Build multi-language support into your Linux application with catgets

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© Photo by Leonardo Toshiro Okubo on Unsplash

© Photo by Leonardo Toshiro Okubo on Unsplash

Article from Issue 266/2023
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To make programs useful to a worldwide audience, you need to build in support for multiple languages. Catgets is a tool that helps you reach beyond your mother tongue.

One way that programmers can help others use their software is to add multi-language support. I'm not talking about programming languages; I mean spoken languages. For example, you may have written your open source program to print information and error messages in English, but what if your user speaks only Spanish? Does your open source program also "speak" Spanish? What about German, French, Italian, and all the other languages spoken around the world?

To make programs truly useful, programmers should support internationalization. An easy way to do that is with the catgets library [1], the original Unix method for a program to retrieve messages and other strings in the user's preferred spoken language. The GNU library also includes a similar function called gettext, which uses a different lookup method. Whereas catgets uses three values to look up a message (the catalog, the message set, and the message number), gettext uses the message itself as the lookup value.

Catgets provides an interface to fetch strings from a special file called a catalog [2] that contains all the messages your program needs to print. The basic usage is to open the catalog, fetch messages from the catalog and print them, and then close the catalog.

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