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Qt Linguist Manual: Programmers

Support for multiple languages is extremely simple in Qt applications, and adds little overhead to the programmer's workload.

Qt minimizes the performance cost of using translations by translating the phrases for each window as they are created. In most applications the main window is created just once. Dialogs are often created once and then shown and hidden as required. Once the initial translation has taken place there is no further runtime overhead for the translated windows. Only those windows that are created, destroyed and subsequently created will have a translation performance cost.

Creating applications that can switch language at runtime is possible with Qt, but requires a certain amount of programmer intervention and will of course incur some runtime performance cost.

Making the Application Translation-Aware

Programmers should make their application look for and load the appropriate translation file and mark user-visible text and Ctrl keyboard accelerators as targets for translation.

Each piece of text that requires translating requires context to help the translator identify where in the program the text occurs. In the case of multiple identical texts that require different translations, the translator also requires some information to disambiguate the source texts. Marking text for translation will automatically cause the class name to be used as basic context information. In some cases the programmer may be required to add additional information to help the translator.

Creating Translation Files

Translation files consist of all the user-visible text and Ctrl key accelerators in an application and translations of that text. Translation files are created as follows:

  1. Run lupdate initially to generate the first set of TS translation source files with all the user-visible text but no translations.
  2. The TS files are given to the translator who adds translations using Qt Linguist. Qt Linguist takes care of any changed or deleted source text.
  3. Run lupdate to incorporate any new text added to the application. lupdate synchronizes the user-visible text from the application with the translations; it does not destroy any data.
  4. Steps 2 and 3 are repeated as often as necessary.
  5. When a release of the application is needed lrelease is run to read the TS files and produce the QM files used by the application at runtime.

For lupdate to work successfully, it must know which translation files to produce. The files are simply listed in the application's .pro Qt project file, for example:

 TRANSLATIONS = arrowpad_fr.ts \

If your sources contain genuine non-Latin1 strings, lupdate needs to be told about it in the .pro file by using, for example, the following line:


See the lupdate and lrelease sections.

Loading Translations

 int main(int argc, char *argv[])
     QApplication app(argc, argv);

This is how a simple main() function of a Qt application begins.

 int main(int argc, char *argv[])
     QApplication app(argc, argv);

     QTranslator translator;

For a translation-aware application a translator object is created, a translation is loaded and the translator object installed into the application.

 int main(int argc, char *argv[])
     QApplication app(argc, argv);

     QString locale = QLocale::system().name();

     QTranslator translator;
     translator.load(QString("arrowpad_") + locale);

For non-Latin1 strings in the sources you will also need for example:


In production applications a more flexible approach, for example, loading translations according to locale, might be more appropriate. If the TS files are all named according to a convention such as appname_locale, e.g. tt2_fr, tt2_de etc, then the code above will load the current locale's translation at runtime.

If there is no translation file for the current locale the application will fall back to using the original source text.

Note that if you need to programmatically add translations at runtime, you can reimplement QTranslator::translate().

Making the Application Translate User-Visible Strings

User-visible strings are marked as translation targets by wrapping them in a tr() call, for example:

 button = new QPushButton("&Quit", this);

would become

 button = new QPushButton(tr("&Quit"), this);

All QObject subclasses that use the Q_OBJECT macro implement the tr() function.

Although the tr() call is normally made directly since it is usually called as a member function of a QObject subclass, in other cases an explicit class name can be supplied, for example:




Distinguishing Between Identical Translatable Strings

The lupdate program automatically provides a context for every source text. This context is the class name of the class that contains the tr() call. This is sufficient in the vast majority of cases. Sometimes however, the translator will need further information to uniquely identify a source text; for example, a dialog that contained two separate frames, each of which contained an "Enabled" option would need each identified because in some languages the translation would differ between the two. This is easily achieved using the two argument form of the tr() call, e.g.

 rbc = new QRadioButton(tr("Enabled", "Color frame"), this);


 rbh = new QRadioButton(tr("Enabled", "Hue frame"), this);

Ctrl key accelerators are also translatable:

     exitAct = new QAction(tr("E&xit"), this);
     exitAct->setShortcut(tr("Ctrl+Q", "Quit"));

It is strongly recommended that the two argument form of tr() is used for Ctrl key accelerators. The second argument is the only clue the translator has as to the function performed by the accelerator.

