Syntax highlighting is a feature of some text editors that display text—especially source code—in different colors and fonts according to the category of terms. This feature eases writing in a structured language such as a programming language or a markup language as both structures and syntax errors are visually distinct. Highlighting does not affect the meaning of the text itself; it's made only for human readers/editors.

Syntax highlighting is a form of secondary notation, since the highlights are not part of the text meaning, but serve to reinforce it. Some editors also integrate syntax highlighting with other features, such as spell checking or code folding, as aids to editing which are external to the language.

Practical considerations

Syntax highlighting is one strategy to improve the readability and context of the text; especially for code that spans several pages. The reader can easily ignore large sections of comments or code, depending on what one desires.

Syntax highlighting also helps programmers find errors in their program. For example, most editors highlight string literals in a different color. Consequently, spotting a missing delimiter is much easier because of the contrasting color of the text. Brace matching is another important feature with many popular editors. This makes it simple to see if a brace has been left out or locate the match of the brace the cursor is on by highlighting the pair in a different color.

Some text editors can also export the color markup in a format that is suitable for printing or for importing into word-processing or other kinds of text-formatting software; for instance an HTML, colorized LaTeX, PostScript or RTF version of its syntax highlighting.

Multi-document editors

For editors that support more than one language, the user can usually specify the language of the text, such as C, LaTeX, HTML, or the text editor can automatically recognize it based on the file extension or by scanning contents of the file. This automatic language detection presents potential problems. For example, a user may want to edit a document containing:

  • more than one language (for example when editing an HTML file that contains embedded JavaScript code).
  • a language that is not recognized (for example when editing source code for an obscure or relatively new programming language).
  • a language that differs from the file type (for example when editing source code in an extension-less file in an editor that uses file extensions to detect the language)

In these cases, it is not clear what language to use, and a document may not be highlighted or be highlighted incorrectly.

Syntax elements

Most editors with syntax highlighting allow different colors and text styles to be given to dozens of different lexical sub-elements of syntax. These include keywords, comments, control-flow statements, variables, and other elements. Programmers often heavily customize their settings in an attempt to show as much useful information as possible without making the code difficult to read.


Below are examples of highlighted HTML and CSS syntax.

<!DOCTYPE html>
body {
      background:#000 url(/images/BG.png) no-repeat;
h1 {

This wiki uses the MediaWiki GeSHi software extension to provide syntax highlighting throughout the wiki.

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).

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