Translatable models for translatable website in Django

This post is about using model translations (without translation files) and showing some ways to send that translations to the front end where they can be rendered.

This post is not about installing modeltranslations in Django, there’s a comprehensive guide on how to do that here.

Study case: Translatable texts that need to be editable in the django admin backend, without translation files.

Once we’ve got the modeltranslations module installed, we need to create the model we want to translate.

I’ve created the model String, but you can call it whatever you want.

from django.db import models

class String(models.Model):
key = models.CharField(max_length=80)
value = models.CharField(max_length=255, blank=True, null=True)

def __str__(self):
return self.key

Now we should register our model in the, and so we can specify what field(s) will be the translatable one.

class StringTranslationOptions(TranslationOptions):
fields = ('value',)

translator.register(String, StringTranslationOptions)

In a database level, this model table called your_app_string will contain the translations for every key in a column for each language: value_en, value_es, …

If you have i18n patterns in your url settings, Django will automatically know what locale to serve you through it’s own middleware system. For more info on this, there’s a comprehensive guide here.

Otherwise, you can set the locale manually through the request, up to you. More info on this here.

Once Django already knows what’s the current locale, we just need to get the strings from the database. The modeltranslations module will automatically give us the value translated to the current locale.

Translating the front end

We are able to transfer the strings to the frontend templates through many ways. For instance, we could load the strings on every view before rendering the template. However, this is bit of a code smell, as code is too coupled and it’s not very mantainable. We can do better like so:

1. Using a Context Processor

from your_app.models import String

def trans(request):
trans = {}
for string in String.objects.all():
trans[string.key] = string.value

return {'trans': trans}

Your’ll need to register the context processor in
'context_processors': [

What this will do is, after every render function in our views, it’ll include the array of all translations. That’s why you don’t need to load any extra file in the template.

Now in the front end, you can use it like so:

{{ trans.hello_world }}
{{ trans.hello_world_wrong_key }}

This is similar to loading the strings just before every render in the views, however we’ve removed the coupling by centralizing the code in one place.

The main problem though is that if there’s a key that’s not included, Django will just ignore that key, not giving us any feedback if a translation is missing. This is annoying if we’re developing, as we won’t catch missing translations for certain keys.

2. Using a filter (templatetag)

def trans(field):

translations = {}
for string in String.objects.all():
translations[string.key] = string.value

trans = translations[field.__str__()]
except KeyError:
trans = '[*' + field + '*]'

return trans

Now in the front end, you can use it like so. This time, different from context_processor, we won’t need to register it in the but we do need to load it in the template.

{% load trans %}
{{ 'hello_world' | trans }}
{{ 'hello_world_wrong_key' | trans }}

This one gives feedback if the key doesn’t exist, but as you can see, it loads all the strings every time it finds a key to be rendered. This is very inefficient!

3. Using a simple tag (templatetag)

Very similar to the filter, but there’s a suttle difference, this one can load the context.

@register.simple_tag(name='trans', takes_context=True)
def trans(context, field):
translations = context.request.session.get('translations')

if not translations:
translations = {}
for string in String.objects.all():
translations[string.key] = string.value
context.request.session['translations'] = translations

trans = translations[field.__str__()]
except KeyError:
trans = '[*' + field + '*]'

return trans

Loading the context allows us to save data in memory, so it doesn’t have to load the translations from the database every single time there’s a string to be translated.

In the front end we still need to load the tag.

{% load trans %}
{% trans 'hello_world' %}
{% trans 'hello_world_wrong_key' %}

This one is not only clean and efficient, it also gives feedback if a translation key doesn’t exist in the database. Furthermore, since we now have the context (it can’t be loaded with a filter), the translations will be loaded from the ddbb just once (when it tries to translate the first key). When there’s a second key to be translated, it’ll get the array of translations from the context and just give the value translated, or the key if it can’t find it.

So there you have it, three different ways to present the translations in the front end with a custom model translation.

Other useful resources:

Django translations
Django model translations

Originally published at Joey’s blog.