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OSI Certified Open Source Software

Deutsche Anleitung: README_DE


Highlight converts sourcecode to HTML, XHTML, RTF, ODT, LaTeX, TeX, SVG, BBCode, Pango markup and terminal escape sequences with coloured syntax highlighting. Syntax definitions and colour themes are customizable.


Highlight was designed to offer a flexible but easy to use syntax highlighter for several output formats. No syntax or colouring information is hardcoded, instead all relevant data is stored in configuration scripts. These Lua scripts may be altered and enhanced with plug-ins.


  • highlighting of keywords, types, strings, numbers, escape sequences, comments, operators and preprocessor directives

  • coloured output in HTML, XHTML 1.1, RTF, TeX, LaTeX, SVG, BBCode, Pango Markup and terminal escape sequences

  • supports referenced stylesheet files for HTML, LaTeX, TeX or SVG output

  • configuration files are Lua scripts

  • supports plug-in scripts to tweak language definitions and themes

  • syntax elements are defined as regular expressions or plain string lists

  • customizable keyword groups

  • recognition of nested languages within a file

  • reformatting and indentation of C, C++, C# and Java source code

  • wrapping of long lines

  • configurable output of line numbers


Please see README_LANGLIST for the current set of supported languages. To get a list and associated file extensions you may also run:

highlight --list-scripts=langs



The following examples show how to produce a highlighted C++ file, using main.cpp as input file:

Generate HTML
highlight -i main.cpp -o main.cpp.html
highlight < main.cpp > main.cpp.html --syntax cpp
highlight < source.tmp > main.cpp.html --syntax-by-name main.cpp

You will find the HTML file and highlight.css in the working directory. If you use IO redirection (2nd example), you must define the programming language with --syntax or --syntax-by-name.

Generate HTML with embedded CSS definitions and line numbers
highlight -i main.cpp -o main.cpp.html --include-style --line-numbers
Generate HTML with inline CSS definitions
highlight -i main.cpp -o main.cpp.html --inline-css
Generate LaTeX using “horstmann” source formatting style and “neon” colour theme
highlight -O latex -i main.cpp -o main.cpp.tex --reformat horstmann --style neon

The following output formats may be defined with --out-format:


HTML5 (default)




Plain TeX






OpenDocument Text (Flat XML)






Pango markup


Terminal 16 color escape codes


Terminal 256 color escape codes


Terminal 16m color escape codes

Customize font settings
highlight --syntax ada --font-size 12 --font "'Courier New',monospace"
highlight --syntax ada --out-format=latex --font-size tiny --font sffamily
Define an output directory
highlight -d some/target/dir/ *.cpp *.h

See highlight --help or man highlight for more details.


The command line version of highlight offers the following options:

USAGE: highlight [OPTIONS]... [FILES]...

General options:

 -B, --batch-recursive=<wc>     convert all matching files, searches subdirs
                                  (Example: -B '*.cpp')
 -D, --data-dir=<directory>     set path to data directory
     --config-file=<file>       set path to a lang or theme file
 -d, --outdir=<directory>       name of output directory
 -h, --help[=topic]             print this help or a topic description
                                  <topic> = [syntax, theme, plugin, config, test]
 -i, --input=<file>             name of single input file
 -o, --output=<file>            name of single output file
 -P, --progress                 print progress bar in batch mode
 -q, --quiet                    suppress progress info in batch mode
 -S, --syntax=<type|path>       specify type of source code or syntax file path
     --syntax-by-name=<name>    specify type of source code by given name
                                  will not read a file of this name, useful for stdin
 -v, --verbose                  print debug info
     --force[=syntax]           generate output if input syntax is unknown
     --list-scripts=<type>      list installed scripts
                                  <type> = [langs, themes, plugins]
     --list-cat=<categories>    filter the scripts by the given categories
                                  (example: --list-cat='source;script')
     --max-size=<size>          set maximum input file size
                                  (examples: 512M, 1G; default: 256M)
     --plug-in=<script>         execute Lua plug-in script; repeat option to
                                  execute multiple plug-ins
     --plug-in-param=<value>    set plug-in input parameter
     --print-config             print path configuration
     --print-style              print stylesheet only (see --style-outfile)
     --skip=<list>              ignore listed unknown file types
                                  (Example: --skip='bak;c~;h~')
     --start-nested=<lang>      define nested language which starts input
                                  without opening delimiter
     --stdout                   output to stdout (batch mode, --print-style)
     --validate-input           test if input is text, remove Unicode BOM
     --version                  print version and copyright information

