Translators often find themselves working with multiple file types and their associated editing software. XLIFF is a file format that was created to help translators focus on the words rather than the code.
Quite often translators are required to work with many different file types, their associated editing software, and multiple translation tools. Such work requires extensive knowledge of the many different file formats and the best way to translate them. As you can imagine, this can grow to become quite a lot of work.
XLIFF, which stands for XML Localization Interchange File Format, is an XML-based file format and was created to help standardize localization in 2002.1 XLIFF allows translators to focus on translating the words rather than constantly editing the code around them.
At its most basic form, XLIFF files contain a header and body text. The header includes information such as reference materials, contact information, project phases, etc. The body text is the bulk of the XLIFF file and the main part that gets translated.
What makes the XLIFF file so useful is that all translations are stored in one file. For example, if a company needs to translate English source text into five different languages, all of those translations would be stored in one XLIFF file as opposed to the source file and five translated language files. In this manner, keeping translations organized and tracking if anything is missing becomes very easy. Likewise, XLIFF files can serve as a library of translations because everything is stored in one file.
XLIFF headers store information that can aid in the review process through the use of phases. These phases are elements that contain information about when the phase took place, what tool was used, who the contact person for the phase was, the name of the phase, and the name of the process carried out during the phase and an identifier for the entire process.2 With phases, it becomes very easy and convenient to track changes to XLIFF files during the review process.
Ultimately, the XLIFF format aims to separate localizable text from formatting. When a file is converted to XLIFF the structural formatting is stored in the skeleton file while the inline formatting is replaced with XLIFF tags.3 The complexity of the code is thus hidden from translators and allows them to focus on translating instead of coding.
However, many believe that XLIFF is currently not utilized to its full capabilities. Many translation tools don’t work with this file format and additional tools sometimes need to be written to put the translated text back into the XLIFF file.
Furthermore, a lot of software today is written in such a way that allows it to only handle one language at a time and not switch between several languages simultaneously, making the XLIFF file obsolete in these circumstances.
Generally speaking, XLIFF eliminates a lot of the complexities of localizing different types of source files by providing one file format in which all translations can be handled. While XLIFF may be underutilized, the added benefits of storing translations in one file and phases to aid in the reviewing process contribute to an efficient file format for localization.
2 http://developers.sun.com/dev/gadc/technical publications/articles/xliff.html