Using the variations feature for multilingual sites

Applies to: SharePoint Online, SharePoint Server 2019, SharePoint Server 2016, SharePoint Server 2013 Enterprise.

A multi-language site is an independent website that’s reproduced and published in multiple languages. Much of the content on the site is consistent except for being localised to match the language and culture of customers in different regions. As you can imagine, producing and maintaining a website with numerous language variants can be tedious. The SharePoint Online variations feature assists with streamlining the task by automating page and site creation for every language and locale. It uses a source-target paradigm that allows you to author for one time only and publish extensively with little setup time.

Important: 

  • The variations feature is not available in SharePoint 2019.
  • Beginning September 2018 the Machine Translation Services were deprecated in SharePoint for Microsoft 365. The Machine Translation Services can still be used but coding against them in Visual Studio results in a warning. This change will not impact any previously created variation labels or the ability to schedule translation activities or workflows based on previously created variation labels. If you create new variation labels no translation will be available for the labels. The steps impacted by this change have been noted below.Instead of using on-demand, manual translation services, you can use Azure translation APIs. The Machine  Translation Server API will be marked as deprecated but will be available through the SharePoint CSOM for now. You can find out more about the API in this article on Machine Translation Services in SharePoint.

In this article

Terminology

How variation sites work

Determine how pages are rolled out to sites

Create labels for source and target sites

Create a variation site hierarchy

Author and publish

List variations

Terminology

Before setting up your multi-language website, it’s helpful to understand the SharePoint Online variations terminology. This table defines key terms you will encounter in the variations setup and management process.

TermDefinition
VariationsIndividual instances of a website that are localized and/or translated for a particular language and locale.
Variation homeThe base URL for all variations of your website. Generally found at the root of the site collection, the variation home can also be a subsite in a collection. It redirects site visitors to the appropriate variation site based on browser location settings.
Variation labelNote: Beginning September 2018 you won’t be able to use machine translation when you create variation labels in SharePoint Online.The language-locale pair for a variation site and the identifier for the top-level variation site and all sites, content, and so forth, under the top-level site. For example, the label en-us means the site is published in English and displayed to users whose location, according to their browser settings, is the United States. Conversely, en-uk means the site is published in English and displayed to users whose browser settings indicate United Kingdom. The label is included in the site URL and might look something like this: http://contoso.com/en-us.
Source variation siteThe site where content is authored and published. From this source, all variation sites will be copied. Once a site has been identified as the source, it cannot be changed, and no other sites within the site collection can be designated as the source.
Target variation siteSites that receive most of their content from the source variation site. New content can be created on a target variation site, but that content is not shared with other sites and is unique to the site on which it was created.
Variation hierarchyThe complete set of variation sites, including the source.
Variation pagesPublishing pages that are stored in the Pages library of the source and target variation sites.
Microsoft TranslatorThe service used by SharePoint for machine translation of website content. The Microsoft Translator is a webpage widget that allows you to translate pages on your website in real time. Users can see your pages in their own language without having to go to a separate translation website to share your page with others in multiple languages.
XLIFF FileA standard XML-based format that is supported by a wide range of localization tools.

How variation sites work

At its core, a variation site is a managed copy of a website. Authoring occurs in the source site, the site in your variation hierarchy from which all others are copied. Once you publish the source site, each publishing page from the Pages library are duplicated intuitively on the targets and queued for translation and publishing. Document libraries, announcement lists, and image libraries are also copied as part of the variations process.

Variation sites are built hierarchically with the root site at the top and all language variants underneath it. The source and targets are located one level below the root. Here’s an example:

Hierarchy chart showing a top level root site with three variations beneath it. The variations are English, French, and German

The variations feature is an element of the SharePoint Online publishing infrastructure, and it employs publishing site templates once creating sites. The real content publishing process, however, is based on which site template you select during the setup process of your preferences. Picking Publishing Site for the source variation symbolises that all pages on the source or under it in the site hierarchy should be published before they are copied on target variation sites. Selecting Publishing Site with Workflow signifies pages must advance through the approval workflow prior to being duplicated on target variation sites. A variations timer job undertakes the duty of replicating approved and published pages to target sites, and is initiated after the site hierarchy is created.

Because the variations feature is influenced by the publishing infrastructure and the publishing site templates, you’ll have to grant publishing permission on your site collection before producing variation labels or a site hierarchy.

Activate publishing on the site collection

Once publishing is enabled, you will follow a four-step process to set up variations, as follows:

  1. From the root of your site collection, pick Settings and then choose Site settings. If you don’t see Site settings, press Site information and then choose View all site settings. Some pages may forcibly request you to choose Site contents, and then Site settings.
  1. On the Site Settings page, under Site Collection Administration, select Site collection features.