Output formatting options:

 -O, --out-format=<format>      output file in given format
                                  <format>=[html, xhtml, latex, tex, odt, rtf,
                                  ansi, xterm256, truecolor, bbcode, pango, svg]
 -c, --style-outfile=<file>     name of style file or print to stdout, if
                                  'stdout' is given as file argument
 -e, --style-infile=<file>      to be included in style-outfile (deprecated)
                                  use a plug-in file instead
 -f, --fragment                 omit document header and footer
 -F, --reformat=<style>         reformats and indents output in given style
                                  <style> = [allman, gnu, google, horstmann,
                                  java, kr, linux, lisp, mozilla, otbs, pico,
                                  vtk, ratliff, stroustrup, webkit, whitesmith, user]
                                  The user style does not apply a predefined scheme.
                                  Use --reformat-option to define the reformatting.
     --reformat-option=<opt>    apply an astyle cmd line option (assumes -F)
 -I, --include-style            include style definition in output file
 -J, --line-length=<num>        line length before wrapping (see -V, -W)
 -j, --line-number-length=<num> line number width incl. left padding (default: 5)
     --line-range=<start-end>   output only lines from number <start> to <end>
 -k, --font=<font>              set font (specific to output format)
 -K, --font-size=<num?>         set font size (specific to output format)
 -l, --line-numbers             print line numbers in output file
 -m, --line-number-start=<cnt>  start line numbering with cnt (assumes -l)
 -s, --style=<style|path>       set colour style (theme) or theme file path
 -t, --replace-tabs=<num>       replace tabs by <num> spaces
 -T, --doc-title=<title>        document title
 -u, --encoding=<enc>           set output encoding which matches input file
                                  encoding; omit encoding info if set to NONE
 -V, --wrap-simple              wrap lines after 80 (default) characters w/o
                                  indenting function parameters and statements
 -W, --wrap                     wrap lines after 80 (default) characters
     --wrap-no-numbers          omit line numbers of wrapped lines
                                  (assumes -l)
 -z, --zeroes                   pad line numbers with 0's
     --base16[=theme]           use a theme of the Base16 collection
     --delim-cr                 set CR as end-of-line delimiter (MacOS 9)
     --isolate                  output each syntax token separately (verbose output)
     --keep-injections          output plug-in injections in spite of -f
     --kw-case=<case>           change case of case insensitive keywords
                                  <case> =  [upper, lower, capitalize]
     --no-trailing-nl[=mode]    omit trailing newline. If mode is empty-file, omit
                                  only for empty input
     --no-version-info          omit version info comment

(X)HTML output options:

 -a, --anchors                  attach anchor to line numbers
 -y, --anchor-prefix=<str>      set anchor name prefix
 -N, --anchor-filename          use input file name as anchor prefix
 -C, --print-index              print index with hyperlinks to output files
 -n, --ordered-list             print lines as ordered list items
     --class-name=<name>        set CSS class name prefix;
                                  omit class name if set to NONE
     --inline-css               output CSS within each tag (verbose output)
     --enclose-pre              enclose fragmented output with pre tag
                                  (assumes -f)

LaTeX output options:

 -b, --babel                    disable Babel package shorthands
 -r, --replace-quotes           replace double quotes by \dq{}
     --beamer                   adapt output for the Beamer package
     --pretty-symbols           improve appearance of brackets and other symbols

RTF output options:

     --page-color               include page color attributes
 -x, --page-size=<ps>           set page size
                                  <ps> = [a3, a4, a5, b4, b5, b6, letter]
     --char-styles              include character stylesheets

SVG output options:

     --height                   set image height (units allowed)
     --width                    set image width (see --height)

