By Lee Sykes
This is part of the How did they build it …? series of interviews.
This is an email interview with Laurence Neville about creating DotNetNuke websites with content in non-Western languages, specifically Hebrew and Kanji (Japanese).
- Q. Hi Laurence, thank you for taking the time to join us, How Are You?
- Q. Could you start by explaining who you are, what you do and your background with DotNetNuke?
- A. In my day job I am primarily a SQL Server developer, although I also do some ASP.NET development and website design, mostly around DotNetNuke.
- Q. You have recently developed a site for an Israeli audience (editor’s note: apologies, this site is not available to view). Could you explain how you set up DotNetNuke to use the Hebrew language?
- A. It was actually surprisingly easy. I had worked on sites before in other European languages, but never any in non-Western scripts, and I was worried that there would be a lot of extra techniques to learn or that DotNetNuke would not be able to handle a complex right-to-left Unicode script like Hebrew. However it turned out that no special configuration of DotNetNuke was required – nothing in the core needed altering, mostly it was just a case of designing a special skin for the site. At the time we were using DotNetNuke 2.1.2 and the techniques I used all remained valid through the upgrades to the 3.x versions.
- Q. How did you get the text to flow from right to left?
- A. First I took the skin from an equivalent site where the text flowed left-to-right. This skin used tables to control the layout and I added a dir="rtl" directive to the outermost table. For example:
<table dir="rtl" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" width="100%" height="100%" border="0" summary="Main table for design" id="Table1">
The only other thing that needed doing in the skin was to turn a few attributes from ‘left’ to ‘right’, e.g. a table cell with:
By the way, on some Israeli sites you will see the vertical scrollbar flips to the left side of the IE browser window (see http://he.wikipedia.org). I guess this is more natural for Israelis. This is achieved by adding the dir="rtl" directive to the <html> tag of the page. You can add this in the default.aspx file without making any changes to the core code, but you will have to re-edit the file after any DotNetNuke upgrades as the default.aspx file will have been replaced.
- The more elegant way to do this is to add it using CSS. In your skin’s CSS file, just add:
- Q. Do you have to use a special Text Editor for this or can you use the default text editor that comes with DotNetNuke?
- A. As I remember the version of the FreeTextBox editor that came with DNN 2.1.2 did not handle Hebrew correctly. I can’t remember exactly what the problem was, and it may have been a defect just of that early version. I switched to the CuteEditor and found no problems with it. The FCK Editor also seems to work correctly with RTL text.
- Q. When you enter Text into your Text Editor does this also flow from right to left?
- Q. Were there any other challenges regarding setting up the Hebrew language for this website?
- A. No major technical challenges. There were minor things – a few modules needed the Alignment property setting to right instead of left in order for the content to justify right (but strangely not all needed this).
- Q. Can you speak Hebrew?
- A. No, and nor can the site administrator! But the people who write the content do obviously and the site administrator is very proficient with copying and pasting! It can be very confusing however if you have to edit Hebrew and are not used to doing it – the arrow, Home and End keys on the keyboard do not do what you are used to, especially when there is English text mixed in with Hebrew! Inserting and highlighting text can become a big challenge!
- Q. Did you have to go through any special testing procedures for this website? Did you have to test it in multiple browsers?
- A. Nothing special that you wouldn’t do for any other site. Unicode scripts are well supported by modern browsers – there are thousands of Hebrew, Thai, Kanji etc sites out in the world and as far as I know those parts of the world rely on the same browsers that the west does: IE, Netscape, Opera, Firefox etc.
- Q. Where are you based? And how did you end up creating a website for a foreign language that you don’t speak?
- A. I live in London, UK. My client is an international company but initially only had an English site. They wanted to set up websites that were written specifically for the countries it operates in where English is not the primary language. At first, it looked like this would require creating the sites in the traditional (HTML, ASP etc) way. I was not directly responsible for websites, but I had been using DotNetNuke 1.0 for some other projects and was asked to determine if DotNetNuke could handle the requirements. Although 1.0 did not look like it could, 2.0 came out within a short period of time and when I saw the new skinning system I realized DotNetNuke was probably the ideal system to use. It would allow me to create the look & feel (i.e. the skin) once and reuse it all over the site, and more importantly it would allow a site administrator without HTML skills to manage the content.
- Q. You mentioned that you have created websites for other languages, which languages have you worked with?
- A. French, German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish and Kanji (Japanese). I am also proficient at translating between American and British English having lived in the US for many years :-)
- Q. Which modules have you used on the website?
- A. Just Text/HTML, Links, and two custom written modules
- Q. Could you explain how your custom module works?
- A. The ‘available courses’ module, pulls the next available courses for the country from a master schedule database, and presents it in the local language.
- Q. Did the Hebrew / Japanese languages raise any interesting issues in terms of development for the module?
- A. Very much so. I wanted to create one module that could present a list of available courses for any given country and language. The first, and the easiest step, was to pull the raw data from a separate SQL Server database. Then it needed to translate the data (city names and dates) into the local language. I created a lookup table in which to store words that were used in the output and their translations, plus an edit screen in the module to maintain it. However, translation is more than just swapping each word for its equivalent in the local language. The whole grammar of the phrase is different in Hebrew and Kanji.
For example, the English:
Tokyo, Japan, 21st, 22nd, and 23rd April 2006
becomes in Kanji:
?? (Japan) ?? (Tokyo) 2006 ? (character for year) 4 ? (character for month) 21? (character for day), 22?, 23?
- Q. And to finish off, is there any advice you can pass on to the readers if they are offered a job creating a website in a language that they do not speak and it is their first time working on one of these projects?
- A. Well in my case I was not really prepared for the task, and even with hindsight its difficult to think of specific advice. I used a technique that is tried and tested in the IT world called “throw your hat over the wall then figure out how to get it back”. The things that definitely worked in my project were:
- using a system that allowed clean separation of design and content (i.e. DotNetNuke)
- being able to concentrate just on the design with someone else responsible for entering the content
- having people around who understood both English and Hebrew, e.g. who could tell me if the text flowed correctly