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Translation Web Service in C#

, 18 Apr 2004
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C# Web Service to translate text using Babelfish.


Most people are now aware that most of the world is not English, even though it's very easy to miss this fact when surfing the web, simply because Google gives English results to people searching English, and so you conveniently miss all the pages in German/French/Italian etc.

The popularity of Altavista's famous Babelfish service is therefore hardly surprising - converting text or web pages into other languages is a useful thing to do.

For a while, anyone looking to integrate translation into their app would simply have had to plug in the Babelfish WSDL. Posters to newsgroups were directed to the free service from xmethods, a good source for a variety of web services (SMS, etc.). In fact, the Babelfish WSDL is the 9th hit on Google for WSDL.

So I plugged it into my apps, intranet, extranet and anything else that vaguely looked like it would benefit from a translation service. And life was good.

But one day the service stopped working, apparently for good. So I had to write a replacement. And here it is.


This is a pretty simple job, and can be broken down into the following subtasks:

  1. Get text for translation and encode it into a HTTP POST request
  2. Send the data to the web server, acting in effect as a .NET web browser
  3. Read the response back into a big string
  4. Remove all the HTML and formatting and send the raw translated string back to the client.

So fire up Visual Studio .NET, and create an ASP.NET Web Service, and name it Translation, and add a Translate.asmx file. There are two inputs: the translation mode (e.g., French to English), and the data to be translated (e.g., 'the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog'). To make it a plug-in replacement for the old service, I gave my method the same name and parameters as the old one:

public string BabelFish(string translationmode, string sourcedata) 

The translation modes can be found in the source of the page at Babelfish:

readonly string[] VALIDTRANSLATIONMODES = new string[] 
 {"en_zh", "en_fr", "en_de", "en_it", "en_ja", "en_ko", "en_pt", "en_es", 
 "zh_en", "fr_en", "fr_de", "de_en", "de_fr", "it_en", "ja_en", "ko_en", 
 "pt_en", "ru_en", "es_en"};

The code performs validation to check for a valid mode before passing it on to Babelfish. After that, we create a POST request. The syntax for a HTTP POST request looks something like this:

POST /babelfish/tr/ HTTP/1.0
Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded
Content-Length: 51


It's pretty simple, and if you want, you could use low-level sockets to write the data to the server. Microsoft provides some better ways to do this however, and so we use the HttpWebRequest class, which has lots of built-in features to make it easy to work with HTTP connections.

Uri uri = new Uri(BABELFISHURL);
HttpWebRequest request = (HttpWebRequest) WebRequest.Create(uri);
request.Referer = BABELFISHREFERER;
// Encode all the sourcedata 
string postsourcedata;
postsourcedata = "lp=" + translationmode + 
    "&tt=urltext&intl=1&doit=done&urltext=" + 
request.Method = "POST";
request.ContentType = "application/x-www-form-urlencoded";
request.ContentLength = postsourcedata.Length;
request.UserAgent = "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1)";
Stream writeStream = request.GetRequestStream();
UTF8Encoding encoding = new UTF8Encoding();
byte[] bytes = encoding.GetBytes(postsourcedata);
writeStream.Write(bytes, 0, bytes.Length);
HttpWebResponse response = (HttpWebResponse) request.GetResponse();
Stream responseStream = response.GetResponseStream();
StreamReader readStream = new StreamReader (responseStream, Encoding.UTF8);
string page = readStream.ReadToEnd();

We end up with a string containing the entire Babelfish page. As it stands, this is about 99% noise (HTML tags, Altavista information, etc.), and 1% the translation we were looking for. So we need a regular expression to find the translated text. By looking at the HTML page, you will find the translation is contained between:

<Div style=padding:10px; lang=fr>translation here</div>

So the required regular expression looks like this (note: while testing my regular expressions, I got lots of help from Regulator):

<Div style=padding:10px; lang=..>((?:.|\n)*?)</div>

This will match the whole <div>...</div> string. This is a fairly complex regular expression, but basically, the . character matches everything, except for newlines, hence the (.|\n) pattern, which means any character (except newlines) or new lines.

The brackets create a matching group, meaning that the text within the brackets (namely the translation) will be put in its own group at index 1 (index 0 contains the whole match).

The ?: pattern suppresses grouping: () normally creates a matching group: in this case, we are only using the pattern to allow for line breaks in long translations.

Finally *? is a lazy regular expression, matching every character up to the first instance of <div>. (If I had used plain *, the expression would be greedy, and would chomp right up to the LAST </div>.)

Here's the code:

Regex reg = new Regex(@"<Div style=padding:10px; lang=..>(.*?)</div>");
MatchCollection matches = reg.Matches(page);
if (matches.Count != 1 || matches[0].Groups.Count != 2) 
    return ERRORSTRINGSTART + "The HTML returned from Babelfish " + 
        "appears to have changed. Please check for" + 
        " an updated regular expression" + 
return matches[0].Groups[1].Value;

And subject to error checking, that's it!

