Tutorial – Create ASP.NET MVC localization with language detection

Introduction

In this tutorial I will show a simple way to create localization (globalization) for web application using APS.NET MVC framework. It should work fine with MVC 1 and 2 and I’m currently using .NET 3.5 SP1, but .NET 4.0 will work as well. All code is in C# and for language translations I use XML files.

Language files with XML

For translations of different languages I use simple xml files. I store them in App_Data/messages/<locale>.xml, for example en-US.xml or de-DE.xml. Here is the xml structure:

<items>
  <item key="home">Home</item>
  <item key="products">Products</item>
  <item key="services">Services</item>
</items>

You should have identical language files for all desired languages. All translation items should be the same (with equal “key” attributes).

Create Translator class

Main translation work will be done by Translator singleton class. Create “Infrastructure” folder in your MVC project and put class Translator there. First, let’s make class singleton:

private static Translator instance = null;
public static Translator Instance
{
    get
    {
        if (instance == null)
        {
            instance = new Translator();
        }
        return instance;
    }
}
private Translator() { }

Add the following fields and properties to the class:

private static string[] cultures = { "en-US", "bg-BG" };
private string locale = string.Empty;

public string Locale
{
    get
    {
        if (string.IsNullOrEmpty(locale))
        {
            throw new Exception("Locale not set");
        }
        else
        {
            return locale;
        }
    }
    set
    {
        if (Cultures.Contains(value))
        {
            locale = value;
            load();
        }
        else
        {
            throw new Exception("Invalid locale");
        }
    }
}


public static string[] Cultures
{
    get
    {
        return cultures;
    }
}

Field “cultures” lists available cultures. “Locale” keeps current culture. And in “set” part of Locale property you can see invocation of load() method. I will talk about it later.
To keep localization data I will create simple dictionary and then use keys from XML for dictionary keys and XML item values as dictionary values. Simple Translate method will do translation job. I have indexer method for easy access.

private Dictionary data = null;

public string Translate(string key)
{
    if (data != null && data.ContainsKey(key))
    {
        return data[key];
    }
    else
    {
        return ":" + key + ":";
    }
}

public string this[string key]
{
    get
    {
        return Translate(key);
    }
}

If some key cannot be found and translated, I return the key with “:” around it, so you can easy find untranslated items.
Finally, for loading XML I use LINQ to XML. I have static caching dictionary, so I don’t need reading XML on every request.

private static Dictionary<string, Dictionary<string, string>> cache = 
  new Dictionary<string, Dictionary<string, string>>();

private void load()
{
    if (cache.ContainsKey(locale) == false) // CACHE MISS !
    {
        var doc = XDocument.Load(
            HttpContext.Current.Server.MapPath(
               "~/App_Data/messages/" + locale + ".xml"));

        cache[locale] = (from item in doc.Descendants("item")
                         where item.Attribute("key") != null
                         select new
                         {
                             Key = item.Attribute("key").Value,
                             Data = item.Value,
                         }).ToDictionary(i => i.Key, i => i.Data);
    }

    data = cache[locale];
}

public static void ClearCache()
{
    cache = new Dictionary<string, Dictionary<string, string>>();
}

You can use translator in your controller like this:
Translator.Instance[key];
After load() methid I have ClearCache method for easy developing (you know, once read, data is cached and you have to restart IIS Application Pool to refresh localization data).
Translator class is ready, I will show you how to use it later.

Create localization helpers

Create static class LocalizationHelpers and put it in “Helpers” folder in your project.

public static string CurrentCulture(this HtmlHelper html)
{
    return Translator.Instance.Locale;
}

public static string T(this HtmlHelper html, string key)
{
    return html.Encode(Translator.Instance[key]);
}

public static string T(this HtmlHelper html, string key, 
    params object[] args)
{
    return html.Encode(string.Format(
        Translator.Instance[key], args));
}

I will use this in html views for translation like this <%= Html.T("products") %>

If you want params in translated values you can use second T implementation like string.Format. First helper CurrentCulture is used in language select user control to determine current culture.

Create BaseController class

Create BaseController class that extends Controller and put it in “Infrastructure” folder of your MVC project. You should extend all your controller classes from this class. Create simple property for current selected culture (locale)

public string CurrentCulture
{
    get
    {
        return Translator.Instance.Locale;
    }
}

You will use this in your controller when you initialize your model, for example.
In the following code I will explain language detection and saving with cookie.

private void initCulture(RequestContext requestContext)
{
    string cultureCode = getCulture(requestContext.HttpContext);

    requestContext.HttpContext.Response.Cookies.Add(
        new HttpCookie("Culture", cultureCode)
        {
            Expires = DateTime.Now.AddYears(1),
            HttpOnly = true,
        }
    );

    Translator.Instance.Locale = cultureCode;

    CultureInfo culture = new CultureInfo(cultureCode);
    System.Threading.Thread.CurrentThread.CurrentCulture = culture;
    System.Threading.Thread.CurrentThread.CurrentUICulture = culture;
}

private string getCulture(HttpContextBase context)
{
    string code = getCookieCulture(context);

    if (string.IsNullOrEmpty(code))
    {
        code = getCountryCulture(context);
    }

    return code;
}

private string getCookieCulture(HttpContextBase context)
{
    HttpCookie cookie = context.Request.Cookies["Culture"];

    if (cookie == null || string.IsNullOrEmpty(cookie.Value) || 
         !Translator.Cultures.Contains(cookie.Value))
    {
        return string.Empty;
    }

    return cookie.Value;
}

private string getCountryCulture(HttpContextBase context)
{
    // some GeoIp magic here
    return "en-US";
}

First I try to get language cookie if there is any (if this is not first time visit). If there is no cookie you can detect browser language, make GeoIP IP address lookup and so on. After finding some valid locale/culture I set response cookie for next page visits. After this I change current thread culture. This is useful if you want to format some date or currency values.
You should call initCulture in overridden Initialize method.

Changes in HomeController

Don’t forget to change parent class of all your controller to BaseController. Add following code to your HomeController, so you can change current culture. When you open specified URL, a cookie is set and user is redirected to index page. This URL is like example.com/home/culture/en-US. Clear cache method is for deleting current cache without restarting application pool. Access it with example.com/home/ClearLanguageCache

public ActionResult Culture(string id)
{
    HttpCookie cookie = Request.Cookies["Culture"];
    cookie.Value = id;
    cookie.Expires = DateTime.Now.AddYears(1);
    Response.SetCookie(cookie);

    return Redirect("/");
}

public ActionResult ClearLanguageCache(string id)
{
    Translator.ClearCache();

    return Redirect("/");
}

To change current language I will create special user control which will be included in may Master.Site layout. Create CultureUserControl.ascx and put it in Views/Shared/ folder of your MVC project. Here is the code:

<%@ Control Language="C#" Inherits="System.Web.Mvc.ViewUserControl" %>

<% if (Html.CurrentCulture() == "bg-BG") { %>
    <a id="lang" href="/home/culture/en-US">en</a>
<% } else { %>
    <a id="lang" href="/home/culture/bg-BG">bg</a>
<% } %>

In my layout I use <% Html.RenderPartial("CultureUserControl"); %> to include it.

Conclusion

In this simple tutorial I’ve created localization infrastructure for ASP.NET MVC web application. Translations of different languages are stored in XML files. Then I use Translator class to load them. Current user culture is kept in cookie. You can access Translator class in html views using some helpers. Also all the translation data i cached so it will not be loaded form XML every request.
Hope this tutorial helps.