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Engineering for Fun (and Zero Profit!)

I am using HighlightJS to do code highlighting on this blog, it works pretty simply. If it finds a class of language-* it attempts to turn it into a code-highlighted block.

The easiest way of using it is to place the following HTML <script> on your page:

<!-- the version number may be different --> <script src="//cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/highlight.js/9.18.1/highlight.min.js"></script> <script>hljs.initHighlightingOnLoad();</script>

Basically you load up their script from a CDN and tell it to parse every code tag inside a pre tag that it can find and identify the syntax for. This is great, super easy. But I'm a programmer and I don't like easy. I want to over-engineer things for fun.

What's the Language?

It started with wanting little headers at the top of the code identifying what language the snippet was. Look at the snippet above, see how it says "HTML" above the code? That's what I mean.

Adding this was pretty simple and achieved with only CSS:

.hljs.language-css::before, .hljs.language-html::before, .hljs.language-javascript::before, .hljs.language-js::before, .hljs.language-scss::before { background-color: rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.85); display: block; font-family: sans-serif; margin: 0.5em -0.5em -0.5em; padding: 0.5em 0.5em 0.25em; text-align: end; } .hljs.language-css::before { content: "CSS"; } .hljs.language-html::before { content: "HTML"; } .hljs.language-javascript::before, .hljs.language-js::before { content: "JavaScript"; } .hljs.language-scss::before { content: "SCSS"; }

Although it may look like a lot, all we're doing is applying a single styling to all of those .language-* blocks' ::before pseudo-element. And then for each specific language type, setting the content to what we want it to say. This isn't generally good for internationalization, but since we're using acronyms and proper names, it works out.

UPDATE (2022-05-30): There were some inherent problems with the above approach (namely :before doesn't expand if the code sample needs to scroll horizontally), so I've moved the logic of displaying the language name out from CSS using and into the build process. It's a fairly simple approach, which can be seen in the repo. The basics are that, like the CSS selector, it picks up the language from the class value with the language- prefix and then selects the correct label. That label is used in a div that is placed at the beginning of the <pre /> and everything works as expected.


One thing I've been doing with this site and blog is trying to keep processing to a minumum. The leaner the JavaScript and CSS, the faster it loads. That being said, having Highlight.js run every time a page loads seemed counter-productive.

So instead of pulling Highlight.js from a CDN and then running it on load, my site's build script does that work for us. To do so I pulled in cheerio which I've always enjoyed using.

The steps the build process takes are:

  1. Compile all posts to HTML
  2. Read the HTML using the fs module
  3. Using Cheerio parse the post to DOM
  4. Identify all of the pre code blocks
  5. Run the content of those blocks through Highlight.js
  6. Replace the blocks' content with the highlighted content
  7. Write the new content back to the file using fs

Actually pretty straight forward and didn't seem to increase build time by all that much. And now the page loads even faster without the extra processing on load (although I do have JS for a couple things on the page, like the night/dark mode).

Fun, Fun, Fun

I suppose I didn't need to do this. I'm sure someone far smarter than me has put more time and care into achieving this. On top of that, no one even reads this blog. But it was fun to do and that's all the motivation I need.