  1. Scroll down to SharePoint Server Publishing Infrastructure, and then press Activate.

After publishing is permitted, you will follow a four-step process to set up variations, as follows:

  1. Configure how pages are rolled out to variation sites.
  1. Make labels for source and target sites.
  1. Design the variation hierarchy.
  1. Author and publish.

Determine how pages are rolled out to sites

You’ll want to spare some thought to how your organisation will handle automatic site creation, remembering that you have some freedom in confirming what content gets published and when. For example, let’s say your company has just launched a new product and features it prominently on the home page of your website. It should be featured on the websites of all your international subsidiaries as well, but since the product won’t be released internationally for several more months, you want site owners in each of the subsidiaries to hold back the content until the product is available locally. By adjusting the variations settings, you can control how new, updated, and deleted pages are handled on each variation site.

Determine how pages are rolled out to sites

You’ll want to consider how your organisation will manage intuitive site creation, with the knowledge that you have some versatility in choosing what content gets published and when. For example, let’s say your company has just launched a new product and features it prominently on the home page of your website. It should be featured on the websites of all your international subsidiaries as well, but since the product won’t be released internationally for several more months, you want site owners in each of the subsidiaries to hold back the content until the product is available locally. By modifying the variations settings, you can control how new, updated, and deleted pages are handled on each variation site.

Configure variation settings

Note: Only site collection administrators can perform this action.

  1. From the root of your site collection,press Settings and then select Site settings. If you don’t see Site settings, choose Site information and then press View all site settings. Some pages may prompt you to pick Site contents, and then Site settings.
  1. On the Site Settings page, under Site Collection Administration, select Variations Settings.
  1. In Site, List, and Page Creation Behaviour, select:
    Create Everywhere if new pages should be relayed to all targets.
    -or-
    Create Selectively if you want to select which targets should receive new pages.
  1. In Recreate Deleted Target Page, pick:
    Recreate a new target page when the source page is republished if you want the new page to overwrite one that has been deleted.
    -or-
    Do not recreate a new target page when the source page is republished if you don’t want the new page to replace one that has been deleted.
  1. In Update Target Page Web Parts, click:
    Update Web Part changes to target pages when variation source page update is propagated if you want web part edits on the source to be updated on the target. Any web part customisations on the target will be dismissed.
    -or-
    Do not update Web Part changes to target pages when variation source page update is propagated if you don’t want web part changes on the source to be updated on the target.
  1. In Notification, choose the checkbox to alert site owners when new pages or page updates are available.
  1. Press OK.

Create labels for source and target sites

Important: Beginning September 2018 you won’t be able to use machine translation when you create variation labels in SharePoint Online. You can still create variation labels but will need to use a different method for translation, we recommend using Bing translation APIs. The following steps will not be available in the SharePoint. The steps starting with Create a variation site hierarchy will continue to work with labels created before September 2018.

A variation label is the language-locale pair for a variation site, like en-us, de-de, or fr-fr. This label is included in the site URL.

The first label you must produce is the source label. The source is the location in which you author the content that will be relayed to target sites. For a multi-language site, you may want to use the primary language of your organisation as the source label.

Note: There can be only one source label, and after you’ve specified the source label, you cannot change it to another one without deleting the source label and breaking all existing source-target relationships.

Create the source variation site

The next step is to create the target labels, one for every language variant in the hierarchy. For example, if you intend to publish four language variations of your site (a source and three targets), you will create four labels—one for each language.

  1. From the root of your site collection, click Settings, and then click Site settings. If you don’t see Site settings, click Site information and then click View all site settings. Some pages might require you to select Site contents, and then Site settings.

  1. On the Site Settings page, below Site Collection Administration, choose Variation labels.
  1. On the Variations Label page, pick New Label.
  1. On the Create Variation Label page, in Site Template Language, choose the language to be used in the multilingual user interface (MUI) of the source site. The choice is determined by which language packs are available with your Office 365 subscription. Language packs are essential merely if you want to use MUI for the administrative pages of the site. Language packs are optional for variations.
  1. In Locale, pick the language and locale pair to be used for this site. The locale influences the language for all user-generated content; formatting for items like date, time, and currency; and the method for redirecting users from the root site, based upon their browser settings.
  1. In Location, write the location of the source and targets within your site hierarchy. If they will be at the top level of the site collection, simply enter a forward slash (/).
  1. In Label Name, the language-locale pair is typed for you depending on the locale selected earlier. You can amend this information.
  1. In Description, state a description to guide users with understanding the purpose of the label. For example, you might type “English.”
  1. In Display Name, the language and locale are placed for you based on the locale you chosen earlier. You can edit this information.
  1. In Publishing Site Template, choose the site template to use for each variation site. Click Publishing Site with Workflow if you want all pages to progress through an approval workflow before being copied to target variation sites. Choose Publishing Site if an approval workflow isn’t necessary. All pages on the source or below it in the site hierarchy are required to be published before they can be copied to target variation sites.
  1. In Label Contact, input the e-mail addresses of those people who should receive notification once the source variation site is formed.
  1. Press OK. The process of creating a source begins automatically.

