a fully structured translation.

The XLIFF translation process

Translation process with XLIFF files

One of the best things about XLIFF is that it's supported by almost all TEnTs, as well as other translation tools on the market. So if you want to do your translator a huge favor, employ this standardized file format – not only will it reduce communication overhead but it will make your translation process more stable as XLIFF is very well-known and widely-used.

Of course you'll need to make sure that your authoring tool supports XLIFF or extend it with a platform add-on that supports XLIFF.

XLIFF for Confluence

Soon, users of Confluence (a popular content collaboration platform for all kinds of organizational knowledge and documents) will also be able to import and export their content as XLIFF files. We will be adding XLIFF compatibility to Scroll Translations, an add-on that lets you maintain multiple languages and translate content in Confluence. With this upcoming release, you'll not only be able to easily manage translations in Confluence, but also benefit from the efficient translation process XLIFF enables.

Scroll Translations will allow you to export entire Confluence pages as XLIFF files, and as soon as they are translated, the add-on will automatically transform reimported XLIFF files and place it on the right page in the right language.

Want to manage and translate Confluence content in multiple languages?

If you have any further questions or comments on how or why one should use XLIFF as a translation standard, please don't hesitate to let me know in the comments below. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts and opinions.


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