FuelPHP: i18n, internationalization of a web application

Working with large web application means paying attention to many factors like security, scalability, performance. There's another one that is usually not considered or is underestimated: internationalization.


Internationalization, usually shortened to I18N (meanings "I - eighteen letters - N"), is the process of designing, programming and implementing products and services so they can be easily adapted to various languages and regions without engineering changes.

This approach involves a great deal of attention in the development of 3 main area of a web application:

  1. Translation
  2. Number formatting
  3. Date and time formatting

This tutorial will cover only the first point, that is the most difficult, but before starting it is necessary to understand how it can be performed: how can I know which language do the user wants?

This tutorial will show you an elegant way, thanks to FuelPHP contributors, to manage different languages without lost yourself down the way.

An introduction to "locale"

When we have to work with internationalization there is a term you come across very often: locale.
With the term locale, we identify a group of people having a common set of requirements for the representation of data: it should be a country, a region or simply a community speaking a common language, so it isn't related to the user's home country.

A locale is usually identified by a string that is created from 2 different ID:

  • A language ID, that represents the language of the user
  • A region ID, that represents the region of the user, so the main language can be a little different

An example of it is the locale en_us: it is created from the language en (English) and the region us (United States). A powerful library should be able to modify itself regarding both language and region, in this tutorial we will learn how to work with languages, although it would be easy adding support for regions.

Now that you have a little background about locale and localization, its time to find a way to get the current locale of a user.
There are a lot of ways to achieve this and my favorite one was posted on the FuelPHP forum by the user C.K.Y.: it works perfectly with FuelPHP 1.4 (the current version), but I don't know if it is currently supported by the author.

The code is very simple and can be implemented in a few steps:

  • create the URI class extension
  • add the URI class extension to the autoloader
  • define locale in the config.php
  • add language value to the URL
  • how to use a language file
  • create a language file

URI Class extension

First of all, we have to extend the URI class, so let's do it:

class Uri extends Fuel\Core\Uri
    public function __construct($uri = NULL)

    public function detect_language()
        if ( ! count($this->segments))
            return false;

        $first = $this->segments[0];
        $locales = Config::get('locales');

        if(array_key_exists($first, $locales))
            $this->uri = implode('/', $this->segments);

            Config::set('language', $first);
            Config::set('locale', $locales[$first]);

This class is called together with the fuel core class, so every time a user types a URL the detect_language() method try to take the current language from the URL, overwriting the original method. If the current language is currently supported by the web application it is set as the default language for the current request, otherwise, we can use the default language set in the config.php.

Copy the code and save it as fuel/app/classes/extension/uri.php: I know, FuelPHP basic installation hasn't an extension folder: I suggest you create it and to put in every extension to the core, so your web application will be very tidy.

Now we have to add the class to the autoloader. It is very simple: modify your bootstrap.php file with these line of code, so your extension will be loaded every time and will catch every request to manage the localization.

    // Add classes you want to override here
    'Uri' => APPPATH.'classes/extension/uri.php',

Now your application will work with the current language in the URL without modifying your application controller.
An example of the url: http://www.domain.com/{lang}/controller/action/value/

Define locale in the config.php

Now it's time to define the locale for our application:

return array(
    'language' => 'en', // Default language
    'language_fallback' => 'en', // Fallback language when file isn't available for default language
    'locale' => 'en_US', // PHP set_locale() setting, null to not set
    'locales' => array(
        'en' => 'en_US',
        'it' => 'it_IT'

Here we can find the localization's configuration, so be careful with it. A little description:

  • language is the default language of the application
  • language_fallback is the language will be used in case the default one wasn't found
  • locale is the current locale, used for the set_locale() PHP function. It can be null
  • locales are the locale supported by the application, you can use every locale (language + region) you want and force them to use a particular language

In this example, I've used two locales, it_IT for my first language, Italian, and en_US for the English version of the application.
English is the primary language, of course.

Add language value to the URL

All works well, but there is another things to do: how can we insert the language in the URL?
The easiest way is to use a wrapper around the Uri::create() method, so I've created a method named generate().

So its time to reopen again the file fuel/app/classes/extension/uri.php and put in this method:

public static function generate($uri = null, $variables = array(), $get_variables = array(), $secure = null)
    $language = Config::get('language');

    if ( !empty($uri))
        $language .= '/';

    return \Uri::create($language.$uri, $variables, $get_variables, $secure);

Now we can create a url using the syntax Uri::generate('mylink').

Using the language file

We are at the end of the tutorial: now our application is able to understand the language selected by the user, so its time to create an application that can be multi-language.
This can be done using the Lang class of the Fuel core, using two simple methods:

  • load() can get all the entries of a language file and put it in a variable. An example is: Lang::load('example', 'test');
    This will load the fuel/app/lang/{lang}/example.php file in the test variable.
  • get() can get the translated value associated to the current key: Lang::get('test.something');
    It will take the something key from the test variable, the same we loaded with the load() method.

Now we are able to get the current language file, get the variable... What else?

Create a language file

We are at the end of the tutorial: the creation of a language file.
Let's create a file called fuel/app/lang/{lang}/example.php : {lang} is the language, example.php is the file, but the name should be whatever you want. I suggest creating a file for every section of the site.

Now its time to create it:

return array(
    'hello' => 'Hello',
    'something' => 'brave new :name!',
    'test' => array('key1' => 'variable1')

And these are examples to how use it:

// This will print "Hello"
echo Lang::get('test.hello');

// This will print "brave new world"
echo Lang::get('test.something', array('name' => 'world'));

// This will print "variable1"
echo Lang::get('test.test.key'));

If you need more detail about the Lang class, please refer to the documentation.

Happy translation,

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