VB Syntax Highlighting with JQuery and Chili by ThinqLinq

VB Syntax Highlighting with JQuery and Chili

At CodeStock, I attended Rod Paddock's intro to JQuery session since I hadn't played with JQuery yet. As often happens when I go to conferences, being in the different environment starts to get the mind thinking in different ways. Sometimes the benefit of the conference isn't necessarily something stated directly, but rather a thought when the mind wanders. One such thought occurred during Rod's presentation where I thought that it might be interesting to "query" sets of text over a larger document and apply formatting to selected words (similar to how Visual Studio colors keywords and other code elements).

A quick search on syntax highlighting found that I was not alone thinking that JQuery might be a good option for syntax highlighting. Chili is a JQuery based code highlighter that already supports a number of languages. It is relatively easy to incorporate into the site. First, you need to add a script reference to JQuery by adding the following:

<script type="text/javascript" src=http://jquery.com/src/jquery-latest.pack.js" />

Next, we add a link to the chili script code:

<script type="text/javascript" src="jquery/chili/jquery.chili-2.2.js" />

Third, we designate the path that contains the various language specific implementation details in a script block:

<script id="setup" type="text/javascript"> 
    ChiliBook.recipeFolder = "jquery/chili/";

Now, when we want to add highlighting to our code, we include it inside a <code> tag that is assigned to the class name of the language we want to colorize. Unlike the popular SyntaxHighlighter, Chili doesn't require you to specify the location of each language individually. It loads it dynamically based on matching up the file name with the class name.

To see how I added colorization to the source on the above code, see how the actual code is wrapped by a <code class="js"> … </code> tag. In this case, there is a js.js file in the recipeFolder that Chili uses to highlight this code. In addition, I'm wrapping the code tag inside a pre tag to eliminate otherwise unnecessary markup (like &nbsp; and <br />). This makes copying and pasting the code easier.

<pre><code class="js">

  <script id="setup" type="text/javascript">
     ChiliBook.recipeFolder = "jquery/chili/";

There's a problem with directly integrating Chili into this site however. Chili does not include a native VB syntax highlighter. However, adding new code definitions is as simple as adding a new .js file containing a collection of JSON objects defining what terms are to be colorized and how the styles should be applied. For the current VB implementation, I've added the following colorizations:

  • Comments are green
  • String literals are red
  • Processing instructions (like #Region and #If) are silver
  • Keywords and LINQ keywords are #4040c2
  • XML Literal expression hole symbols (<%= and %>) are a bit different as they use a yellow background with dark gray foreground, but we can easily set this through the style tag.

To do this, we set up a JSON structure to contain the various Regular Expression match patterns and the corresponding styles:

      _name: "vb"
    , _case: true
    , _main: {
          com    : { 
              _match: /'.*/ 
            , _style: "color: green;"
        , string : { 
              _match: /(?:\'[^\'\\\n]*(?:\\.[^\'\\\n]*)*\')|(?:\"[^\"\\\n]*(?:\\.[^\"\\\n]*)*\")/ 
            , _style: "color: red;"
        , preproc: { 
              _match: /^\s*#.*/ 
            , _style: "color: silver;"
        , keyword: { 
              _match: /\b(?:AddHandler|AddressOf|AndAlso|Alias|And|Ansi|As|Assembly|Auto|
            , _style: "color: #4040c2;"
        , linqkeyword: { 
              _match: /\b(?:From|Select|Where|Order By|Descending|Distinct
            , _style: "color: #4040c2;"
        , xmlexpressionhole: {
              _match: /\<%=|\%>/
            , _style: "background: #fffebf; color: #555555;"

If you want, you can download this file at http://www.thinqlinq.com/jquery/chili/vbasic.js. Now, to use the new definition, simply add the file to the path you defined as the chiliBook.RecipeFolder above. Then add code to your page like the following:

<pre><code class="vbasic">
Private Function FormatCategories(ByVal post As PostItem) As String If post.CategoryPosts.Count > 0 Then 'Categories found. Return them Dim response = _ From catPost In post.CategoryPosts _ Select val = _ <span> <a href=<%= "default.aspx?CategoryId=" & _ catPost.Category.CategoryId %>> <%= catPost.Category.Description.Trim %></a> </span>.ToString() Return String.Join(", ", response.ToArray) Else Return "" End If End Function

There are a couple issues with this implementation: First, the highlighting only works if you view the page on the site. If you are viewing this through an aggregator, you won't see the syntax highlighting. Personally, I find this to be an acceptable tradeoff to the alternative--injecting the styles inline with the code as is done with the CopySourceAsHtml project or the Windows Live Writer VSPaste plug-in. Although the code is correctly highlighted when viewed from an aggregator, it is horrendous when consumed by a reader for the blind with screen reader systems.

The second issue with this implementation is that it doesn't take context into account. As a result, if you have an object with the same name as one of the keywords, it will be highlighted  incorrectly. This will become more of an issue in VS 2010 when we (finally) get type colorization in VB. To do type colorization, we need access to the object symbols which are unavailable outside of the compiler's environment.

The third issue is that this version doesn't correctly colorize the XML Literals. While I'm sure it is possible, I'm not enough of a Regular Expression expert to figure out all of the options required to enable syntax highlighting for the XML Literals. If someone wants to add that, I would love to try out your suggestions.

Posted on - Comment
Categories: VB - VB Dev Center - JQuery -
comments powered by Disqus