Terminal escape output options (xterm256 or truecolor):

     --canvas[=width]           set background colour padding (default: 80)

GNU source-highlight compatibility options:

     --doc                      create stand alone document
     --no-doc                   cancel the --doc option
     --css=filename             the external style sheet filename
     --src-lang=STRING          source language
 -t, --tab=INT                  specify tab length
 -n, --line-number[=0]          number all output lines, optional padding
     --line-number-ref[=p]      number all output lines and generate an anchor,
                                  made of the specified prefix p + the line
                                  number  (default='line')
     --output-dir=path          output directory
     --failsafe                 if no language definition is found for the
                                  input, it is simply copied to the output


The Graphical User Interface offers a subset of the CLI’s features. It includes a dynamic preview of the output file’s apperarance. Please see screenshots and screencasts on the project website. Invoke highlight-gui with the --portable option to let it save its settings in the binary’s current directory (instead of using the registry).


If no input or output file name is defined by --input and --output options, highlight will use stdin and stdout for file processing. Since version 3.44, reading from stdin can also be triggered by the - option.

If no input filename is defined by --input or given at the prompt, highlight is not able to determine the language type by means of the file extension (except some scripting languages which are figured out by the shebang in the first input line). In this case you have to pass highlight the language with --syntax or --syntax-by-name (this usually should be the file suffix of the source file or its name, respectively). Example: If you want to convert a Python file, highlight needs to load the py.lang definition. The correct argument of --syntax would be py.

highlight test.py
highlight < test.py --syntax py       # --syntax option necessary
cat test.py | highlight --syntax py

If there exist multiple suffixes (like C, cc, cpp and h for C++ files), they are mapped to a language definition in $CONF_DIR/filetypes.conf.

Highlight enters the batch processing mode if multiple input files are given or if --batch-recursive is set. In batch mode, highlight will save the generated files using the original filename, appending the extension of the chosen output type. If files in the input directories happen to share the same name, the output files will be prefixed with their source path name. The --out-dir option is recommended in batch mode. Use --quiet to improve performance (recommended for usage in shell scripts).

HTML, TeX, LaTeX and SVG output

The HTML, TeX, LaTeX and SVG output formats allow to reference a stylesheet file which contains the formatting information.

In HTML and SVG output, this file contains CSS definitions and is saved as highlight.css. In LaTeX and TeX, it contains macro definitions, and is saved as 'highlight.sty'.

Name and path of the stylesheet may be modified with --style-outfile. If the --outdir option is given, all generated output, including stylesheets, are stored in this directory.

Use --include-style to embed the style information in the output documents without referencing a stylesheet.

Referenced stylesheets have the advantage to share all formatting information in a single file, which affects all referencing documents.

With --style-infile you define a file to be included in the final formatting information of the document. This way you enhance or redefine the default highlight style definitions without editing generated code. Note: Using a plug-in script is the preferred way to enhance styling.

Terminal output:

Since there are limited colours defined for ANSI terminal output, there exists only one hard coded colour theme with --out-format=ansi. You should therefore use --out-format=xterm256 to enable output in 256 colours. The 256 colour mode is supported by recent releases of xterm, rxvt and Putty (among others). The latest terminal emulators also support 16m colors, this mode is enabled with --out-format=truecolor.

highlight --out-format=ansi <inputfile> | less -R
highlight --out-format=xterm256 <inputfile> | less -R

Text processing:

If the language definition is specified as txt, no highlighting takes place.

highlight -S txt --out-format=latex README > README.tex


The command line interface is extensively harmonised with source-highlight.

The following highlight options have the same meaning as in source-highlight:

--input, --output, --help, --version, --out-format, --title, --data-dir, --verbose, --quiet

These options were added to enhance compatibility:

--css, --doc, --failsafe, --line-number, --line-number-ref, --no-doc, --tab, --output-dir, --src-lang

These switches provide a common highlighter interface for scripts, plugins etc.


Prevent parsing of binary input files

If highlight might process untrusted input, you can disable parsing of binary files using --validate-input. This flag causes highlight to match the input file header with a list of magic numbers. If a binary file type is detected, highlight quits with an error message. This switch also removes an UTF-8 BOM in the output.