Create target variation labels

It is not necessary to create all target variations at once. In fact, we recommend that you create content on the source before creating target labels. We also recommend that you create multiple target labels before creating the site hierarchy.

  1. From the root of your site collection, select Settings , and then pick Site settings. If you don’t see Site settings, press Site information and then choose View all site settings. Some pages might need you to click Site contents, and then Site settings.

  1. On the Site Settings page, under Site Collection Administration, select Variation labels.

  1. On the Variations Label page, select New Label.

  1. In Site Template Language, choose the language to be used in the MUI of the source site. The choice is influenced by language packs installed. Language packs are required only if you want to use MUI for the administrative pages of the site. Language packs are unnecessary for variations.

  1. In Locale, choose the language and locale pair to be used for this site. The locale configures the formatting for items such as date, time, and currency, as well as how users are redirected from the root site, based upon their browser settings.

  1. Press Continue.

  1. In Label Name, the language-locale pair is filled for you based on the locale chosen earlier. You can edit this information.

  1. In Description, state a description to help users understand the purpose of the label. For example, you might type “English.”

  1. In Display Name, the language and locale are populated for you based on the locale you picked before. You can edit this information.
  1. In Hierarchy Creation, pick the portion of the source that you want copied to this new target:

  1. Publishing Sites, Lists with Variations, and All Pages to form a hierarchy of publishing sites and all pages.

  1. Publishing Sites Only to design a hierarchy of publishing sites only.

  1. Root Site Only to produce a top-level site with no sites or pages.

  1. Select Continue.

  1. In Create Translation Package, choose whether to enable human translation of the content on this target. Switching on this option means that content will be packaged into an XLIFF file, which is downloaded onto your computer so it can be sent to translators for processing. An XLIFF file is a standard XML-based format that is supported by a wide range of localisation tools.

  1. In Machine Translation, click whether to allow machine translation on this target. Activating this option means that users can request translation through the Microsoft Translator service.

  1. Press Continue.

  1. In Page Update Behaviour, confirm how you want existing pages to be updated when changes come from the source:

  1. Users can manually sync updates from source variation pages to allow site owners or content authors compare the updated page with the current one and decide which changes to accept.

  1. Automatically update target variation pages to submit a draft version of the page to the target.

  1. In Label Contact, state the e-mail addresses of those people who should receive notification when the target variation site is created.

  1. Pick Continue.

  1. Review your label settings, and then choose Finish.

Create a variation site hierarchy

Making the variation site hierarchy fulfils two tasks:

  • Associates variation source and targets with one another and with the variation root site.
  • Designs the sites and pages for each language variation.

Producing the variation site hierarchy can be resource intensive, especially if you have ample variations within your hierarchy. Therefore, hierarchy creation is managed alongside a bulk timer job that functions approximately hourly. You can oversee the progress of your timer job by checking the variations log.

Create the hierarchy

  1. From the root of your site collection, pick Settings, and then select Site settings. If you don’t see Site settings, choose Site information and then press View all site settings. Some pages might need you to choose Site contents, and then Site settings.
  1. On the Site Settings page, under Site Collection Administration, press Variation labels.

  1. Press Create Hierarchies.

Check status in the variation log

  1. From the root of your site collection, select Settings, and then choose Site settings. If you don’t see Site settings, pick Site information and then select View all site settings. Some pages may force you to choose Site contents, and then Site settings.
  1. On the Site Settings page, under Site Collection Administration, select Variation logs.

Add a new variation site to an existing site hierarchy

After you create the variation site hierarchy, you can add a new target site at any time.

  1. From the root of your site collection, choose Settings, and then press Site settings. If you don’t see Site settings, tap Site information and then pick View all site settings. Some pages may prompt you to select Site contents, and then Site settings.
  1. On the Site Settings page, under Site Collection Administration, choose Variation labels.

  1. Press New Label, and then create the label as described in “Create target variation labels” above.

  1. Repeat steps 1 and 2 for each new target, and then select Create Hierarchies.

Author and publish

After the variation hierarchy is formed, new variations and translation options will display on the ribbon. The exact options available are based upon whether you’re working on a source or target site.

Source site ribbon options

On the Publish tab of the ribbon on the source site, you’ll notice a new group called Variations. From within, you’ll discover two buttons that handle how content updates will be distributed to target sites.

