Yii Extension I18nColumns - Transparent attribute translation for ActiveRecords, without requiring lookup tables for translated field contents.
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Yii Extension: I18nColumns

Transparent language/locale-dependent attributes and relations for ActiveRecords, without using lookup tables for translated field contents.

Ideal when translated attributes are supposed to be native in the active records' database tables, such as translated foreign keys, or multilingual look-up/search columns.


  • Eases the creation of multilingual ActiveRecords in a project
  • Automatically loads the application language by default
  • Translations are stored directly in the model using separate columns for each language
  • Console command automatically creates migrations for the necessary database changes
  • Leverages Gii code generation to provide CRUD for translation work
  • Not only translations - any attribute or relation that is dependent on language or locale can be managed with this extension
  • Use when native attributes are desired, such as foreign keys, or to be able to transparently look up and search amongst translated attributes.


Use only with a smaller number of attributes/languages or else database restrictions on row size and/or column counts will be exceeded. For the bulk of translated attributes, use https://github.com/neam/yii-i18n-attribute-messages or mike's translatable behavior.


  • Yii 1.1 or above
  • Use of Yii console
  • Use of Gii (preferably Gtc)
  • MySQL 5.1.10+, SQL Server 2012 or similarly recent database (For the console command. The behavior itself works with any Yii-supported database)


Download and install

Ensure that you have the following in your composer.json:

        "type": "vcs",
        "url": "https://github.com/neam/yii-i18n-columns"

Then install through composer:

php composer.phar update neam/yii-i18n-columns

If you don't use composer, clone or download this project into /path/to/your/app/vendor/neam/yii-i18n-columns

Add Alias to both main.php and console.php

'aliases' => array(
    'vendor'  => dirname(__FILE__) . '/../../vendor',
    'i18n-columns' => 'vendor.neam.yii-i18n-columns',

Import the behavior in main.php

'import' => array(

Reference the translate command in console.php

'commandMap' => array(
    'i18n-columns'    => array(
        'class' => 'i18n-columns.commands.I18nColumnsCommand',

Configure models to be multilingual

1. Add the behavior to the models that you want multilingual

public function behaviors()
    return array(
        'i18n-columns' => array(
             'class' => 'I18nColumnsBehavior',
             /* The multilingual attributes */
             'translationAttributes' => array(
            /* Specify multilingual belongsTo relations in the form 'RelatedModel' => array('relationName' => 'foreignKey') */
            'multilingualRelations' => array(
                'Image' => array('image' => 'image_id'),

2. Create migration from command line:

./yiic i18n-columns process

Prior to this, you should already have configured a default language ($config['language']) and available languages ($config['components']['langHandler']['languages']) for your app.

Run with --verbose to see more detailed output.

3. Apply the generated migration:

./yiic migrate

This will rename the fields that are defined in translationAttributes to fieldname_defaultlanguagecode and add columns for the remaining languages.

Sample migration file:

class m130708_165204_i18n extends CDbMigration
    public function up()
    $this->renameColumn('section', 'title', 'title_en');
    $this->renameColumn('section', 'slug', 'slug_en');
    $this->addColumn('section', 'title_sv', 'varchar(255) null');
    $this->addColumn('section', 'slug_sv', 'varchar(255) null');
    $this->addColumn('section', 'title_de', 'varchar(255) null');
    $this->addColumn('section', 'slug_de', 'varchar(255) null');

    public function down()
      $this->renameColumn('section', 'title_en', 'title');
      $this->renameColumn('section', 'slug_en', 'slug');
      $this->dropColumn('section', 'title_sv');
      $this->dropColumn('section', 'slug_sv');
      $this->dropColumn('section', 'title_de');
      $this->dropColumn('section', 'slug_de');

4. Re-generate models

Use Gii as per the official documentation. After this, you have multilingual Active Records at your disposal :)


Example usage with a Book model that has a multilingual title attribute.

All translations will be available through attribute suffix, ie $book->title_en for the english translation, $book->title_sv for the swedish translation. $book->title will be an alias for the currently selected language's translation.