Highlight nested code without starting delimiter

If a file starts with an embedded code section which misses an appropriate opening delimiter, the --start-nested option will switch to the nested language mode. This can be useful with LuaTeX files:

highlight luatex.tex --latex --start-nested=inc_luatex

inc_luatex is a Lua language definition with TeX line comments. The nested code section has to end with the ending delimiter defined in the host language definition.

Test new configuration scripts

The option --config-file helps to test new config files. The argument file must be a lang or theme.

highlight --config-file xxx.lang --config-file yyy.theme -I

Debug language definitions

Use --verbose to display Lua and syntax data.

Remove an UTF8 BOM:

Use --validate-input to get rid of UTF8 byte order marks.

Force output to stdout

Use --stdout to write output files in batch mode to stdout.

Portable GUI (Windows build)

Invoke highlight-gui.exe with the --portable switch to save its configuration in text files instead of the registry.


The command line version recognizes these variables:

  • HIGHLIGHT_DATADIR: sets the path to highlight’s configuration scripts

  • HIGHLIGHT_OPTIONS: may contain command line options, but no input file paths.


Since version 2.45, highlight supports special notations within comments to test its syntax recognition. See README_TESTCASES for details.



Configuration files are Lua scripts. Please refer to http://www.lua.org/manual/5.1/manual.html for more details about the Lua syntax.

For more details about the Lua syntax, please refer to:

These constructs are sufficient to edit the scripts:

Variable assignment

name = value
(variables have no type, only values have)


string1="string literal with escape: \n"
string2=[[raw string without escape sequence]]

If raw string content starts with [ or ends with ], pad the parenthesis with space to avoid a syntax error. Highlight will strip the string.

If the string is a regular expression containing a set with a character class like , use string delimiters with a “filler”:
[=[ regex string ]=]


-- line comment
--[[ block comment ]]


array = { first=1, second="2", 3, { 4,5 } }


A language definition describes syntax elements of a programming language which will be highlighted by different colours and font types. Save the new file in langDefs/, using the following name convention:

<usual extension of sourcecode files>.lang






If there exist multiple suffixes, list them in filetypes.conf.

Syntax elements

Keywords = { { Id, List|Regex, Group?, Priority?, Constraints? } }

  Id:          Integer, keyword group id (can be reused for several groups).
               Default themes support 4 and base16 themes 6 groups.
  List:        List, list of keywords
  Regex:       String, regular expression
  Group:       Integer, capturing group id of regular expression, defines part of
               regex which should be returned as keyword (optional; if not set,
               the match with the highest group number is returned (counts from
               left to right))
  Priority:    Integer, if not zero no more regexes will be evaluated if this
               regex matches
  Constraints: table consisting of:
               Line: Integer, limit match to line number,
               Filename: String, limit match to input file name

Regular expressions are evaluated in the their order within Keywords. If a regex
does not appear to match, there might be a conflicting expression listed before.

Comments = { {Block, Nested?, Delimiter={Open, Close?} }

  Block:     Boolean, true if comment is a block comment
  Nested:    Boolean, true if block comments can be nested (optional)
  Delimiter: List, contains open delimiter regex (line comment) or open and close
             delimiter regexes (block comment)

Strings = { Delimiter|DelimiterPairs={Open, Close, Raw?}, Escape?, Interpolation?,
            RawPrefix?, AssertEqualLength? }

  Delimiter:         String, regular expression which describes string delimiters
  DelimiterPairs:    List, includes open and close delimiter expressions if not
                     equal, includes optional Raw flag as boolean which marks
                     delimiter pair to contain a raw string
  Escape:            String, regex of escape sequences (optional)
  Interpolation:     String, regex of interpolation sequences (optional)
  RawPrefix:         String, defines raw string indicator (optional)
  AssertEqualLength: Boolean, set true if delimiters must have the same length

PreProcessor = { Prefix, Continuation? }

  Prefix:        String, regular expression which describes open delimiter
  Continuation:  String, contains line continuation character (optional).

