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Formats: Locale-Specific Messages

Each internationalized extension or app has at least one file named messages.json that provides locale-specific strings. This page describes the format of messages.json files. For information on how to internationalize and localize, see the Internationalization page.

Field summary

The following code shows the supported fields for messages.json. Only the "name" and "message" fields are required.

{
  "name": {
    "message": "Message text, with optional placeholders.",
    "description": "Translator-aimed description of the message.",
    "placeholders": {
      "placeholder_name": {
        "content": "A string to be placed within the message.",
        "example": "Translator-aimed example of the placeholder string."
      },
      ...
    }
  },
  ...
}

Example

Here's a messages.json file that defines three messages named "prompt_for_name", "hello", and "bye":

{
  "prompt_for_name": {
    "message": "What's your name?",
    "description": "Ask for the user's name"
  },
  "hello": {
    "message": "Hello, $USER$",
    "description": "Greet the user",
    "placeholders": {
      "user": {
        "content": "$1",
        "example": "Cira"
      }
    }
  },
  "bye": {
    "message": "Goodbye, $USER$. Come back to $OUR_SITE$ soon!",
    "description": "Say goodbye to the user",
    "placeholders": {
      "our_site": {
        "content": "Example.com",
      },
      "user": {
        "content": "$1",
        "example": "Cira"
      }
    }
  }
}

Field details

This section describes each field that can appear in a messages.json file. For details on how the messages file is used — for example, what happens when a locale doesn't define all the messages — see Internationalization.

name

Actually, there's no field called "name". This field's name is the name of the message — the same name that you see in __MSG_name__ or getMessage("name").

The name is a case-insensitive key that lets you retrieve the localized message text. The name can include the following characters:

  • A-Z
  • a-z
  • 0-9
  • _ (underscore)
  • @

Note: Don't define names that begin with "@@". Those names are reserved for predefined messages.

Here are three examples of names, taken from the Example section:

"prompt_for_name": {
  ...
},
"hello": {
  ...
},
"bye": {
  ...
}

For more examples of using names, see the Internationalization page.

message

The translated message, in the form of a string that can contain placeholders. Use $placeholder_name$ (case insensitive) to refer to a particular placeholder. For example, you can refer to a placeholder named "our_site" as $our_site$, $OUR_SITE$, or $oUR_sITe$.

Here are three examples of messages, taken from the Example section:

"message": "What's your name?"
...
"message": "Hello, $USER$"
...
"message": "Goodbye, $USER$. Come back to $OUR_SITE$ soon!"

To put a dollar sign ($) into the string, use $$. For example, use the following code to specify the message Amount (in $):

"message": "Amount (in $$)"

Although placeholders such as $USER$ are the preferred way of referring to substitution strings (strings specified using the substitutions parameter of i18n.getMessage) you can also refer to substitution strings directly within the message. For example, the following message refers to the first three substitution strings passed into getMessage():

"message": "Params: $1, $2, $3"

Despite that example, we recommend that you stick to using placeholders instead of $n strings within your messages. Think of placeholders as good variable names. A week after you write your code, you'll probably forget what $1 refers to, but you'll know what your placeholders refer to. For more information on placeholders and substitution strings, see the placeholders section.

description

Optional. A description of the message, intended to give context or details to help the translator make the best possible translation.

Here are three examples of descriptions, taken from the Example section:

"description": "Ask for the user's name"
...
"description": "Greet the user"
...
"description": "Say goodbye to the user"

placeholders

Optional. Defines one or more substrings to be used within the message. Here are two reasons you might want to use a placeholder:

  • To define the text for a part of your message that shouldn't be translated. Examples: HTML code, trademarked names, formatting specifiers.
  • To refer to a substitution string passed into getMessage(). Example: $1.

Each placeholder has a name, a "content" item, and an optional "example" item. A placeholder's name is case-insensitive and can contain the same characters as a message name.

The "content" item's value is a string that can refer to substitution strings, which are specified using the i18n.getMessage method's substitutions parameter. The value of a "content" item is typically something like "Example.com" or "$1". If you refer to a substitution string that doesn't exist, you get an empty string. The following table shows how $n strings correspond to strings specified by the substitutions parameter.

substitutions parameter Value of $1 Value of $2 Value of $3
userName value of userName "" ""
["Cira", "Kathy"] "Cira" "Kathy" ""

The "example" item (optional, but highly recommended) helps translators by showing how the content appears to the end user. For example, a placeholder for a dollar amount should have an example like "$23.45".

The following snippet, taken from the Example section, shows a "placeholders" item that contains two placeholders named "our_site" and "user". The "our_site" placeholder has no "example" item because its value is obvious from the "content" field.

"placeholders": {
  "our_site": {
    "content": "Example.com",
  },
  "user": {
    "content": "$1",
    "example": "Cira"
  }
}