Fetching translations

 $book = Book::model()->findByPk(1);
 Yii::app()->language = 'en';
 echo $book->title; // Outputs 'The Alchemist'
 Yii::app()->language = 'sv';
 echo $book->title; // Outputs 'Alkemisten'
 echo $book->title_en; // Outputs 'The Alchemist'

Saving a single translation

 Yii::app()->language = 'sv';
 $book->title = 'Djävulen bär Prada';
 $book->save(); // Saves 'Djävulen bär Prada' to Book.title_sv

Saving multiple translations

 $book->title_en = 'The Devil Wears Prada';
 $book->title_sv = 'Djävulen bär Prada';
 $book->save(); // Saves both translations

More examples

...can be found in tests/unit/I18nColumnsTest.php


0.3.1 (development release)

  • Command action to remove columns, related to an unused language, from the schema

0.3.0 (development release)

  • Virtual access to multilingual foreign keys (ie $model->relationName is mapped to $model->relationNameId{Lang})
  • Command action to remove columns, related to an unused language, from the schema
  • Some bug fixes

0.2.0 (latest stable)

  • Supporting multilingual foreign keys
  • Incremental addition of new i18n columns as more languages are added
  • Source code is formatted according to the PSR2 standard


  • Renamed to I18nColumns (to clarify the underlying concept)
  • More accurate model detection (not searching model source files for a hard-coded string...)
  • Cleaned up (does not contain a complete Yii application, only the necessary extension files)
  • Composer support
  • Improved instructions directly in README
  • Updated to work with Yii 1.1.13
  • Unit tests




Why use suffixed columns instead of one or many lookup tables?

1. Compatibility with Gii and other Yii extensions

Your multilingual models will keep working as ordinary models, albeit with more fields than before. You can generate new CRUD and instantly have a translation interface for all your languages.

This means that you will quickly be able to add multilingual content earlier in the development cycle.

Having a simple multilingual datamodel most likely means better compatibility with other extensions offering magic tooling, such as saving many-many relations, providing search/filtering features, form-generators, editable grid views, etc. It is our experience that these extensions need more custom fitting the higher the amount of joins necessary to show relevant information.

2. You are no longer dependent on magic tooling (such as ActiveRecord)

There is no need to create advanced join-helpers to access the translated attributes, they are simply attributes in the table to begin with. Thus, creating SQL to interact with translations is very straightforward:

SELECT id, title_en AS title FROM book WHERE title_en = 'The Alchemist';

This may not be a notable difference when you prototype your application, but becomes more important when you move away from ActiveRecord and write queries using QueryBuilder, pure SQL, or in a barebone PHP/C layer/app side by side with your Yii application (for performance reasons).

3. Decreased complexity = Flexibility

Say you have a query that without translated fields requires 7 joins, a group by clause and 1-2 subqueries. Then add the necessity to add one more join for each translated field and still achieve a high-performant query. It certainly is possible, but with the cost of added complexity.

In essence, the concept of having suffixed columns instead of translation table(s) is similar to the concept of code generation. You add extra complexity to generate the code/datamodel and receive the benefit of a code base that is easier to maintain and customize.

4. Why not?

See "Limitations" above.

Also, if the system should be developer independent once shipped, adding languages on-the-fly will need to be automated with a script similar to:

./yiic i18n-columns
./yiic migrate
./path/to/giic generate application.config.giic.crud

In general, it may not fit larger projects that are aimed at simple translated frontends, but will be more suitable when the main priority is to quickly build feature-complete backends for managing and translating multilingual content, possibly for which the data model changes often. Migrations and CRUD generation is a part of the daily workflow while developing such solutions, and simplicity and easy customization of the generated code often more important than developer independence.

Running tests

cd vendor/neam/yii-i18n-columns
php path/to/composer.phar install --dev
cd tests
../vendor/bin/phpunit --verbose --debug

This should result in an output similar to:

PHPUnit 3.7.22 by Sebastian Bergmann.

Configuration read from /path/to/app/vendor/neam/yii-i18n-columns/tests/phpunit.xml

Starting test 'I18nColumnsTest::ensureEmptyDb'.
Starting test 'I18nColumnsTest::getWithoutSuffix'.
Starting test 'I18nColumnsTest::setWithoutSuffix'.
Starting test 'I18nColumnsTest::saveSingleWithoutSuffix'.
Starting test 'I18nColumnsTest::fetchSingleWithoutSuffix'.
Starting test 'I18nColumnsTest::saveMultiple'.

Time: 0 seconds, Memory: 10.00Mb

OK (6 tests, 28 assertions)