Internationalization & Localization

One of the best ways for your applications to reach a larger audience is to cater for multiple languages. This can often prove to be a daunting task, but the internationalization and localization features in CakePHP make it much easier.

First, it’s important to understand some terminology. Internationalization refers to the ability of an application to be localized. The term localization refers to the adaptation of an application to meet specific language (or culture) requirements (i.e., a “locale”). Internationalization and localization are often abbreviated as i18n and l10n respectively; 18 and 10 are the number of characters between the first and last character.

Internationalizing Your Application

There are only a few steps to go from a single-language application to a multi-lingual application, the first of which is to make use of the __() function in your code. Below is an example of some code for a single-language application:


To internationalize your code, all you need to do is to wrap strings in __() like so:

<h2><?php echo __('Posts'); ?></h2>

If you do nothing further, these two code examples are functionally identical - they will both send the same content to the browser. The __() function will translate the passed string if a translation is available, or return it unmodified. It works similar to other Gettext implementations (as do the other translate functions, such as __d() , __n() etc)

With your code ready to be multilingual, the next step is to create your pot file, which is the template for all translatable strings in your application. To generate your pot file(s), all you need to do is run the i18n console task, which will look for where you’ve used a translate function in your code and generate your pot file(s) for you. You can and should re-run this console task any time you change the translations in your code.

The pot file(s) themselves are not used by CakePHP, they are the templates used to create or update your po files, which contain the translations. CakePHP will look for your po files in the following location:


The default domain is ‘default’, therefore your locale folder would look something like this:

/app/Locale/eng/LC_MESSAGES/default.po (English)
/app/Locale/fra/LC_MESSAGES/default.po (French)
/app/Locale/por/LC_MESSAGES/default.po (Portuguese)

To create or edit your po files it’s recommended that you do not use your favorite editor. To create a po file for the first time it is possible to copy the pot file to the correct location and change the extension however unless you’re familiar with their format, it’s quite easy to create an invalid po file or to save it as the wrong charset (if you’re editing manually, use UTF-8 to avoid problems). There are free tools such as PoEdit which make editing and updating your po files an easy task; especially for updating an existing po file with a newly updated pot file.

The three-character locale codes conform to the ISO 639-2 standard, although if you create regional locales (en_US, en_GB, etc.) cake will use them if appropriate.


In 2.3 and 2.4 some language codes have been corrected to meet the ISO standard. Please see the corresponding migration guides for details.

Remember that po files are useful for short messages, if you find you want to translate long paragraphs, or even whole pages - you should consider implementing a different solution. e.g.

// App Controller Code.
public function beforeFilter() {
    $locale = Configure::read('Config.language');
    if ($locale && file_exists(APP . 'View' . DS . $locale . DS . $this->viewPath . DS . $this->view . $this->ext)) {
        // e.g. use /app/View/fra/Pages/tos.ctp instead of /app/View/Pages/tos.ctp
        $this->viewPath = $locale . DS . $this->viewPath;


// View code
echo $this->element(Configure::read('Config.language') . '/tos');

For translation of strings of LC_TIME category CakePHP uses POSIX compliant LC_TIME files. The i18n functions of CakeTime utility class and helper TimeHelper use these LC_TIME files.

Just place LC_TIME file in its respective locale directory:

/app/Locale/fra/LC_TIME (French)
/app/Locale/por/LC_TIME (Portuguese)

You can find these files for few popular languages from the official Localized repo.

Internationalizing CakePHP Plugins

If you want to include translation files within your application you’ll need to follow a few conventions.

Instead of __() and __n() you will have to use __d() and __dn(). The D means domain. So if you have a plugin called ‘DebugKit’ you would have to do this:

__d('debug_kit', 'My example text');

Using the underscored syntax is important, if you don’t use it CakePHP won’t find your translation file.

Your translation file for this example should go into:


And for other languages than the default:

/app/Plugin/DebugKit/Locale/eng/LC_MESSAGES/debug_kit.po (English)
/app/Plugin/DebugKit/Locale/fra/LC_MESSAGES/debug_kit.po (French)
/app/Plugin/DebugKit/Locale/por/LC_MESSAGES/debug_kit.po (Portuguese)

The reason for that is that CakePHP will use the lower cased and underscored plugin name to compare it to the translation domain and is going to look into the plugin if there is a match for the given translation file.

Controlling the Translation Order

The Configure value I18n.preferApp can be used to control the order of translations. If set to true in bootstrap it will prefer the app translations over any plugins’ ones:

Configure::write('I18n.preferApp', true);

It defaults to false.

New in version 2.6.

Localization in CakePHP

To change or set the language for your application, all you need to do is the following:

Configure::write('Config.language', 'fra');

This tells CakePHP which locale to use (if you use a regional locale, such as fr_FR, it will use the ISO 639-2 locale as a fallback if it doesn’t exist), you can change the language at any time during a request. e.g. in your bootstrap if you’re setting the application default language, in your (app) controller beforeFilter if it’s specific to the request or user, or in fact anytime at all before you want a message in a different language. To set the language for the current user, you can store the setting in the Session object, like this:

$this->Session->write('Config.language', 'fra');

At the beginning of each request in your controller’s beforeFilter you should configure Configure as well:

class AppController extends Controller {
    public function beforeFilter() {
        if ($this->Session->check('Config.language')) {
            Configure::write('Config.language', $this->Session->read('Config.language'));

Doing this will ensure that both I18n and TranslateBehavior access the same language value.

It’s a good idea to serve up public content available in multiple languages from a unique URL - this makes it easy for users (and search engines) to find what they’re looking for in the language they are expecting. There are several ways to do this, it can be by using language specific subdomains (,, etc.), or using a prefix to the URL such as is done with this application. You may also wish to glean the information from the browser’s user-agent, among other things.

As mentioned in the previous section, displaying localized content is done using the __() convenience function, or one of the other translation functions all of which are globally available, but probably be best utilized in your views. The first parameter of the function is used as the msgid defined in the .po files.

CakePHP will automatically assume that all model validation error messages in your $validate array are intended to be localized. When running the i18n shell these strings will also be extracted.

There’s one other aspect of localizing your application which is not covered by the use of the translate functions, and that is date/money formats. Don’t forget that CakePHP is PHP :), therefore to set the formats for these things you need to use setlocale.

If you pass a locale that doesn’t exist on your computer to setlocale it will have no effect. You can find the list of available locales by running the command locale -a in a terminal.

Translating model validation errors

CakePHP will automatically extract the validation error when you are using the i18n console task. By default, the default domain is used. This can be overwritten by setting the $validationDomain property in your model:

class User extends AppModel {

    public $validationDomain = 'validation_errors';

Additional parameters defined in the validation rule are passed to the translation function. This allows you to create dynamic validation messages:

class User extends AppModel {

    public $validationDomain = 'validation';

    public $validate = array(
        'username' => array(
                'length' => array(
                'rule' => array('between', 2, 10),
                'message' => 'Username should be between %d and %d characters'

Which will do the following internal call:

__d('validation', 'Username should be between %d and %d characters', array(2, 10));