Using it

Download the code, and unzip it somewhere. Add a virtual directory called Translation in IIS. Go to /translate.asmx and click Test, and enter some test data (say 'en_fr', and 'cheese'). If it works, you are ready to use it in your web and Windows Forms applications.

To use it in your app, add a Web Reference to the asmx, to the program you want to use it in; Visual Studio will create a proxy reference for you, which you can then use to perform translation.

Here's some sample code-behind:

namespace test
    using System;
    using System.Data;
    using System.Drawing;
    using System.Web;
    using System.Web.UI.WebControls;
    using localhost1; // assuming that's the reference generated
    using System.Web.UI.HtmlControls;

    /// <span class="code-SummaryComment"><summary>
    ///     Summary description for WebUserControl1.
    /// <span class="code-SummaryComment"></summary>
    public class WebUserControl1 : System.Web.UI.UserControl
        protected System.Web.UI.WebControls.DropDownList ddTranslationMode;
        protected System.Web.UI.WebControls.TextBox txtText;
        protected System.Web.UI.WebControls.Label lblTranslation;
        protected System.Web.UI.WebControls.Button submitButton;

        private void Page_Load(object sender, System.EventArgs e)
            // Put user code to initialize the page here

        protected void submitButton_Click(object sender, System.EventArgs e) 
            string translationMode = 
            string translationText = this.txtText.Text.Trim();
            string translation = "";
                Translate tr = new Translate();
                translation = tr.BabelFish(translationMode,translationText);
            catch (Exception exp) 
                translation = "There was an error accessing the server: " 
                                                             + exp.Message;
            this.lblTranslation.Text = translation;


This article has no explicit license attached to it but may contain usage terms in the article text or the download files themselves. If in doubt please contact the author via the discussion board below.

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About the Author

Matthew Brealey

United Kingdom United Kingdom
No Biography provided

Comments and Discussions

GeneralMy vote of 3 PinprofessionalMember 103270979-Oct-13 23:25 
QuestionA couple of quick questions... Pinmemberrobertd90321-Jun-12 2:59 
GeneralThis version definetely works! Pinmembervikasharidas22-Mar-10 8:15 
GeneralProblem with the RegEx [modified] Pinmemberanmator26-Apr-10 5:42 
GeneralRe: Problem with the RegEx [modified] Pinmembercrazyhydro17-Jun-10 7:25 
GeneralRe: Problem with the RegEx Pinmemberzargetzarget17-Sep-10 7:54 
GeneralThe HTML returned from Babelfish appears to have changed. Please check for an updated regular expression Pinmembermario emilio zab14-Jan-09 3:16 
GeneralRe: The HTML returned from Babelfish appears to have changed. Please check for an updated regular expression Pinmemberdinahafez22-Mar-09 3:30 
GeneralRe: The HTML returned from Babelfish appears to have changed. Please check for an updated regular expression Pinmembershilesh29-Jun-09 21:25 
GeneralRe: The HTML returned from Babelfish appears to have changed. Please check for an updated regular expression Pinmembershilesh30-Jun-09 2:41 
GeneralRe: The HTML returned from Babelfish appears to have changed. Please check for an updated regular expression Pinmemberkavitharani23-Sep-09 20:59 
GeneralWOWOWOW Pinmembergreenknt23-Nov-08 0:31 
GeneralC# version for BabelFish & Google PinmemberZachary Yates23-Jul-08 9:46 
GeneralRe: C# version for BabelFish & Google PinmemberChe Mass28-Aug-09 1:16 
Generalwebservice for Translating Pinmemberangelsherin29-Jun-08 3:24 
GeneralTranslating webservice Pinmemberangelsherin29-Jun-08 3:24 
GeneralNot working PinmemberEugen Wiebe4-Jun-08 1:03 
GeneralNo Babelfish web service PinmemberSandeepan17-Apr-08 2:12 
GeneralRe: No Babelfish web service Pinmemberjose Omar22-May-08 8:08 
GeneralRe: No Babelfish web service Pinmemberwindrago5-Jun-08 13:39 
Questionno "test" button appear PinmemberGabriyel11-Jun-07 18:58 
GeneralBig Chunk of Content with HTML Tags Pinmemberpbansal12-Mar-07 2:45 
GeneralUnable to connect to the remote server Pinmemberpbansal12-Mar-07 1:46 
GeneralURGENT HELP REQUIRED PinmemberHARISHRAM13-Dec-06 4:39 
GeneralThere was a problem connecting to the Babelfish server Pinmemberbijulsoni14-Nov-06 3:09 

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