Making the Django ORM Multilingual

By Jonas Obrist

What this is all about

  • Models
  • The ORM
  • Admin
  • Forms
  • not gettext!


  • Because you may not understand this title!
  • You might lose customers and users

What does he want

  • Multilingual content in the database

  • Editable in a usable admin inteface

  • Easy, Django-like API

  • Good performance

    • Most of the existing tools are slow
    • Bad performance

State of now


  • 1 table, 1 extra field

  • 1 extra table with key/value translations

  • 2 tables, one for translated fields one for translated fields (dual-table) - How I’ve done it

  • Translations serialized into a single field (Pickle/JSON) - No search without a ton of hacking!!!

  • gettext

  • Google Translate

    • This is not a serious service for a real project
    • Third party and relies on Google management

Single Table Approach


  • Somewhat easy
  • few queries
  • fallbacks
  • Hard to implement filtering


  • Multisite this falls apart. Doesn’t work
  • Migrations are painful because each language requires a schema migration
  • Size of query result can get big
  • Hard to make nice admin
  • Hard to handle required fields


.. sourcecode:: sql
select book.isbn, book.title_en, book.title_de from book;

Dictionary Table Approach


  • Easy to implement


  • No filtering
  • No sorting
  • Admin

No example cause the Query is too big

Two Table Approach


  • Can be made very fast
  • few queries
  • Works with south
  • makes sense
  • possible but hard to make nice admin


  • Hard to implement
  • joins
  • Usually done with bad performance I addressed this with caching and celery
  • Incompatible with lots of other packages (requires custom queries unless you are really careful)

Common problems

  • Admin doesn’t like new ideas

    • django.contrib.admin.validation is a blocker
    • Extensible but not customizable
    • Forms are a weak spot in Django, and Admin uses them in a really odd way
  • ORM just wasn’t written to be extended, was written to be used

    • Relations: Starting model controls everything
    • Not intended to be changed
    • Nice things: QuerySet.iterator
  • Performance issues on all of them

  • Usually written under time pressure (deadline)

  • Many packages are undocumented and lack tests

Summary: The Situation

  • Translatable models are hard
  • All available solutions have their problems
  • Maybe something needs to be done in Django

What could Django do?

  • Do nothing
  • Provide hooks/APIs to make this easier
  • Provide support for translated models

If Django does nothing

  • List of multilingual libraries grow
  • Many custom undocumented implementations

If Django adds new APIs

  • Probably too low-level
  • abstract solutions add overhead

Django adds multilingul support

  • Bikeshedding potential

    • What approach to take?
    • What API should look like?
  • Easiest way to implement

  • Could be done backwards compatible