Skip to main content

Open Language Tools XLIFF Translation Editor


Why have an XLIFF Translation Editor ?
What is an XLIFF Translation Editor ?


This article, similar to its companion article about the XLIFF Filters, aims to provide a quick introduction to the Open Language Tools XLIFF Translation Editor. It won't go into too many details about how to use the editor, nor will it be a highly technical document to explain how the editor code is structured. Instead, it should answer most questions readers unfamiliar with the editor are likely to ask.

Why have an XLIFF Translation Editor ?

While it's true that XLIFF is a file format that aims to remove a lot of the burdens a translator faces, in particular, keeping track of many different file formats, and knowing which parts of each file format are translatable, the XLIFF file itself, at first glance is quite complex. To those well-versed in XML, it may not seem too complicated, but the format is far from user-friendly.

That's okay though, XLIFF was never intended to be edited directly in a text editor : it's unfeasible for a translator to edit an XLIFF file directly. Instead, the preferred method is to use an editing application that's customised for dealing with XLIFF. Apart from just managing the text to be translated, a typical XLIFF editor comes bundled with a lot of features that aim to make the task of translating XLIFF files a lot less cumbersome than editing the same contents in a a plain text editor.

What is an XLIFF Translation Editor ?

Simply put, an XLIFF Translation Editor is an application that is tailor-made for translating the contents of XLIFF files. It shows the translator each segment in the file, and marks the various logical states of each segment - whether the segment is translated or untranslated, whether or not the segment has had any possible fuzzy translations suggested from other applications that may have processed the XLIFF file in the past, and can display additional metadata about the file. It shows the source language sentences in a column beside the target language sentences, and allows the translator to fill in the correct translation. Crucially, the source and target segments are always shown in order, so the translator has the full context of the original text.

A screenshot of the XLIFF Translation Editor

It might be worth going into a little more detail on the feature list of the Open Language Tools XLIFF Translation Editor so that readers can get a better idea of its functionality :

Segment highlighting

Segments being viewed and edited are colour coded, showing which sections of the segment are normal text, and which are formatting elements (for example, HTML markup)


The editor has a concept of "Projects", that is, any editing session is a member of a particular project - this could be a set of related files that a translator is currently working on. The project is particularly important when it comes to managing the "Mini TM"

"Mini TM"

The "Mini TM" is a central part of the XLIFF Translation Editor. It is the basis for a number of features that are mentioned below, but in a nutshell, it is a simple file-based database that holds all source language and target language segments that have been translated in the current project. It's automatically updated with any changes that happen to segments that are being edited in the editor. There is an option on the menu to allow the translator to directly edit the contents of the Mini TM.

Repetition handling

Using the Mini TM, as soon as the translator navigates to a segment which matches a segment that has already been translated using the editor and exists in the Mini TM, that segment is automatically copied to the target area.

Fuzzy matches

Similar to Repetition handling, the Mini TM will also do fuzzy matching against the current segment being translated. Here, the editor displays a "close" translation for the current string being translated in an area at the bottom of the screen, highlighting the differences between the source of the suggested translation, and the actual sentence being translated. When available, the fuzzy match window will also show the context of the suggested translation (eg. what file it was in, or any other related information about the sentence)

Translation status

At a glance, a translator can tell the status of any segment that is displayed in the translation editor. Different icons are used to display user-translations, Mini TM translations, reviewed, unreviewed and problematic segments.


The editor has a mechanism to display notes that may have been embedded in the source document to the translator. Typically, these are comments from software message file formats, like po files(gettext) but also, they could be comments from other translators who have worked on that file in the past - perhaps explaining why a particular translation was used. These notes can be applied per-sentence or can be applied to the entire file

Convert to original

The editor allows the translator to convert the XLIFF file to its original file format at any time. This allows the translator to view the source file as it would be rendered on screen if required. The convert to original dialog also has an option to create a TMX file from the XLIFF file, to import it into a TM system, if required.

Format checking

The editor has a format checking function, which compares any formatting in the source sentence with formatting in the target sentence, if required.

Easy navigation

An intrinsic feature of the editor, but one often overlooked, is that the editor provides several ways to navigate around the translated document. Apart from using the mouse and buttons, there are also numerous shortcut keys which are configurable by the user. There is also a "fast access" list, which changes the way the "Next Segment" and "Previous Segment" actions work. The "fast access" menu allows user to jump to the Next/Previous :

  • Untranslated sentence
  • Translated sentence
  • Reviewed sentence
  • Unreviewed sentence
  • Fuzzy match
  • Exact match
  • User translation

Print file

The editor allows a translator to produce a HTML version of the file being translated that is suitable for printing and review outside the editor (which can sometimes be useful if they need to get away from the computer screen !)

Spell checking

The editor allows users to run a spell checker on the translated content.

Have I forgotten anything here ?


This article has presented a very quick tour of the Open Language Tools XLIFF Translation Editor, and shown some of its capabilities. For more details on the XLIFF file format, and some general introductions to translation tools, see the Resources section below. If you've any questions or comments on this article, we'd love to hear your feedback on the mail alias.


Please Confirm