highlight.js with xtlang support

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that all programming language authors must also be expert web developers. (attributed to Jane Austen)

I’ve just spent a solid day wrestling with source code syntax highlighting on my blog, and I’ve finally got it figured out. Tada:

  sub r0, 1
  bne doneski
  b labelious


I know you’ve got questions, so the rest of this post will be structured as an FAQ.


Why did you even do that? It seemed to be working fine before.

Yes, well, it was mostly working fine. But I was just using an off-the-shelf1 disribution of highlight.js, which supported a bunch of languages but not all the ones I need. Especially Extempore, which is super-important for showing off my livecoding stuff on this blog.

Does Extempore/xtlang have highlight.js support now?

Yep, @blue9 ported the Scheme/xtlang lexer that I wrote for Pygments, which is a big help to the Extempore community (thanks blue9).

Isn’t it just a matter of adding xtlang to the highlight.js build step?

No, because reasons. It’s a real mess, and we’re waiting on this PR to land before it gets easier.

How’d you get it working, then?

Hacks upon hacks. If you really wanna know, it’s in this branch (although the final product, highlight.pack.js is in the main source branch).

Basically, I backported the Extempore language support from the new “plugin” way of doing things (which is better, but doesn’t really work yet) to the old “built-in” way of doing things, and then generated a new, custom build of highlight.js which included both xtlang and all the other languages that I need for my blog.

So can I see some xtlang code, then?

Sure, here’s an example function from examples/core/extempore_lang.xtm.

(bind-func my-test-7
  (lambda ()
    (let ((a:<i64,double>* (alloc)) ; returns pointer to type <i64,double>
          (b 37)
          (c 6.4))
      (tuple-set! a 0 b) ;; set i64 to 64
      (tset! a 1 c) ;; set double to 6.4 - tset! is an alias for tuple-set!
      (printf "tuple:1 %lld::%f\n" (tuple-ref a 0) (tref a 1))
      ;; we can fill a tuple in a single call by using tfill!
      (tfill! a 77 77.7)
      (printf "tuple:2 %lld::%f\n" (tuple-ref a 0) (tuple-ref a 1))
      (tuple-ref a 0)))) ;; return first element which is i64

When will we get this syntax colouring goodness when viewing Extempore code on GitHub?

GitHub doesn’t use highlight.js, it uses linguist for this sort of thing. So getting it working on GH would involve porting the language definitions to that project as well.

Will it always be this complicated to set up?

No, once the aformentioned issue is sorted out, it should be much easier to get a “base” package of highlight.js from the main download website/CDN, and then to add any extras (e.g. Extempore/xtlang) as needed. But until that happens, shenanigans are required.

What’s with the Jane Austen quote above, then?

Figuring this all out required a lot of digging around in existing packages, learning a new node-based build system and a bunch of other things. I’m pretty capable with this sort of thing, so I got there in the end. But it does make me a bit sad that the job of building a community around a programming language involves so much stuff that doesn’t use the language itself, and these days invariably involves poking around various npm packages and staring at the Chrome developer tools.

Can I use your build of highlight.js to font-lock xtlang code on my own site?

Sure, I’d be pumped if you did. If you want, you can check out the hljs-with-xtlang branch of this repo and follow the instructions therein to make your own custom build. Or, if you don’t want to do that, you could just use the one you’ve already downloaded (since you’re visiting this website). Here’s a direct link if you want to do things that way.

  1. well, off-the-CDN, anyway