Bilingual files in Smartcat: Supported, not thwarted

Once upon a time I had to learn five different CAT tools in three months. No, it wasn’t a CAT bucket challenge. I had simply joined a translation agency.

Bilingual file formats in Smartcat

Large LSPs often have a whole “zoo” of different translation tools for different file formats. After all, you never know in which format your next order is going to be.

As handy as it sounds, this makes you spend a great deal of time onboarding new translators. You also have to constantly shuffle translation resources — such as translation memories and terminology bases — between different tools. Finally, you only have so many user licenses. Buying, counting, and distributing them among all your translators is a drag. So, in the end, such “technological diversity” only hurts the workflow. The larger the agency, the more effort it spends to maintain such a huge infrastructure.


To make interchanging resources between different CAT tools a bit easier, the translation industry has come up with a few standards.

The late 1990s saw the advent of TMX — the translation memory exchange standard. This allowed translators to use translation memories in different tools and share them on physical media. What a life-saver! But by the early 2000s the industry was calling for a new standard. Thus came the XLIFF format, which allowed users to exchange both the content to be localized and additional metadata.

Standards let us use resources in different CAT tools, but they are no panacea.

First, there are outdated formats such as TTX or ITD formats, which you need to either convert to newer ones or open with some equally outdated software. In both cases, you risk losing data.

Second, most companies lack tools for tracking and managing all their resources in a centralized way. To cope with this, they use all kinds of workarounds, from embedding date and stage information in filenames to organizing files in a complicated folder structure. But the human factor takes its toll and leads to errors and wasted time.

Finally, different tools read XLIFF files differently. This can result in wrong segmentation, language codes, segment statuses, and so on. Sometimes translators end up wasting their time on manually fixing the files in a text processor.

XLIFF flavors

When standards do not suit individual CAT tool vendors, they come up with their own — often undocumented — modifications of the XLIFF format.

We at Smartcat have put a great deal of effort into figuring out the intricacies of each of them. We don’t want companies and freelancers to waste their time on studying new tools, contriving workarounds, and keeping an eye on license expiry dates.

So we do not invent our own formats, but allow our users to work with existing ones — adding more of them as we go along. We want you to open the browser and start working right away — whatever the file format — and then deliver your work to the customer in a few clicks.


This translation file format contains data about segment statuses, the segmentation method, and locked segments. When you import such a file, Smartcat keeps and makes use of all this information. You can also export any document to XLIFF using our API and use it in any other tool.


This is perhaps the most popular XLIFF-based format, originally designed for Trados Studio. You can import it to Smartcat just as easily. We support SDLXLIFF since its early versions and add new improvements every few weeks in each new release.

Trados Studio and WorldServer packages

Many customers send translation jobs in so-called Trados Studio packages. These contain bilingual SDLXLIFFs, translation memories, glossaries, and project guidelines.

Translators who don’t have SDL software installed extract the SDLXLIFFs and translation memories from them using all kinds of tricks. But it is much easier to just upload a Trados Studio package to Smartcat. It will keep all the necessary data and allow you to translate the document right in our CAT editor. You will even be able to download a return package after completing your translation and send it back to the customer or project manager.


This is the second most popular XLIFF modification, designed for the memoQ software. If you want to use an MQXLIFF file in a different tool, you can export it from memoQ with the “Plain XLIFF for other tools” option turned on and rename its extension to “.xlf”. But compatibility issues may cause the customer to lose segment statuses in the returned file. As a result, they won’t know at which stage each segment was confirmed. Again, you can avoid all these pains if you import MQXLIFF files to Smartcat.


Although this bilingual format should have long faded into obscurity, some users still use it today. Respecting their right to choose, we support TTX files in Smartcat as well.

More than just formats

In addition to working with different file formats, Smartcat also allows you to:

  • Work on the same document with other contributors — whether it’s just one colleague or a hundred. And the editor can start working on each segment right after the translator confirms it. All project contributors use the same resources, and get instant access to any new terms or TM matches.
  • Start working on one machine and continue on another: The data is saved in the cloud and can be accessed from any device.
  • Use various machine translation engines, including the adaptive one from Lilt, easily switching between them in project settings.

While others cram their products with artificial switching barriers, we create smart technologies available for everyone. Our vision goes beyond a mere set of tools. We are building a complete ecosystem with both built-in and external solutions that help people reach their goals in an effective and collaborative way.

In other words, we want translators and companies to stop thinking about file formats and other technicalities so that they can focus on translation. Do you have a file format we still can’t handle? Just let us know!

Pavel Doronin,
Product Manager