Translations With Rails And Jekyll

I’ve been adding translations to open source Ruby on Rails and GitHub Pages (i.e. GitHub hosted Jekyll) sites I maintain. For Rails there’s a fantastic Rails internationalisation guide which walks you through everything you’d want to know. For GitHub Pages there’s no such similarly standard resource. Plugins such as Anthony-Gaudino/jekyll-multiple-languages-plugin are available but aren’t supported by GitHub Pages so require checking in outputted HTML. This has always felt disgusting to me and reminds me of my C++ days when people checked binaries into Subversion 😭.

What I wanted was a site translation system that would work consistently across Rails and GitHub Pages and allows at least partial translation through an external non-GitHub tool such as Transifex (recommended to me but I’m sure there are similar alternatives).

The first of the open source projects that I maintain that had translations was Homebrew’s homepage. The original approach people taken here was committing a new HTML file for each translation. It’s cool to see the community submitting new translations this way but it led to a lot of HTML duplication between files. @jaimeMF submitted a new approach in 2013 using YAML files to specify the different translations and YAML front-matter for the actual translations. This removed the HTML duplication and made it easy to receive new translations from users.

A problem remained though; this approach was custom to Homebrew and didn’t support any existing tooling.

Open Source Friday

Open Source Friday launched as a minimal Rails site without any support or expectation of translations. Thanks to the incredible work of @miurahr we now have translation support in the application and a translation of the entire site into Japanese (using the approach detailed in the Rails internationalisation guide). On recommendation we also set up the Open Source Friday Transifex page so people can translate the application without GitHub.

Transifex translates Rails applications by getting you to upload the en.yml as your base resource and the relevant language resource e.g. ja.yml for each of your languages. This got me thinking; if all it’s taking is a YAML file in a particular format: why not use this format in Jekyll too? (v2)

Homebrew’s homepage translations were working well but there was a fair bit of duplication. Any new language was hardcoded in _config.yml and wasn’t translated by Transifex as the translation data was YAML front-matter in HTML files. I decided to refactor this to have all locale files in _data/locales/*.yml (mirroring Rails’ config/locales/*.yml) as Jekyll data files. I also added a t helper variable to access translations (again, mirroring the t helper method in Rails).

This provided a separation between the translation data in _data/locales handled by Transifex, HTML files with minimal front-matter content (layout and lang) and HTML layout files that use the translations.

Open Source Guides

Open Source Guides’ original system for translations had a repository for each translation. With no merged translations and on the back of the Open Source Friday and Homebrew shared translation efforts I decided to change the translation approach to move all the translations into a single repository, again add a t helper variable and use the same location for YAML translations in _data/locales.

The main difference with the Open Source Guides is that there are long-form articles written in Markdown instead of HTML pages with sporadic YAML translations. This meant that it made more sense to provide Markdown files for each language instead of trying to use YAML for majority textual content.

My TL;DR on Rails and Jekyll translations:

assign t =[page.lang][page.lang]
  • Use translated Markdown files for text heavy content and translated YAML files for HTML heavy content.
  • Keep all your translations in the same repository to allow mass addition of new strings for translation. These can be in English until translated.
  • Setup Transifex to allow translators that are less technical to contribute to your project without needing to use GitHub.