NestedSections = {Lang, Delimiter= {} }

  Lang:      String, name of nested language
  Delimiter: List, contains open and close delimiters of the code section

KeywordFormatHints={ { Id, Bold?, Italic?, Underline? } }
  Id:         Integer, keyword group id whose attributes should be changed
  Bold:       Boolean, font weight property
  Italic:     Boolean, font style property
  Underline:  Boolean, font decoration property

These hints may have no effect if multiple syntax types are highlighted in batch
mode without --include-style.

Description:       String, Defines syntax description

Categories:        Table, List of categories (config, source, script, etc)

Digits:            String, Regular expression which defines digits (optional)

Identifiers:       String, Regular expression which defines identifiers

Operators:         String, Regular expression which defines operators

EnableIndentation: Boolean, set true if syntax may be reformatted and indented

IgnoreCase:        Boolean, set true if keyword case should be ignored

EncodingHint:      String, default input file encoding

Global variables

The following variables are available within a language definition:


path of language definition directory (use with Lua dofile function)


Default regex for identifiers


Default regex for numbers

The following integer variables represent the internal highlighting states:



























The function OnStateChange

This function is a hook which is called if an internal state changes (e.g. from HL_STANDARD to HL_KEYWORD if a keyword is found). It can be used to alter the new state or to manipulate syntax elements like keyword lists.

OnStateChange(oldState, newState, token, kwGroupID, lineno, column)

  Hook Event: Highlighting parser state change
  Parameters: oldState:  old state
              newState:  intended new state
              token:     the current token which triggered the new state
              kwGroupID: if newState is HL_KEYWORD, the parameter
                         contains the keyword group ID
              lineno:    line number (since 3.50)
              column:    line column (since 3.50)
  Returns:    Correct state to continue OR HL_REJECT

Return HL_REJECT if the recognized token and state should be discarded; the first character of token will be outputted and highlighted as oldState.

See README_PLUGINS for more available functions.

Description="C and C++"

Categories = {"source"}

  {  Id=1,
   List={"goto", "break", "return", "continue", "asm", "case", "default",
         -- [..]
  -- [..]

Strings = {

Comments = {
   { Block=true,
     Delimiter = { [[\/\*]], [[\*\/]] }  },
   { Block=false,
     Delimiter = { [[//]] } }


PreProcessor = {



-- resolve issue with C++14 number separator syntax
function OnStateChange(oldState, newState, token)

   if token=="'" and oldState==HL_NUMBER and newState==HL_STRING then
      return HL_NUMBER

   return newState


Please see README_REGEX for the supported regex constructs.


Colour themes contain the formatting information of the syntax elements which are described in language definitions.

The files have to be stored as .theme in themes/. Apply a theme with the --style option. Use --base16 to use one of the included Base16 themes (located in themes/base16/).

Format attributes

Attributes = {Colour, Bold?, Italic?, Underline? }

String, defines colour in HTML hex notation (#rrggbb)


Boolean, true if font should be bold (optional)


Boolean, true if font should be italic (optional)


Boolean, true if font should be underlined (optional)

Theme elements

Description:   = String, Defines theme description

Categories     = Table, List of categories (dark, light, etc)

Default        = Attributes (Colour of unspecified text)

Canvas         = Attributes (Background colour )

Number         = Attributes (Formatting of numbers)

Escape         = Attributes (Formatting of escape sequences)

String         = Attributes (Formatting of strings)

Interpolation  = Attributes (Formatting of interpolation sequences)

PreProcessor   = Attributes (Formatting of preprocessor directives)

StringPreProc  = Attributes (Formatting of strings within preprocessor directives)

BlockComment   = Attributes (Formatting of block comments)

LineComment    = Attributes (Formatting of line comments)

LineNum        = Attributes (Formatting of line numbers)

Operator       = Attributes (Formatting of operators)

Keywords= {

AttributesN: Formatting of keyword group N. There should be at least four items
             to match the number of keyword groups defined in the language
Description = "vim autumn"

