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The text strings are processed by the Java I18n framework for message formats. Here is a tutorial on message formats. Full details can be found in the description of the MessageFormat class.

Local extension: application vs. theme

The Java I18n framework expects all properties files to be in one location. In VIVO, this has been extended to look in two locations for text strings. First, it looks for properties files in the current theme directory. Then, it looks in the main application area. This means that you don't need to include all of the basic text strings in your theme. But you can still add or override strings in your theme.