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Internationalize Your ASP.NET Applications (Part 1 of 3)

Not only does ASP.NET simplify Web application development, it also provides comprehensive support for internationalization.

The Internet was originally used primarily by English-speakers, but the percentage of non-English speakers is increasing as Internet penetration increases. With huge populations in Asian countries coming online and European countries needing to work more closely together, there's a growing need for Web sites that cater to visitors from different cultures. This is clearly a good thing, but it creates new challenges for Web site developers.

The .NET Framework includes a variety of features to help you create truly international Web sites, many of which apply to all types of application whether they're Windows Forms, console or ASP.NET applications. Although ASP.NET cannot help you translate content, it can help you manage content once it has been translated. In this article you'll see the features that are especially useful to ASP.NET developers in managing this.

This article series uses a sample Web site that provides access to a series of news articles. Unlike most Web sites however, a site visitor can select a language from a drop-down list to see the article in the selected language. The Web site uses the localization features of .NET to locate pre-translated content for the page in the correct language and then display it to the site visitor. .NET provides a variety of extremely useful features to help you, which save a significant amount of time, because there are so many aspects of localization that you need to examine before implementing a successful project.

Language and Culture Considerations
In looking at what needs to look and function differently for each of the cultures and languages in a localized Web site, a few core areas are paramount:

  • Database Content. Larger pieces of information like news stories, articles, product descriptions, and so on. This type of data is most often located in a database, although many Web sites will cache it within HTML files.
  • Graphics. Virtually every site has graphics and although many won't be affected by changes in language, some will. Certainly every image that contains text will need internationalizing, and also images containing symbols with differing meanings across cultures.
  • Text resources. This refers to those little bits of text that appear over a site that include things like the corporate switchboard number, fax number, single-line copyright statement and the front page welcome message. The majority of Web sites will keep this type of information in the page files itself, whether it's an aspx file or a flat HTML file.
  • Dates. Different cultures display their dates differently, and it isn't just the words in long date strings that differ between locales. For example the date "1st Dec 2001" is displayed in England as "1/12/01", but in the US, it is "12/1/01"—displaying information in a format that is optimized for the viewer is crucial if you want the reader to be comfortable with the site and have access to accurate information.
In addition to these four areas, there are several more that you should consider, but will not be discussed in this article. These include currencies, number format localization (e.g. commas or periods), string sorting and casing, and imperial (pounds and ounces) vs. metric (kilograms and grams) measurement systems.

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