Trados Packages in SmartCAT!

Trados Packages are a half-cure for SDL users and a headache for the rest. But now you can create SmartCAT projects from them, and this is huge. Read on to know why.

A SmartCAT girl sitting on top of Trados packages

Do you know what the #1 answer is when we ask users what keeps them from using SmartCAT on a larger scale? “We would love to, but our customers want orders delivered in [beep].”

Proprietary file formats are an ugly reality of today’s translation industry, but we are here to change the reality. That’s why our development team led by Sergey Isaev sat down and worked really hard to make these users a bit happier.

Today we are glad to announce that we support SDL Trados Packages. If you are wondering what this means, read along, and you will understand why this is huge news. And if you are one of the “lucky” ones who were already aware of the problem, scroll down to “How exactly does SmartCAT support Trados packages?” and learn why it won’t be a headache for you anymore.

What are Trados Packages?

Let’s say, you are a project manager of a translation agency. A recurring client sends you an order. The problem is: How do you pass all the docs and resources (TMs, termbases, etc.) to the translator?

If SmartCAT was your first CAT tool, you will have a hard time grasping the issue. Here, you just create a project including the client’s name. The platform enables all the client-specific resources for the project. When you assign a translator to the job, they automatically get all the data they need. Thus, they can start translating right away with zero time surplus.

But for someone using desktop CAT systems, that’s quite a challenge. Translation memories and termbases grow huge over time. Projects often consist of many docs that the client wants in many languages. Ideally, you also want to report project details such as deadline and word count in an automated fashion. Sending all these files separately (or in an simple archive) can be tedious. Besides, human errors are possible when picking and combining the files to send.

That’s where packages come “to the rescue.” Trados packages, for instance, include the following information:

  • Bilingual project files
  • Translation memories
  • Termbases
  • Word count, deadline, comments
  • Other Trados-specific project settings

You can create Trados packages from existing projects in a few simple steps:

"Simple" by Trados standards

“Simple” by Trados standards

This gives you a complete unit that you can send to the translator. If the translator has Trados installed, they can open it on their computer and start working. Once they complete their work, they have to prepare a “return package” to send back to you.

Why are Trados packages a problem?

Packages make life a bit simpler for project managers working in Trados. If you are one, you will want to switch to packages at some point. And then you will want all your translators to do the same. But not all translators use or want to use Trados at all. When you were sending out mere SDLXLIFFs, they had the option of importing them to another CAT tool of their choice. Now this option will be gone. You’ll have to either limit your pool of translators, or switch back to the old way.

The same holds if you are a freelancer or a company that does not want to use Trados. If you are not among those who is able or willing to spend a fortune on CAT licenses, you will have no choice but to abandon the job to someone who is. That’s rich get richer in action, but that’s another story, deserving a separate article.

Finally, packages themselves are just a half cure. They are essentially renamed ZIP archives that contain all project-related files. In a way, they just add another level of complexity without introducing anything radically better. It’s an open question whether anything radically better is possible with desktop tools at all, but that’s a different story, too.

Why can’t everyone support Trados packages?

Now, you can ask, why can’t all CAT tools support Trados packages? They can already import SDLXLIFFs, so it shouldn’t be hard to make a few tweaks? Besides, as we already said, Trados packages are mere ZIP archives?

That’s true, and here’s how such an archive looks like:

Trados packages are essentially ZIP archives

Trados packages are essentially ZIP archives

So, in theory, it shouldn’t be hard to parse these files one by one. But the practice is trickier.

First, some of the files inside, such as project description XMLs and TM tables, have no specifications. (Why they don’t is another question, and we’ll touch it briefly later on.) At SmartCAT, we spent almost a hundred hours to analyze and understand their structure.

Second, let’s assume that you managed to read all the files in a package, import them into your system, and finish the translation. All this will be in vain if you can’t convert them back to a “return package” that Trados expects as an output. After all, the customer is waiting a Trados package.

Finally, even if you did create a return package, you have no guarantee that Trados will read it! As a Russian saying goes, “another man’s soul is a dark place.” And the entrails of a software you don’t develop is even darker. So it takes really, really a lot of trial and error to test out the integration and make it work.

Put simply, Trados packages are a drag to support. And up until now only one CAT tool could do that. Now there’s two. And, in our case, we tried to do it in the most very natural and handy way.

How exactly does SmartCAT support Trados packages?

We don’t want to turn SmartCAT into yet another bloatware. That’s why we go to great lengths to make any new feature fit smoothly with the existing user experience. The same holds for Trados packages. As a user you might not even notice anything unusual when you upload one.

SmartCAT automatically breaks down the package into components and shows the list of files and translation memories as if does for any other project:

Files and TMs shown the usual way

Files and TMs shown the usual way

One difference is that you cannot change the set of files in the project (obviously). The wizard also allows you to customize the default settings for individual files. For instance, you can tell SmartCAT how it should segment the files:

Trados package segmentation rules

, handle for existing translations:

Configuring the way to treat existing translations in a Trados package

, and treat intersecting tags and placeholders:

Configuring the processing of intersecting tags and placeholders when importing a Trados package

On the second screen, you can see and edit the deadline and comments taken from the package. You can also see (but not edit) the language pairs:

Importing a Trados package: second screen

Of course, you can also configure all the other settings you are used to in SmartCAT.

In the end, you get a project that is hardly any different from a usual SmartCAT project:

Project created based on a Trados package: settings

Project settings

Project created based on a Trados package: documents


Project created based on a Trados package: documents


Project created based on a Trados package: translation memories

Translation memories

Now you can work with the documents just as you would in any other SmartCAT project. Once finished, you can download the project as a return package:

Downloading a Trados return package in SmartCAT

and open it in Trados:

Return package created in SmartCAT and opened in Trados

Voilà! The client will not even notice the difference. (Though of course it will be the best for everyone if you convince them not to use outdated tools at all.)

What next?

We are glad to know that now our existing users will not have to give up orders issued in formats they can’t afford. We’re also happy that people and companies who are now bound to a single software vendor will now have an alternative, and a good one, too.

Yes, the support of Trados packages in SmartCAT is not complete yet. For instance, you can’t use termbases from the package. But we’re working on it will change this soon. As always, our main focus will be to keep the user experience as smooth as possible.


We’d like to end this article with a lyrical digression. Remember the time when every cellphone came with its own charger type? We are at the same stage in the translation industry: CAT vendor has its own formats for bilingual files, translation memories, termbases and so on. Their intentions are explainable but not excusable. We’re all for active — even aggressive — competition, but chaining your customers to your product by using proprietary formats is so 2002.

We believe that adopting a single standard for translation-related files will be beneficial for users, and this should be everyone’s focus. In case of cellphones, it took a whole EU regulation to have everyone agree on the obvious. Will translation technology companies turn out more far-sighted? Only time will show.

For now, we at SmartCAT will keep adding new features that let more and more people use cutting-edge technology, even if the industry induces them otherwise.

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