Translating Zulip

Zulip has full support for unicode, so you can already use your preferred language everywhere in Zulip.

To make Zulip even better for users around the world, the Zulip UI is being translated into a number of major languages, including Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Russian, and Japanese, with varying levels of progress. If you speak a language other than English, your help with translating Zulip would be greatly appreciated!

If you’re interested in contributing translations to Zulip, join the Zulip project on Transifex and ask to join any languages you’d like to contribute to (or add new ones). Transifex’s notification system sometimes fails to notify the maintainers when you ask to join a project, so please send a quick email to when you request to join the project or add a language so that we can be sure to accept your request to contribute.

Setting Default Language in Zulip

Zulip allows you to set the default language through the settings page under ‘Display Settings’ section.

Translation Resource Files

All the translation magic happens through resource files which hold the translated text. Backend resource files are located at static/locale/<lang_code>/LC_MESSAGES/django.po, while frontend resource files are located at static/locale/<lang_code>/translations.json. These files are uploaded to Transifex using tx push, where they can be translated. Once translated, they are downloaded back into the codebase using tx pull.

Transifex Config

The config file that maps the resources from Zulip to Transifex is located at .tx/config. Django recognizes zh_CN instead of zh-HANS for simplified Chinese language (this is fixed in Django 1.9). This idiosyncrasy is also handled in the Transifex config file.

Translation Process

The end-to-end process to get the translations working is as follows:

  1. Mark the strings for translations (see sections for backend and frontend translations for details on this).

  2. Create JSON formatted resource files using the python manage makemessages command. This command will create a resource file called translations.json for frontend and django.po for backend for every language under static/locale. The location for frontend resource file can be changed by passing an argument to the command (see the help for the command for further details). However, make sure that the location is publicly accessible since frontend files are loaded through XHR in the frontend which will only work with publicly accessible resources.

    The makemessages command is idempotent in that:

    • It will only delete singular keys in the resource file when they are no longer used in Zulip code.
    • It will only delete plural keys (see below for the documentation on plural translations) when the corresponding singular key is absent.
    • It will not override the value of a singular key if that value contains a translated text.
  3. Upload the resource files to Transifex using the tx push -s -a command.

  4. Download the updated resource files from Transifex using the tx pull -a command. This command will download the resource files from Transifex and replace your local resource files with them.

Backend Translations

All user-facing text in the Zulip UI should be generated by an HTML template so that it can be translated.

Zulip uses two types of templates: backend templates (powered by the Jinja2 template engine, though the original Django template engine is still supported) and frontend templates (powered by Handlebars).

To mark a string for translation in the Jinja2 and Django template engines, you can use the _() function in the templates like this:

{{ _("English text") }}

If a string contains both a literal string component and variables, you can use a block translation, which makes use of placeholders to help translators to translate an entire sentence. To translate a block, Jinja2 uses the trans tag while Django uses the blocktrans tag. So rather than writing something ugly and confusing for translators like this:

# Don't do this!
{{ _("This string will have") }} {{ value }} {{ _("inside") }}

You can instead use:

# Jinja2 style
{% trans %}This string will have {{ value }} inside.{% endtrans %}
# Django style
{% blocktrans %}This string will have {{ value }} inside.{% endblocktrans %}

Zulip expects all the error messages to be translatable as well. To ensure this, the error message passed to json_error and JsonableError should always be a literal string enclosed by _() function, e.g:

json_error(_('English Text'))
JsonableError(_('English Text'))

To ensure we always internationalize our JSON errors messages, the Zulip linter (tools/lint-all) checks for correct usage.

Frontend Translations

Zulip uses the i18next library for frontend translations. There are two types of files in Zulip frontend which can hold translatable strings, JavaScript code files and Handlebar templates. To mark a string translatable in JavaScript files pass it to the i18n.t function.

i18n.t('English Text', context);
i18n.t('English text with a __variable__', {'variable': 'Variable value'});

Note: In the second example above, instead of enclosing the variable with handlebars, {{ }}, we enclose it with __ because we need to differentiate the variable from the Handlebar tags. The symbol which is used to enclose the variables can be changed in /static/js/src/main.js.

i18next also supports plural translations. To support plurals make sure your resource file contatins the related keys:

    "en": {
        "translation": {
            "key": "item",
            "key_plural": "items",
            "keyWithCount": "__count__ item",
            "keyWithCount_plural": "__count__ items"

With this resource you can show plurals like this:

i18n.t('key', {count: 0}); // output: 'items'
i18n.t('key', {count: 1}); // output: 'item'
i18n.t('key', {count: 5}); // output: 'items'
i18n.t('key', {count: 100}); // output: 'items'
i18n.t('keyWithCount', {count: 0}); // output: '0 items'
i18n.t('keyWithCount', {count: 1}); // output: '1 item'
i18n.t('keyWithCount', {count: 5}); // output: '5 items'
i18n.t('keyWithCount', {count: 100}); // output: '100 items'

For further reading on plurals, read the official documentation.

To mark the strings as translatable in the Handlebar templates, Zulip registers two Handlebar helpers. The syntax for simple strings is:

{{t 'English Text' }}

The syntax for block strings or strings containing variables is:

{{tr context}}
    Block of English text.

var context = {'variable': 'variable value'};
{{tr context}}
    Block of English text with a __variable__.

The rules for plurals are same as for JavaScript files. You just have to declare the appropriate keys in the resource file and then include the count in the context.

Testing Translations

First of all make sure that you have compiled the translation strings using python compilemessages.

Django figures out the effective language by going through the following steps:

  1. It looks for the language code in the url.
  2. It looks for the LANGUGE_SESSION_KEY key in the current user’s session.
  3. It looks for the cookie named ‘django_language’. You can set a different name through LANGUAGE_COOKIE_NAME setting.
  4. It looks for the Accept-Language HTTP header in the HTTP request. Normally your browser will take care of this.

The easiest way to test translations is through the i18n urls e.g. if you have German translations available you can access the German version of a page by going to /de/path_to_page.

To test translations using other methods you will need an HTTP client library like requests, cURL or urllib. Here is a sample code to test Accept-Language header using requests:

import requests
headers = {"Accept-Language": "de"}
response = requests.get("http://localhost:9991/login/", headers=headers)