View Source Cldr Messages

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def deps do
    {:ex_cldr_messages, "~> 0.13.0"}

Documentation is at



Implements the ICU Message Format for Elixir.

In any application that addresses audiences from different cultures, the need arises to support the presentation of user interfaces, messages, alerts and other content in the appropriate language for a user.

For nearly 30 years the go-to solution for this requirement in many computer languages is gettext. There is a full-featured implementation for Elixir that is installed by default with Phoenix with over 10,000,000 downloads.

Given the maturity and widespread adoption of Gettext, why implement another format? Leveraging the content from the Unicode CLDR project we can address some of the shortcomings of Gettext. A good description of motivations and differences can be found in this presentation by Mark Davis from Google in 2012.

Two specific shortcomings that the ICU message format addresses:


Grammatical Gender

Many languages inflect in gender specific way. One example in French might be:

# You are the only participant for a male and female
Vous êtes le seul participant
Vous êtes la seule participante

# Married for a male and a female

In Gettext this requires individual messages and conditional code in the application in order to present the correct message to an audience. This is compounded by the fact that some languages have more than two grammatical genders (most have two and four but some are attested with up to 20).

The ICU message format provides a mechanism (the select format that helps translator and UX designers implement a single message to easily encapsulate messages conditional on grammatical gender (or any other selector).


Standardised plural rules

Although Gettext supports pluralization for messages through the Gettext.Plural module in Elixir and the Gettext functions like Gettext.ngettext/4, the plural rules for a language have to be implemented for each message. Given the wide differences in how plural forms are structured in different languages this can be a material challenge. For example:

  • English has two plural forms: singular and plural
  • French applies the singular rule to two values (0 and 1) and a plural form to larger groupings
  • Japanese does not differentiate
  • Russian has 4 categories
  • Arabic has 6 categories

Since CLDR has a strong set of pluralization rules defined for ~500 locales, each of which is supported by ex_cldr, the ICU message format can reuse these pluralization rules in a simple and consistent fashion using the plural format.


Getting Started

In common with other ex_cldr-based libraries, a Cldr.Message provider module needs to be configured as part of a CLDR backend module definitiom. For example:

# Note the configuration of the Cldr.Message provider module
# The provider Cldr.Number is required, all the others are optional
# but if configured provide easy formatting of dates, times, lists and units
defmodule MyApp.Cldr do
  use Cldr,
    locales: ["en", "fr", "ja", "he", "th", "ar"],
    default_locale: "en",
    providers: [Cldr.Number, Cldr.DateTime, Cldr.Unit, Cldr.List, Cldr.Calendar, Cldr.Message]


Message format overview

ICU message formats are Elixir strings with embedded formatting directives inserted between {}. Some examples:

# Insert the binding `name` into the string
"My name is {name}"

# Insert a date, formatting in a localized `short` format plus a localized plural form
# for the binding `num_photos`
"On {taken_date, date, short} {name} took {num_photos, plural,
  =0 {no photos.}
  =1 {one photo.}
  other {# photos.}}"

# Insert localized messages based upon the gender of the audience with
# appropriate localized plural forms
"{gender_of_host, select,
  female {
    {num_guests, plural, offset: 1
      =0 {{host} does not give a party.}
      =1 {{host} invites {guest} to her party.}
      =2 {{host} invites {guest} and one other person to her party.}
      other {{host} invites {guest} and # other people to her party.}}}
  male {
    {num_guests, plural, offset: 1
      =0 {{host} does not give a party.}
      =1 {{host} invites {guest} to his party.}
      =2 {{host} invites {guest} and one other person to his party.}
      other {{host} invites {guest} and # other people to his party.}}}
  other {
    {num_guests, plural, offset: 1
      =0 {{host} does not give a party.}
      =1 {{host} invites {guest} to their party.}
      =2 {{host} invites {guest} and one other person to their party.}
      other {{host} invites {guest} and # other people to their party.}}}

Further information on ICU message formats is here.


Message formatting API

Using the above messages as examples:

iex> Cldr.Message.format! "My name is {name}", name: "Kip"
"My name is Kip"

iex> Cldr.Message.format!  "On {taken_date, date, short} {name} took {num_photos, plural,
       =0 {no photos.}
       =1 {one photo.}
       other {# photos.}}", taken_date: Date.utc_today, name: "Kip", num_photos: 10
"On 8/26/19 Kip took 10 photos."

As of ex_cldr_messages version 0.3.0 a macro form is introduced which parses the message at compile time in order to optimize performance at run time. To use the macro, a backend module must be imported (or required) into a module that uses formatting. For example:

defmodule SomeModule do
  # Import a <backend>.Cldr.Message module
  import MyApp.Cldr.Message

  def my_function do
    format("this is a string with a param {param}", param: 3)


Gettext integration

As of Gettext 0.19, Gettext supports user-defined interpolation modules. This makes it easy to combine the power of ICU message formats with the broad gettext ecosystem and the inbuilt support for gettext in Phoenix. The documentation for Gettext should be followed with considerations in mind:

  1. A Gettext backend module should use the :interpolation option defined referring to the ex_cldr_messages backend you have defined.
  2. The message format is in the ICU message format (instead of the Gettext format).


Defining a Gettext Interpolation Module

Any ex_cldr backend module that has a Cldr.Message provider configured can be used as an interpolation module. Here is an example:

# CLDR backend module
defmodule MyApp.Cldr do
  use Cldr,
    locales: ["en", "fr", "ja", "he", "th", "ar"],
    default_locale: "en",
    providers: [Cldr.Number, Cldr.DateTime, Cldr.Unit, Cldr.List, Cldr.Calendar, Cldr.Message],
    gettext: MyApp.Gettext,
    message_formats: %{
      USD: [format: :long]

# Define an interpolation module for ICU messages
defmodule MyApp.Gettext.Interpolation do
  use Cldr.Gettext.Interpolation, cldr_backend: MyApp.Cldr


# Define a gettext module with ICU message interpolation
defmodule MyApp.Gettext do
  use Gettext, otp_app: :ex_cldr_messages, interpolation: MyApp.Gettext.Interpolation

Now you can proceed to use Gettext in the normal manner, most typically with the gettext/3 macro.