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What is Loco Translate and what does it do?

Loco Translate is primarily a file editor that works in a WordPress admin screen. Despite appearances, it does very little else.

Misunderstanding what it does (and doesn't do) is the most common cause of confusion and difficulty.

Loco Translate is a PO file editor

WordPress loads static text from MO files which are compiled from PO source files. Loco Translate provides editing of PO files and compilation of MO files. Since WordPress 5 it also supports compilation of JSON translation files.

By "static" we mean text that's built into themes, plugins and the WordPress core - not dynamic content. If you don't know what PO files are, or how they're used then please read the WordPress documentation pages:

Loco Translate provides translation file overrides

This is the only function that actually affects how your site appears to visitors, and the only function that operates outside of WordPress admin pages. When WordPress is asked to load a translation file, Loco Translate will try to merge a custom version of that file on top of the installed one.

What it's NOT

Loco Translate does NOT translate dynamic content

Loco Translate only provides editing of static text stored in PO files. If you need to translate dynamic text stored in your database then it will not help you.

Any text that's been entered by you, or your site visitors is likely to be stored in the database and very unlikely to be stored in PO files. Only text that's hard-coded into themes, plugins or the WordPress core is likely to be translatable by PO files.

Loco Translate does NOT automatically translate your website

Installing Loco Translate doesn't automatically do anything. It's a tool for humans and deliberately avoids making any decisions without your explicit action. If you're looking at a file that's not 100% translated, it's waiting for you to translate it.

Integration with automatic translation services is supported from within the file editor, but this is a secondary function designed to help your workflow. If you need a plugin that magically translates your website then this is not the plugin you are looking for.

Loco Translate does NOT detect or change the displayed language

Many people ask support questions about their site's language setting, or a visitor's preferred language, or switching between languages. None of this has anything to do with Loco Translate. It operates according to your site's current language setting but does not affect it.