What is Internationalization?
Internationalization is a design process that ensures a product (usually a software application) can be adapted to various languages and regions without requiring engineering changes to the source code. Think of internationalization as readiness for localization. Internationalization can save significant expense, time, and headaches for everyone involved. Sometimes written as "i18n", internationalization evolved from a growing demand for multilingual products and applications.
There are many benefits to i18n, including:
- Easier adaptation of software applications (or other content) to multiple locales
- Reduced time and cost for localization
- Single, internationalized source code for all versions of the product
- Simpler maintenance
- Improved quality and code architecture
- Reduced overall cost of ownership of the multiple versions of the product
- Adherence to international standards
Some practical examples of how internationalization is critical to multilingual products include:
- Independence from a specific language/character set encoding
- Independence from specific cultural conventions
- Removal of hard-coded text
- Minimization of concatenated text strings
- Careful use of in-line variables
- Compatibility with third-party tools
- Unicode compliance for global text display
- Accommodation of double-byte languages (for example, Japanese)
- Accommodation of right-to-left languages (for example, Arabic)
Internationalization is a critical business process for any company producing multilingual products. It is important to consider the various markets a product will target and make the necessary adaptations early in product design and development. Many users have experienced the frustration of non-internationalized products — forms not having the currency they expect, fields or text boxes being too large or too small for their contents ... and countless other frustrations big and small. For businesses and products to succeed internationally, i18n is critical.
When done right, i18n makes subsequent localization tasks much easier, faster, and less expensive. Internationalization responsibilities rest primarily on the shoulders of development teams and software engineers, but some full-service localization providers offer i18n consulting services as well.