Two icons from the variations tab of the ribbon. The first icon is Create new target. The second is Update all targets.
ButtonDescription
Create new targetEstablishes a relationship between source and target. Targets receive a copy of the source page and any future updates to it.
Update all targetsCopies the current version of the source to all existing targets. The page remains as an unpublished draft until the variation site owner or author publishes it.

Update all targets

  1. From the source site, browse to the new or updated page. (The page must be published or approved by approval workflow before it can be copied to targets.)
  1. On the Publish tab, in the Variations group, select Update all targets. Note that content can be relayed only from source to target and not from target to target.

Specify which targets should receive updates

  1. From the source site, browse to the new or updated page. (The page must be published or approved via approval workflow before it can be copied to targets.)
  1. On the Publish tab, in the Variations group, click Create new target.
  1. On the Create Variation page, choose the checkbox beside each target that should receive the content. To send the content to all available targets, click the checkbox adjacent to Label. Note that content can be copied only from source to target and not from target to target.
  1. Press Continue.
Screen shot with checkboxes showing the variation sites that should receive content updates. Included are variation labels and their corresponding display names

Target site ribbon options

Target site owners obtain a notification once new content arrives from the source. The notification occupies at the top of the affected page and contains a link that redirects them to the source so they can review the extent of changes and control whether to accept or reject them. The amount of freedom for accepting and/or rejecting new and updated content is determined by how the variation settings were programmed by the site collection administrator.

The ribbon on each target site has a Variations tab similar to the one shown below:

Screen shot of the variations tab from the target site. Tab contains two groups, variation and translation

This tab makes it easier for you to both review content received from the source and prepare it for either human or machine translation. All of the buttons is explained in the following table.

ButtonExplanation
View ChangesCompares the source content just copied with the current translation on the target site. To determine the scope of changes, pick View Changes whenever you receive new content from the source. If changes are minimal, you might elect to ignore them or make them by hand.
Sync from SourceProvides two options:

Sync from Source copies the source content to the target site as an unpublished draft. After published, this draft overwrites the current target content.

Set as Current formulates the target content as equivalent to the source content without accepting updates. The appropriate choice when updating content by hand.
Create Translation PackageExports the current page as an XLIFF file on your computer, and informs the people you designate that the file is ready for translation. The XLIFF file has an .xlf extension. This feature was enabled or disabled during creation of the variation label.
Upload TranslationAllows you to upload the translated XLIFF file and review the changes. This feature was enabled or disabled during creation of the variation label.
Machine TranslateUses the Microsoft Translator for real-time translation, if activated. This feature was enabled or disabled during creation of the variation label.
Translation StatusA log of translation activity, containing both human and machine translation.

View changes from the source

  1. Browse to the page recently received from the source.
  1. In the notification at the top of the page or on the Variations tab, tap View Changes.
    A new window launches with a report emphasising the variances between the most recently synchronised source and the current source.

Accept changes from the source

  1. Browse to the page just received from the source.
  2. On the Variations tab, select Sync from Source.
    The existing page is overwritten with the one received from the source.
  3. Once you’re happy with the changes, publish the page.

Reject changes from the source

  1. Browse to the page just received from the source.
  2. On the Variations tab, select Set as Current. The existing page remains intact.

Package a page for translation

  1. Browse to your desired page for which content you want to translate.

  1. On the Variations tab, press Create Translation Package.

  1. Type the e-mail addresses of everyone who should be notified when the content is ready for translation. Each recipient will obtain an e-mail containing a link to the translation package.

Upload a translated package

  1. Browse to the page that has recently been translated.
  1. On the Variations tab, pick Upload Translation.

  1. Browse to the SharePoint library or other location on your computer or SharePoint site where the translated XLIFF file is stored.

  1. Optional: For tracking purposes, input the name of the company that did the translation.

  1. After you’re satisfied with the translation, publish the page.

Submit a page for machine translation

  1. Browse to the page with the content you want to translate.
  1. On the Variations tab, select Machine Translate.
    The page is refreshed with the translated content.

  1. Once you’re satisfied with the translation, publish the page.

Check translation status

  1. Browse to the page with the relevant content being translated.

  1. On the Variations tab, press Translation Status.

  1. Review the translation status log.

List variations

List variations are alike page variations, with one distinction: Only complete lists, and not standalone list items, can be copied to target sites.

Specify which targets should receive list updates

  1. From the source site, browse to the latest or updated list.
  1. On the Variations tab, choose Settings.
  1. On the Create Variation page, click the checkbox beside each target site that should receive the list. To send the list to all available targets, click the checkbox aside Label.

  1. Choose Continue.

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