User provided vs. code provided translatables and translation sets

In my previous post titled Drupal's multilingual problem - why t() is the wrong answer posted on my blog and on groups.drupal.org for feedback, I've detailed issues with using t() as a translation tool for "user provided data". This post goes into some further details, a discussion of current solutions which could form basis for discussion of future solutions.

How can we even tell the difference between code and user provided translatables?

It is fair to assume that many multilingual sites will not have English as their default language (many not even as any of their supported languages), so we cannot assume that blocks, menus, and so on are entered in English. However, source code based strings are considered part of the user interface, and as such assumed to be written in English. What does this has to do with default configurations set up by modules and How do we reconcile this with the growing popularity of exportables and features (as in Feature module generated versioned export packages)? Let's look at these two questions.

Drupal's multilingual problem - why t() is the wrong answer

Drupal is a great system to run foreign language websites on. The core itself is written in English and modules and themes are expected to follow suit. For developers, very simple wrapper functions are available to mark your translatable strings and let Drupal translate them to whatever language needed. These are the famous t(), the less famous format_plural() and a whole family of other functions. See my cheat sheet (PDF) and the drupal.org documentation for more on this.

Then there is "the other side", whatever does not come from code. Drupal works pretty well and very consistent if you want all of those to be in a foreign language (i.e. not English), but not in multiple languages (any of which can be English at that point). Drupal only has direct multilingual support in nodes (+ fields of entitites) and for path aliases. But life with Drupal means you work with all kinds of other objects like blocks, views, rules, content types, etc which are not "language-aware".

Unfortunately for building multilingual Drupal sites, this is the biggest problem that needs to be worked around. The contributed Internationalization module attempts to fill in the gaps, provide language associations and different workflows for translating these language-unaware objects. This works to some degree, but is really not easy without much help from the modules implementing these objects.

Extending Drupal World Domination with better multilingual support

In 2003 I selected Drupal to replace an aging PostNuke system on a Hungarian web developer community site (weblabor.hu) that I helped ignite a few years before. Of course I needed it fully translated to Hungarian. If you were using Drupal back then, you may remember that adding a new language to your site meant running ALTER TABLE queries on your locale tables to add new columns, editing your settings file and handling database dumps of your translations (which was the only way to share them too).

Drupal has come a long way since then.