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What language? Detecting preferred language via browser

7th October 2015

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Straight outta…

Depending on the site and its contents, there are obviously occasions when knowing the preferred language of a visitor is helpful, so that perhaps text can be presented in that language, the visitor redirected to a version in that language or content switched depending on cultural variation. Indeed, it could be considered a foundation strand of the new buzz word “contextual web” experience (


It’s actually a fairly simple matter as most browsers actually set a language preference header which can be examined by a server-side script, with PHP using

The $_SERVER array element contains the contents of the Accept-Language: header from the browser’s request in the form of a two letter country code, usually combined with another if there is a variation of the language spoke—e.g. en for English, or or en-us for the United States, es for Spanish, es-es for Spanish spoke in Spain or es-mx in Mexico, or es-co in Colombia—and a relative quality factor (q=), a measure of preference in the case where multiple acceptable languages are present in bilingual cultures.

You can check what your browser returns here: HTTP header viewer (

Or… well… en-US,en;q=0.5

And a full list of language identification codes is available here: Web browser language identification codes (

The $_SERVER array element can be examined in a server-side script and decisions made.

  1. <?php
  2. if (isset ($_SERVER['HTTP_ACCEPT_LANGUAGE'])) {
  3.   $language = $_SERVER["HTTP_ACCEPT_LANGUAGE"];
  4. }else {
  5.   $language = 'None'; /* Possibly Paleolithic cave-dweller on the evolutionary way to or header just not set by browser. */
  6. }
  7. /* The $language variable now contains language identification code, e.g. en-gb, en-us, es-mx etc. A switch statement or similar could be used here to proceed based on. */
  8. //Get first preference
  9. if ($language != 'None') {
  10.   x = strpos ($language,',');
  11.   /* Note strpos is zero based (first character is 0 not 1) so if comma is third character it shall return 2 */
  12.   if (x === false) {
  13.     /* Make sure use 'identical' (===) operator not just 'equal' (==) as this can be problematic with booleans as '0' can be interpreted as 'false'.
    A comma (,) not found in string thus only one language preference set. Look for semi-colon (;) instead. */
  14.     x = strpos ($language,';');
  15.   }
  16.   if (x !== false) { //Using 'not identical' operator
  17.     switch (substr ($language,0,x)) {
  18.       case 'en':
  19.       /* Note: most browsers will actually return en-us as they are American made and no significant difference seen unless specifically set in the browsers options. For example, by default it will likely return en-US,en;q=0.8 with default English (United States) set and en,en-US;q=0.8 only if British English is specifically set. This is why HTTP_ACCEPT_LANGUAGE is only for detecting preferred language rather than actual local. */
  20.       // And do whatever action…
  21.       break;
  22.       case 'en-us':
  23.       // Do whatever action…
  24.       break;
  25.       //More case expressions etc.
  26.     }
  27.   }
  28. }else {
  29.   //Language preference header not present…
  30. }
  31. ?>


Although certainly preferable to do so server-side so that descisions and redirections can be made it is possible to detect language client-side via Javascript, useful if using a free service such as Blogger or Wordpress without programable access server-side. However, this does not work with some older browser versions—but could if correct depreciated Javascript function understood is researched and used:

  1. <script type="text/javascript">
  2.   $language = navigator.language;
  3. </script>

An identical switch statement with Javascript could then be used but, of course, the client-side nature may limit to presenting a clickable link for preferred language options unless a lot of re-pokeage with inner and/or outerHTML or such is undertaken.

Never forgetting the internet is truly global, I hope it may prove useful to you.

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