What is an XLIFF file: A comprehensive guide for course creators

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In the realm of elearning and course creation, the term ‘XLIFF’ is frequently thrown around. But what exactly is an XLIFF file? This article aims to demystify this crucial file format, its uses, and how to handle it for your learning and development translation needs.

What is an XLIFF file?

XLIFF, or XML Localization Interchange File Format, is a standard file format that allows for the exchange of localization data. It’s widely used for the translation of digital content, making it an indispensable tool in the realm of e-learning and digital course development.

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Key applications of XLIFF files

XLIFF files have become a critical tool in the digital content creation landscape, especially in the e-learning sector. Their unique capability to facilitate the translation and localization of digital content has made them a popular choice for e-learning developers, software developers and web designers. Let’s delve into the three key applications of XLIFF files:

Course creation

XLIFF files have revolutionized the way course creators approach content translation, particularly those utilizing platforms like Articulate Rise 360 and Articulate Storyline 360. The ability to convert course content into an XLIFF file streamlines the translation process significantly.

The type of content that typically goes into translation in this case includes:

  • Text content of the course modules

  • Quizzes and assessments

  • Multimedia content descriptions

  • Course instructions and guidelines

The translated file can then be imported back into the e-learning platform, making the content accessible to a wider audience. This process ensures that the course materials are available to learners worldwide, thereby expanding the course’s reach and impact.

Software localization

Software developers also find great value in XLIFF files. They play a pivotal role in the localization process, ensuring software applications are user-friendly for people from various regions of the world.

The content that usually undergoes translation here includes:

  • User interface text

  • Error messages and notifications

  • Help and support content

  • User guides and manuals

This efficient process ensures that the software can cater to a diverse, international user base, thereby expanding its reach and influence.

Website translation

When it comes to translating website content, XLIFF files are an invaluable resource. A website often serves as the first interaction between a business and potential customers, making it essential to cater to an international audience.

The kind of content that typically goes into translation includes:

  • Webpage content

  • Blog posts and articles

  • Product descriptions and reviews

  • FAQs and customer support content

The translated file can then be integrated back into the website, making the content accessible to users from various regions.

XLIFF file examples

To understand how XLIFF files work, it’s helpful to look at some examples. Let’s consider a course creator using an e-learning platform like Articulate. They have a course module that needs to be translated from English to Spanish. The content of the module might include text, quizzes, and multimedia descriptions.

When the course creator exports their content as an XLIFF file, the file will break down the content into translatable units. Each of these units is encapsulated within specific XML tags.

For instance, let’s say there’s a quiz question in the course module: “What is the capital of Spain?” When this is exported to an XLIFF file, it might look something like this:

<trans-unit id="1">

<source>What is the capital of Spain?</source>

<target>¿Cuál es la capital de España?</target>


In this example, the ‘source’ tag contains the original English text, and the ‘target’ tag contains the translated Spanish text. The ‘id’ attribute is used to uniquely identify each translatable unit.

Similarly, if there’s a multimedia description that says, “A video explaining the architecture of Spanish buildings,” it would be represented in the XLIFF file like this:

<trans-unit id="2">

<source>A video explaining the architecture of Spanish buildings.</source>

<target>Un video que explica la arquitectura de los edificios españoles.</target>


These examples illustrate how XLIFF files work to facilitate the translation process. They break down the content into translatable units, preserve the original formatting and structure, and provide a standard format compatible with various translation tools. However, it’s important to note that you don’t need to understand all these technical details to use XLIFF files effectively.

The beauty of XLIFF files and translation management platforms is that they handle all the complex tasks for you. So, even if you’re not a tech expert, you can still make your course content accessible to a diverse audience with the help of XLIFF files.

Comparing XLIFF with other translation file formats

While XLIFF is a widely-used standard for localization data, it’s not the only format available. Depending on the specific needs of a project, software developers might choose to use other formats. Let’s compare XLIFF files with some of these alternatives to understand their unique features and use cases.

XLIFF vs PO (Portable Object) files

PO files are a popular choice in software localization, particularly in the open-source world. They contain both the original and the translated text, much like XLIFF files. However, PO files are closely tied to the gettext localization system, which might not be ideal for all projects. In contrast, XLIFF is a more universal format, compatible with a wider range of translation tools.

XLIFF vs TMX (Translation Memory eXchange) files

TMX files are designed to store translation memory data, making them a good choice for projects that require frequent updates and revisions. However, they lack some of the advanced features of XLIFF files, such as support for multimedia content descriptions. If your project involves complex digital content, XLIFF might be a better choice.

XLIFF vs TS (Qt Translation Source) files

TS files are used in the Qt framework for localizing software applications. While they offer seamless integration with Qt, their use outside of this framework is limited. On the other hand, XLIFF files are platform-agnostic and can be used with a variety of software and web development tools.

XLIFF vs RESX files

RESX files are used in .NET applications for localizing interface elements and other resources. While they work well within the .NET ecosystem, their compatibility with other platforms is limited. XLIFF files, with their wide compatibility and support for a range of content types, offer more flexibility.

XLIFF vs JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) files

JSON files are commonly used for storing and exchanging data in web development, including localized strings. They are easy to use and highly flexible, but they lack dedicated translation features. XLIFF files, being a dedicated localization format, offer more robust support for translation and localization tasks.

In conclusion, the choice of format for translation and localization largely depends on the specific requirements of your project. However, XLIFF’s versatility, broad compatibility, and advanced features make it a strong contender in many scenarios. Whether you’re crafting an e-learning course or developing software, XLIFF files provide a robust and efficient way to handle your localization needs.

Translating XLIFF files with a translation management platform

Translating an XLIFF file is a straightforward process with a translation management platform. For the purpose of this guide, we will use Smartcat as an example, due to its intuitive interface, sophisticated AI capabilities, and seamless integration with various e-learning platforms. However, the process is similar across most translation management platforms.

Step 1: Upload

The first step involves uploading your XLIFF file to the platform. In Smartcat, this is as simple as clicking on the ‘Upload’ button and selecting your file. The platform will then automatically analyze the file and prepare it for translation.

Step 2: AI Translation

Once your file is uploaded, Smartcat uses generative AI technology to translate the content. This technology ensures that the translation is not only accurate but also contextually relevant. You also have the option to manually review and edit the translations, or hire professional translators directly from the platform.

Step 3: Export and Import

After the translation is complete, you can easily export the translated XLIFF file. This file can then be imported back into your course creation platform, such as Articulate Rise 360 or Articulate Storyline 360. The translated content will appear exactly as it was in the original language, preserving all formatting and structure.

Amplifying e-learning with XLIFF files

In summary, XLIFF files are integral for course creators who aim to facilitate the translation and localization of e-learning content. The XML Localization Interchange File Format, XLIFF, dramatically simplifies the process of making course content accessible across diverse linguistic contexts. This extends to software localization and website translation too, demonstrating their broad applicability.

Translating XLIFF files becomes a straightforward task with a translation management platform. The process involves uploading the XLIFF file, automated translation using advanced AI technology, and finally exporting the translated file for integration back to the original platform.

Therefore, regardless of your technical knowledge, incorporating XLIFF in your e-learning course development can significantly extend your content’s reach. With a reliable translation management platform, this can be achieved in just three simple steps: upload, translate, and integrate.Ready to explore the power of XLIFF files? Give Smartcat a try and see how it can simplify your translation process.