Categories = {"light"}

Default = { Colour="#404040" }
Canvas  = { Colour="#fff4e8" }
Number  = { Colour="#00884c" }
Escape  = { Colour="#8040f0" }
String  = { Colour="#00884c" }
BlockComment  = { Colour="#ff5050" }
StringPreProc = String
LineComment   = BlockComment
Operator      = { Colour="#513d2b" }
LineNum       = { Colour="#555555" }
PreProcessor  = {  Colour="#660000" }
Interpolation = { Colour="#CA6DE1" }

Keywords = {
  { Colour="#80a030" },
  { Colour="#b06c58" },
  { Colour="#30a188" },
  { Colour="#990000" },


You may define custom keyword groups and corresponding highlighting styles. This is useful if you want to highlight functions of a third party library, macros, constants etc.

You define a new group in two steps:

  1. Define a new group in your language definition or plug-in:

    table.insert(Keywords, {
      {Id=5, List = {"ERROR", "DEBUG", "WARN"} }
  2. Add a corresponding highlighting style in your colour theme or plug-in:

    if #Keywords==4 then
        table.insert(Keywords, {Colour= "#ff0000", Bold=true})

It is recommended to define keyword groups in user-defined plugin scripts to avoid editing of original highlight files. See the cpp_qt.lua sample plug-in script and README_PLUGINS for details.


The --plug-in option reads the path of a Lua script which overrides or enhances the settings of theme and language definition files. Plug-ins make it possible to apply custom settings without the need to edit installed configuration files. You can apply multiple plugins by using the --plug-in option more than once. See README_PLUGINS for a detailed description and examples of packaged plugins.


The script filetypes.conf assigns file extensions and shebang descriptions to language definitions. A configuration is mandatory only if multiple file extensions are linked to one syntax or if a extension is ambiguous. Otherwise the syntax definition whose name corresponds to the input file extension will be applied.


  {  Lang, Filenames|Extensions|Shebang },

Lang:       String, name of language definition
Filenames:  list of strings, contains filenames referring to "Lang"
Extensions: list of strings, contains file extensions referring to "Lang"
Shebang:    String, Regular expression which matches the first line of the input

Behaviour upon ambiguous file extensions:
- CLI: the first association listed here will be used
- GUI: a syntax selection prompt will be shown

Edit the file gui_files/ext/fileopenfilter.conf to add new syntax types to the GUI’s file open filter.

Configuration scripts are searched in the following directories:

  1. ~/.highlight/

  2. user defined directory set with --data-dir

  3. value of the environment variable HIGHLIGHT_DATADIR

  4. /usr/share/highlight/

  5. /etc/highlight/ (default location of filetypes.conf)

  6. current working directory (fallback)

These subdirectories are expected to contain the corresponding scripts:

  • langDefs: *.lang

  • themes: *.theme

  • plugins: *.lua

A custom filetypes.conf may be placed directly in ~/.highlight/. This search order enables you to enhance the installed scripts without the need to copy preinstalled files somewhere else.

Use --print-config to determine your settings
highlight --print-config



See the extras/ subdirectory in the highlight package for some scripts in PHP, Perl and Python which invoke highlight and retrieve its output as string. These scripts may be used as reference to develop plug-ins for other apps.


PP macros file and tutorial are located in extras/pandoc/. See README.html for usage instruction and example files as reference.

4.3. SWIG

A SWIG interface file is located in extras/swig/. See README_SWIG for installation instructions and the example scripts in Perl, PHP and Python as programming reference.

4.4. TCL

A TCL extension is located in extras/tcl/. See README_TCL for installation instructions.


See the extras/web_plugins/ subdirectory in the highlight package for some plugins which integrate highlight in Wiki and Blogging software:

  • DokuWiki

  • MovableType

  • Wordpress

  • Serendipity

Other uses of highlight can be found on www.andre-simon.de This site shows several use cases of highlight in projects like Webgit, Evolution, Inkscape, Ranger and more.



The file INSTALL describes the installation from source and includes links to precompiled packages.


Highlight is known to compile with gcc and clang.

It depends on Boost headers and Lua 5.x/LuaJit developer packages.

The optional GUI depends on Qt5 developer packages.

Please see the makefile for further options.


Andre Simon

Git project with repository, bug tracker: