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Syntax Colorizing (Managed Package Framework)

Updated: July 2008

Syntax colorization is a feature that causes different elements of a programming language to be displayed in a source file in different colors and styles. To support this feature, you need to supply a parser or scanner that can identify the types of lexical elements or tokens in the file. Many languages distinguish keywords, delimiters (such as parentheses or braces), and comments by colorizing them in different ways.

To support colorization, the managed package framework (MPF) includes the Colorizer class, which implements the IVsColorizer interface. This class interacts with an IScanner to determine the token and colors. For more information on scanners, see Language Service Parser and Scanner (Managed Package Framework). The Colorizer class then marks each character of the token with the color information and returns that information to the editor displaying the source file.

The color information returned to the editor is an index into a list of colorable items. Each colorable item specifies a color value and a set of font attributes, such as bold or strikethrough. The editor supplies a set of default colorable items that your language service can use. All you need to do is specify the appropriate color index for each token type. However, you can provide a set of custom colorable items and the indices you supply for tokens, and reference your own list of colorable items instead of the default list. You must also set the RequestStockColors registry entry to 0 (or do not specify the RequestStockColors entry at all) to support custom colors. You can set this registry entry with a named parameter to the ProvideLanguageServiceAttribute user-defined attribute. For more information on registering a language service and setting its options, see Registering a Language Service (Managed Package Framework).

To supply your own custom colorable items, you must override the GetItemCount and GetColorableItem method on the LanguageService class. The first method returns the number of custom colorable items that your language service supports and the second gets the custom colorable item by index. You create the default list of custom colorable items. In the constructor of your language service, all you need to do is supply each colorable item with a name. Visual Studio automatically handles the case where the user selects a different set of colorable items This name is what appears in the Fonts and Colors property page on the Options dialog box (available from the Visual Studio Tools menu) and this name determines which color a user has overridden. The user's choices are stored in a cache in the registry and accessed by the color name. The Fonts and Colors property page lists all of the color names in alphabetical order, so you can group your custom colors by preceding each color name with your language name; for example, "TestLanguage- Comment" and "TestLanguage- Keyword". Or you can group your colorable items by type, "Comment (TestLanguage)" and "Keyword (TestLanguage)". Grouping by language name is preferred.

Caution noteCaution:

It is strongly recommended that you include the language name in the colorable item name to avoid collisions with existing colorable item names.


If you change the name of one of your colors during development, you must reset the cache that Visual Studio created the first time your colors were accessed. You can do so by running the Reset the Experimental hive command from the Visual Studio SDK program menu.

Note that the first item in your list of colorable items is never referenced. Visual Studio always supplies the default text colors and attributes for that item. The easiest way of dealing with this is to supply a placeholder colorable item as the first item.

High Color Colorable Items

Colorable items can also support 24-bit or high color values through the IVsHiColorItem interface. The MPF ColorableItem class supports the IVsHiColorItem interface and the 24-bit colors are specified in the constructor along with the normal colors. See the ColorableItem class for more details. The example below shows how to set the 24-bit colors for keywords and comments. The 24-bit colors are used when 24-bit color is supported on the user's desktop; otherwise, the normal text colors are used.

Remember, these are the default colors for your language; the user can change these colors to whatever they want.


This example shows one way to declare and populate an array of custom colorable items using the ColorableItem class. This example sets the keyword and comment colors using 24-bit colors.

using Microsoft.VisualStudio.Package;
using Microsoft.VisualStudio.TextManager.Interop;

namespace TestLanguagePackage
    public class TestLanguageService : LanguageService
        private ColorableItem[] m_colorableItems;

        TestLanguageService() : base()
            m_colorableItems = new ColorableItem[] {
                new ColorableItem("TestLanguage – Text",
                new ColorableItem("TestLanguage – Keyword",
                new ColorableItem("TestLanguage – Comment",
                // ...
                // Add as many colorable items as you want to support.

The base LanguageService class has a GetColorizer method that instantiantes the Colorizer class. The scanner that is returned from the GetScanner method is passed to the Colorizer class constructor.

You must implement the GetScanner method in your own version of the LanguageService class. The Colorizer class uses the scanner to obtain all token color information.

The scanner needs to populate a TokenInfo structure for every token it finds. This structure contains information such as the span the token occupies, the color index to use, what type is the token, and token triggers (see TokenTriggers). Only the span and color index are needed for colorization by the Colorizer class.

The color index stored in the TokenInfo structure is typically a value from the TokenColor enumeration, which provides a number of named indices corresponding to various language elements such as keywords and operators. If your custom colorable items list matches the items presented in the TokenColor enumeration, then you can just use the enumeration as the color for each token. However, if you have additional colorable items or you do not want to use the existing values in that order, you can arrange your custom colorable items list to suit your needs and return the appropriate index into that list. Just be sure to cast the index to a TokenColor when storing it in the TokenInfo structure; Visual Studio sees only the index.


The following example shows how the scanner might identify three token types: numbers, punctuation, and identifiers (anything that is not a number or punctuation). This example is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent a comprehensive parser and scanner implementation. It assumes that there is a Lexer class with a GetNextToken() method that returns a string.

using Microsoft.VisualStudio.Package;
using Microsoft.VisualStudio.TextManager.Interop;

namespace TestLanguagePackage
    private Lexer lex;

    public class TestScanner : IScanner
        public bool ScanTokenAndProvideInfoAboutIt(TokenInfo tokenInfo,
                                                   ref int state)
            bool foundToken = false;
            string token = lex.GetNextToken();
            if (token != null)
                char firstChar = token[0];
                if (Char.IsPunctuation(firstChar))
                    tokenInfo.Type = TokenType.Operator;
                    tokenInfo.Color = TokenColor.Keyword;
                else if (Char.IsNumber)
                    tokenInfo.Type = TokenType.Literal;
                    tokenInfo.Color = TokenColor.Number;
                    tokenInfo.Type = TokenType.Identifier;
                    tokenInfo.Color = TokenColor.Identifier;
            return foundToken;




July 2008

Rewrote and refactored project.

Content bug fix.

Community Additions

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