Helping the Translator with Navigation Information

In large complex applications it may be difficult for the translator to see where a particular source text comes from. This problem can be solved by adding a comment using the keyword TRANSLATOR which describes the navigation steps to reach the text in question; e.g.

     TRANSLATOR FindDialog

     Choose Edit|Find from the menu bar or press Ctrl+F to pop up the
     Find dialog.


These comments are particularly useful for widget classes.

Handling Plural Forms

Qt includes a tr() overload that will make it very easy to write "plural-aware" internationalized applications. This overload has the following signature:

 QString tr(const char *text, const char *comment, int n);

Depending on the value of n, the tr() function will return a different translation, with the correct grammatical number for the target language. Also, any occurrence of %n is replaced with n's value. For example:

 tr("%n item(s) replaced", "", count);

If a French translation is loaded, this will expand to "0 item remplacé", "1 item remplacé", "2 items remplacés", etc., depending on n's value. And if no translation is loaded, the orignal string is used, with %n replaced with count's value (e.g., "6 item(s) replaced").

To handle plural forms in the native language, you need to load a translation file for this language, too. lupdate has the -pluralonly command line option, which allows the creation of TS files containing only entries with plural forms.

See the Qt Quarterly Article Plural Forms in Translations for further details on this issue.

Coping With C++ Namespaces

C++ namespaces and the using namespace statement can confuse lupdate. It will interpret MyClass::tr() as meaning just that, not as MyNamespace::MyClass::tr(), even if MyClass is defined in the MyNamespace namespace. Runtime translation of these strings will fail because of that.

You can work around this limitation by putting a TRANSLATOR comment at the beginning of the source files that use MyClass::tr():

     TRANSLATOR MyNamespace::MyClass

     Necessary for lupdate.


After the comment, all references to MyClass::tr() will be understood as meaning MyNamespace::MyClass::tr().

Translating Text That is Outside of a QObject Subclass

Using QCoreApplication::translate()

If the quoted text is not in a member function of a QObject subclass, use either the tr() function of an appropriate class, or the QCoreApplication::translate() function directly:

 void some_global_function(LoginWidget *logwid)
     QLabel *label = new QLabel(
             LoginWidget::tr("Password:"), logwid);

 void same_global_function(LoginWidget *logwid)
     QLabel *label = new QLabel(
             qApp->translate("LoginWidget", "Password:"),


If you need to have translatable text completely outside a function, there are two macros to help: QT_TR_NOOP() and QT_TRANSLATE_NOOP(). These macros merely mark the text for extraction by lupdate. The macros expand to just the text (without the context).

Example of QT_TR_NOOP():

 QString FriendlyConversation::greeting(int greet_type)
     static const char* greeting_strings[] = {
     return tr(greeting_strings[greet_type]);


 static const char* greeting_strings[] = {
     QT_TRANSLATE_NOOP("FriendlyConversation", "Hello"),
     QT_TRANSLATE_NOOP("FriendlyConversation", "Goodbye")

 QString FriendlyConversation::greeting(int greet_type)
     return tr(greeting_strings[greet_type]);

 QString global_greeting(int greet_type)
     return qApp->translate("FriendlyConversation",


Three tutorials are presented:

  1. Hello tr() demonstrates the creation of a QTranslator object. It also shows the simplest use of the tr() function to mark user-visible source text for translation.
  2. Arrow Pad explains how to make the application load the translation file applicable to the current locale. It also shows the use of the two-argument form of tr() which provides additional information to the translator.
  3. Troll Print explains how identical source texts can be distinguished even when they occur in the same context. This tutorial also discusses how the translation tools help minimize the translator's work when an application is upgraded.

These tutorials cover all that you need to know to prepare your Qt applications for translation.

At the beginning of a project add the translation source files to be used to the project file and add calls to lupdate and lrelease to the makefile.

During the project all the programmer must do is wrap any user-visible text in tr() calls. They should also use the two argument form for Ctrl key accelerators, or when asked by the translator for the cases where the same text translates into two different forms in the same context. The programmer should also include TRANSLATION comments to help the translator navigate the application.

[Previous: Qt Linguist Manual: Translators] [Contents] [Next: Qt Linguist Manual: TS File Format]


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