Tips for Craft multilingual websites

I live and work in Belgium, a country with three official languages. Multilingual websites are quite a common sight around here. Here is what I learned along the way after building a few of those using Craft as a CMS.

As I already said elsewhere, Craft’s multilingual support is second to none and having localisation built into the core is just great. That being said, there are a few gotchas, tips and tricks I’d like to document for myself and share with you.

Setting Craft up

Pixel&Tonic did a great job of describing the basic steps involved in setting up a multilingual or localised website using Craft. If you haven’t read that guide yet, please do and come back afterwards.

A few config helpers

I personally like to add a few variables to my general.php config file when I am done with the basic multilingual setup.

Since I am usually sharing files between locales (css, images), I like to add a rootUrl variable that I can use in my template with {{ craft.config.rootUrl }}. I could also count on the baseUrl environmentVariable that I use for asset sources and write {{ craft.config.environmentVariables['baseUrl'] }} but that’s a lot longer to type.

I also like to have a currentLgg array with just the language codes in general.php. I use those for my lang attributes in my <html> tag for example.

The locales used by Craft and the language codes the W3C wants you to use are different. Among other things, the W3C wants you to use hyphens and not underscores. Adding a custom variable to your general.php file is an easy way to map your locales to those codes. Personally, I usually map my locales to two letter codes: “en_us” is mapped to “en”, “fr_be” is mapped to “fr”, etc.

You can then use those variables in your templates like this <html lang="{{ craft.config.currentLgg[craft.locale] }}">

Here is an example of a general.php config file with three locales:

return array(

  '*' => array(
    'omitScriptNameInUrls' => true,
    'cpTrigger' => 'admin'
  ),

  // dev
  '.dev' => array(
    'devMode' => true,
    'siteUrl' => array(
        'fr_be' => 'http://mywebsite.dev/',
        'en'    => 'http://mywebsite.dev/en/',
        'nl'    => 'http://mywebsite.dev/nl/'
    ),
    'rootUrl' => 'http://mywebsite.dev/',
    'currentLgg' => array(
        'fr_be' => 'fr',
        'en'    => 'en',
        'nl'    => 'nl'
    ),
    'environmentVariables' => array(
        'baseUrl'       => 'http://mywebsite.dev/',
        'basePath'      => '/path/to/public/'
    )
  ),

  // production
  '.com' => array(
    'siteUrl' => array(
        'fr_be' => 'http://mywebsite.com/',
        'en'    => 'http://mywebsite.com/en/',
        'nl'    => 'http://mywebsite.com/nl/'
    ),
    'currentLgg' => array(
        'fr_be' => 'fr',
        'en'    => 'en',
        'nl'    => 'nl'
    ),
    'rootUrl' => 'http://mywebsite.com/',
    'environmentVariables' => array(
        'baseUrl'       => 'http://mywebsite.com/',
        'basePath'      => '/path/to/public/'
    )
  )
);

Twig macros are awesome

There are a few things in multilingual websites where the awesomeness called Twig macros can help a great deal. Dates are a prime example. Craft and Yii already do a great job of localising days and month names, but you might also need a different format depending on your current locale.

For the english version, a date might be “April 1, 2015” where in french it would need to be “1 avril 2015”. The order is different and there is a coma in English that’s not there in the French version.

We can easily create a macro that outputs localised dates from a date object. We are simply going to use the currentLgg variable we created earlier.

{% macro localizeDate(date) %}
  {% if craft.config.currentLgg[craft.locale] == 'fr' %}
    {{ date|date('j F Y') }}
  {% else %}
    {{ date|date('F j, Y') }}
  {% endif %}
{% endmacro %}

After importing the macro in our template, we can use it like this:

<p class="text-meta"><time datetime="{{ item.postDate|date('Y-m-d') }}">{{ siteMacros.localizeDate(item.postDate) }}</time>

The same principles can be applied to a wide variety of use cases and simplify your life as a Craft developer working on a multilingual project.

A simple language switcher

Sometimes, the client just wants a link to the homepage if a user chooses another language. That being said, provided every page of your site is an entry of some kind, creating a dynamic language switcher is relatively straightforward.

A word on building Craft sites with entries. When building a multilingual website with Craft, it will make your life easier if all your pages are an entry of some kind. A blog detail page would be an entry in a Channel, whereas the blog list page would be a Single. In my opinion, that’s the best way to make the most use of Craft’s localisation features, make your content providers comfortable and have different URLs / slugs for each language.

Back to our language switcher. If an entry in another locale exists, we want to link to that entry. If we cannot find an entry in a given locale, we will simply redirect the user to the homepage in the chosen locale.

Here is an example of the code I use. I’ve added comments so that it is documented.

{# loop through all site locales #}
{% for locale in craft.i18n.getSiteLocales() %}
  {% if loop.first %}<ul class="lggnav">{% endif %}

  {# is the locale the current one ? #}
  {% set current = (craft.locale == locale.id) ? '  lggnav__item--current' : '' %}

  {# get entry in other locales #}
  {% set localisedEntry = craft.entries.id(entry.id).locale(locale.id).first() %}

  {# check if entry is found (takes care of disabled entries or entries in sections not set to use specific locales) #}
  {% if localisedEntry %}

    {# if entry is found display link #}
    {% set linkUrl = localisedEntry.getUrl() %}

  {% else %}

    {# if no entry is found, link to homepage #}
    {% set linkUrl = craft.config.siteUrl[locale.id] %}

  {% endif %}

  <li class="lggnav__item{{ current }}"><a href="{{ linkUrl }}">{{ craft.config.currentLgg[locale.id]|upper }}</a></li>

  {% if loop.last %}</ul>{% endif %}
{% endfor %}

This simple language switcher does not take categories into account. When on the blog list page with a category selected, the user would be redirected to that blog list page without any selected categories upon switching language.

That is an acceptable trade-off I’ll happily make to keep my template logic simple. I also feel it is a good way to take care of cases where categories might not be available in all languages, for example if no entry is attached to a category in a specific locale.

These are the simple tools I have used to build a few multilingual websites. I cannot say enough how much Craft and Twig have made my life easier on those projects.

Hit me up on Twitter or on Craft Slack if you have a few tips and tricks of your own. I’d love to hear about them.