Last modified on Fri 14 Oct 2022

Localization describes the subsequent process of translating an internationalized theme/plugin. It's is often abbreviated as l10n (because there are 10 letters between the l and the n.)

This is a handy up-to-date how-to for generating WordPress theme/plugin translation files with WP CLI.

The following steps are covered

  1. Create a POT (Portable Object Template) file
  2. Create a PO (Portable Object) file where the msgstr sections are translated or
  3. Update pre-existing PO file(s)
  4. Create JSON file for JS internationalized strings
  5. Build the MO (Machine Object) file which is used by gettext functions to output translations to the user

Available commands

Useful notes

The Eightshift theme boilerplate folder structure for language files is used for examples: src/I18n/languages/.

WP CLI commands

Create a .pot file

Command: wp i18n make-pot <source> [<destination>]


wp i18n make-pot . src/I18n/languages/fr_FR.pot --exclude=public,assets

This will scan through the entire current directory and output a fr_FR.pot file in the src/I18n/languages folder.

Create a .po file

Copy the .pot file in the same directory and change its file extension to .po.


cp src/I18n/languages/fr_FR.pot src/I18n/languages/fr_FR.po

Translate the msgstr sections.

Update .po file(s)

If your WP CLI version is below ^2.7.0 you may need to manually update wp i18n command package (^2.4.0) for this to work: wp package install git@github.com:wp-cli/i18n-command.git.

If there is a pre-existing .po file you can update it with new entries while keeping the existing translations.

Command: wp i18n update-po <source> [<destination>]

Example - Single:

wp i18n update-po src/I18n/languages/fr_FR.pot src/I18n/languages/fr_FR.po

Example - Batch:

wp i18n update-po src/I18n/languages/*.pot src/I18n/languages/

Create the JSON file

If you need to make translations for JavaScript files it can also be done with the CLI.

⚠️ Keep in mind that you shouldn't use the [--skip-js] flag when creating POT files in the first step because .js files need to be scanned for translations.

This command creates multiple files, one file per source .js file. Presumably you want to localize only block editor scripts so we will use only the one file which is generated on build from the public/applicationBlocksEditor.js because it contains all necessary translations per locale.

It is safe to use [--purge] flag to strip .js related translations from the PO file as they serve no purpose for MO binary file.

Command: wp i18n make-json <source> [<destination>]

Example - Single:

wp i18n make-json src/I18n/languages/fr_FR.po

Example - Batch:

wp i18n make-json src/I18n/languages/

If you're using Eightshift Libs I18n class there is an action hook which registers the required .json file via the wp_set_script_translations function. It presumes the file will be located in the same folder as other localization files (src/I18n/languages) and named in the following format: {textdomain}-{locale}-block-editor-scripts.json. In our example that would be {textdomain}-fr_FR-{textdomain}-block-editor-scripts.json.

Find the .json which contains all the translations, rename it accordingly and remove other locale related files created by the make-json command. This file can be easily found as it contains source property with a path to the main JS file of interest which in our case is applicationBlocksEditor.js.

You can test the result by changing the locale in the backend.

Create .mo file(s)

Last thing to do is to create the binary .mo file which is used by WordPress to output translations for the theme / plugin.

Command: wp i18n make-mo <source> [<destination>]

Example - Single:

wp i18n make-mo src/I18n/languages/fr_FR.po

Example - Batch:

for file in `find "src/I18n/languages/" -name "*.po"` ; do msgfmt -o ${file/.po/.mo} $file ; done

Official docs:


wp i18n command - GitHub